On New year’s day, many North Koreans braved the cold and snowy January weather to make their way to Mansu Hill in central Pyongyang to lay flowers at the feet of the giant statues of Kim Jong II and his father Kim II Sung, the founder of this ultra-authoritarian state.
Later, Kim Jong Un, the grandson of the founding father and leader of the communist country, appeared on giant TV screens to deliver his annual New Year speech, which is the highpoint of New Year’s Day in North Korea.
This was Kim’s fourth Jan. 1 speech since becoming leader. Standing behind a huge gold-colored podium, he told the country in his normal bellicose style that he was ready for war if provoked but steered away from threats he has made in the past to use North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
“If invasive outsiders and provocateurs touch us even slightly, we will not be forgiving in the least and sternly with a merciless holy war of justice,” Kim said.
As in previous years, much of Kim’s speech was devoted to criticizing South Korea and its alliance with the U.S.
“South Korea has made a unilateral case for unification and increased mistrust and conflict between us,” he said. Kim did note that he was open to talks with anyone truly interested in “reconciliation and peace” in the Korean Peninsula and was ready to “aggressively” work to improve ties with the South, a more conciliatory tone from his prior speeches.
After a tense military stand-off in the summer, when two South Korean soldiers were injured by land mines, high level talks were resumed in December but broke off with no concrete proposals.
Kim, speaking for 30 minutes, promised to improve North Korea’s struggling economy and improve the country’s desperate living standards. Pyongyang resident Choe Myong Jin reflected on the speech.
“This New Year’s Day is significant for me and I will do my best to carry out the tasks mentioned in the New Year’s address,” he said.
North Koreans, however, have little choice but to praise and follow their dictator leader.