Lecture Video: Yǒngye Kunin and North Korean National Identity

Lecturer: Prof. Tatiana Gabroussenko (Korea University)

Among the most persistent mobilising campaigns of the last fifteen years in the DPRK’s mass media is the sǒn’gun, or “military first” concept, which implies the primacy of the military in all spheres of North Korean life. Sǒn’gun propaganda is promoted through a wide variety of media and narrative forms.

One of the central themes of sǒn’gun propaganda is glorification of yǒngye kunin, or “heroic/honourable veterans”. This term is usually applied to military personnel who have passed away or became handicapped following industrial accidents at their workplaces during military service. North Korean propaganda equates such cases with combat-related heroic acts and demands that civilians demonstrate similar 'self-sacrifice' in response to such stories. One of the more peculiar forms of this is the practice of proposing to an invalid “honourable veteran” and becoming his or her spouse-cum-nurse, often without ever seeing the future husband/wife before marriage.
Tonight’s lecture presents the specifics of the romantic narrative of yǒngye kunin in officially endorsed North Korean literature, art and cinematography and considers the correlation of this propaganda line with the observable social situation and national identity of the DPRK.

Tatiana Gabroussenko graduated from the Far Eastern State University (ex-USSR), where she majored in Korean history. She obtained her Ph.D. in East Asian Studies at the Australian National University. She is currently an Adjunct Lecturer in Korean Studies at University of New South Wales in Australia and an Assistant Professor in North Korean Studies at the Faculty of Korean Studies at Korea University, Korea. She is the author of a number of articles devoted to contemporary North Korean culture, literature and propaganda. Her most recent book, Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early History of North Korea Literature and Literary Policy, was published by University of Hawai’i Press in 2010. The book has been included in the Choice annual list of Outstanding Academic Titles in 2011.

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