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North Korea tells artists ideological work can 'replace tons of food'

Authoritarian regime says art must be a 'powerful weapon' for the government

Artists in North Korea have been told to create “ideological work” that can become a substitute for “thousands of tons of food”.

A bizarre press statement released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) paraphrased several unnamed speakers at what it called the Ninth National Meeting of Artists.

According to the report, speeches at the event called for a “fresh heyday of literature and art… making even a single movie or an article a powerful weapon in the party's ideological work which can be a substitute for thousands of tons of food and tens of thousands of shells".

Food shortages in North Korea are a continuing problem and a famine from 1994 to 1998 killed hundreds of thousands of people.

It came after the loss of Soviet support, floods and droughts and the government’s rigid Public Distribution System, which allocated rations according to political standing and state loyalty, worsened the crisis.

Although the situation has improved, food supply is still a problem and foreign aid continues.

A man suffering from extreme starvation shown in an Al Jazeera report on North Korea.

The report of the Ninth National Meeting of Artists made the government’s view of painting and literature as propaganda chillingly clear.

It said the “inactivity and stagnation” supposedly seen in the arts was attributable to the “wrong ideological viewpoint” and artists’ creations were directly related to their loyalty to the government.

It continued: “The wise leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un is what keeps the Juche-oriented literature and art alive and the Songun revolutionary exploits of the Workers' Party of Korea are the eternal theme and seed in the creation of masterpieces.”

The event featured performances from a state-sanctioned band and a choir singing military songs.

Juche, which translates as “self-reliance”, is a political thesis formed by Kim Il-sung that governs the state’s ideology.

It is also shaped by the Songun policy, prioritising the army in state affairs and the allocation of resources.

Kim Jong-un visits a food manufacturer for North Korean soldiers

The KCNA is the state news agency of North Korea, which propagates “news” sanctioned by the authoritarian government for internal and international consumption.

Its website says it “speaks for the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government” from a base in Pyongyang and bureaux around the world.

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