from Vantage Point May, 2011 News Focus
North Korea Celebrates Late Founder’s Birthday in Extravagance
Pyongyang citizens hold a rally on April 13 to celebrate the birthday of the late Kim Il-sung. (Yonhap-KCNA)
THE COUNTRY HAS APPARENTLY BEEN PREPARING FOR THE NATIONAL HOLIDAY
AS EARLY AS MARCH, WITH VARIOUS EVENTS AND PUBLIC GATHERINGS.
North Korea celebrated the 99th birthday of its founder Kim Il-sung, one of its
biggest national holidays, on April 15 with various cultural events, festivals,
public gatherings and international forums. This year’s festival comes while a
hereditary power transfer from Kim Jong-il to his third son, Jong-un, is underway.
The April 15 birthday of Kim Il-sung -- dubbed the Day of the Sun -- is one of
the most important holidays in the socialist state together with Kim Jong-il’s birthday
on Feb. 16. The North spares no money in celebrating the holidays every year.
Special distributions of food and presents are usually given to the people during
the holidays, one of the main tools the regime uses to appease its starving population
of 24 million. Kim Jong-il, son of the founder, has ruled the country with an
iron fist since his father died in 1994. Kim Il-sung is still referred to as an “eternal
North Korea was in a festive mood days before the holiday began. Many foreign
guests arrived in Pyongyang to celebrate the late North Korean leader by attending
seminars and participating in various festivals. According to North Korean news
outlets, North Korean residents lined up to pay homage to the late North Korean
president at Mankyongdae, Kim’s birthplace, or at his statue in the center of
The Kims are the subject of a massive personality cult that pervades almost every
aspect of North Korean society. North Koreans wear lapel pins bearing the image
of the late founder and usually mark important national holidays by laying flowers
at his towering bronze statue overlooking Pyongyang.
The 69-year-old Kim Jong-il named his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, vice chairman
of the Central Military Commission of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party (WPK)
and a four-star general last year in preparations for another hereditary power succession.
Streets of the North Korean capital and other major provincial cities across the
socialist country were decorated with flowers, placards and electric signboards continuously
praising Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. It was not clear whether a fireworks
show had been staged on the eve of the birthday, like in past years, at a
time when Pyongyang has made repeated appeals for aid from the international
community. Usually, the
anniversary culminated in
fireworks that lit up the
skies over the capital on the
eve of the birthday.
In a speech held in Pyongyang
on the eve of April
15, Kim Yong-nam, president
of the Presidium of the
Supreme People’s Assembly,
said that his country will not
sit idle while the United
States and South Korea conduct
Kim said that the North will
further promote friendly and cooperative relations with countries friendly to North
Korea under the theory of self-reliance, peace and friendship.
He also said the (North) Korean people would resolutely smash the anti-reunification
moves of the separatists forces at home and abroad, and achieve national
reconciliation and unity. Kim also emphasized the need to develop light industry
and agriculture this year to improve the people’s standard of living.
In the South on April 15, activists including North Korean defectors launched 10
giant helium balloons carrying some 200,000 anti-Pyongyang pamphlets across the
border calling for North Koreans to overthrow the Kim family's dictatorial rule.
Ahead of the anniversary, Kim Jong-il promoted 45 generals, including O Il-jong,
the son of a former defense chief. The annual promotion of top military officers is
widely seen as Kim’s attempt to win the allegiance of the military, the key backbone
of his iron-fisted rule.
According to an April 13 KCNA report, the North Korean leader issued “order
No. 0056” to promote commanding officers of the (North) Korean People’s Army
on April 12. The report said that Lt. Gen. O Il-jong and Lt. Gen. Hwang Pyong-so
both were promoted to colonel generals. The simultaneous promotion of O and
Hwang comes just six months after they were promoted to major generals during a
then-ruling party conference when Kim Jong-il’s son Jong-un made his public
debut and was named a four-star general.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s Premier Choe Yong-rim vowed to improve the economy
and increase grain production during a recent parliamentary session, but few
analysts believe the North could fulfill its ambitious goal. The World Food Program
and two other U.N. agencies has called for 434,000 tons of outside food aid to feed
more than 6 million vulnerable North Koreans.
The KCNA reported on April 7 that a 10-day film show opened in Pyongyang
and nearby regions in commemoration of the Day of the Sun, with an opening ceremony
held at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang. Similar ceremonies
were also held in provinces on the same day to start the 10-day film show, the
On April 10, the KCNA reported that the 27th April Spring Friendship Art Festival
began with an opening ceremony at the Ryugyong Chung Ju-yung Indoor Stadium
in Pyongyang. The opening of the festival, which runs through April 18, was
attended by Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme
People’s Assembly; Vice Premier Kang Nung-su; and other senior state and
The KCNA reported on April 9 that foreign delegations and guests arrived in the
country to attend events marking the birthday anniversary of Kim Il-sung.
Among them were the delegation of the Russian Association for the Study of the
Juche Idea, led by its Vice chairman Dmitri Model, the delegation of the Pakistani
Organization for the Study of the Juche Idea and the youth delegation of the Study
for the Juche Idea of Brazil.
Jean-Francois Mancel, member of the National Assembly under the People’s
Movement Union of France, and his party arrived in Pyongyang the same day as
guests of honor of the 27th April Spring Friendship Art Festival. Mancel also reportedly
paid homage to late leader Kim Il-sung at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in
Pyongyang, where Kim’s embalmed body lies.
Also arriving in the country were art troupes and foreign artists to participate in
the 27th April Spring Friendship Art Festival, including the Moscow Classical Ballet
of Russia, the Famous Artistes from Moscow Grand Theater of Russia, the Folk Art
Troupe “Izvor De Valcea” of Romania, the Famous Group of the Famous Artists
from State Symphony Orchestra of Mongolia and the Soloists of “Orfei” Group from
the Sophia Opera Theater of Bulgaria.
The entire country has apparently been preparing for the national holiday as
early as March, planting some 6,000 new trees near the Kumsusan Memorial Palace
in Pyongyang and publishing a series of commemorative books on the feats of Kim
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il donated more than 165 million yen
(US$1.94 million) in educational funds to pro-North Korea residents in Japan on the
occasion of his late father’s 99th birthday, the North’s state media said on April 10.