North Korea Mobilizes Citizens for Kim Jong Il Birth Celebration Amid Covid-19, Cold Temperatures

Residents resentful that they must practice singing and dancing in sub-zero temperatures.

Citizens in North Korea are resentful at being forced to practice singing and dancing for the annual birth anniversary celebration of late former leader Kim Jong Il amid harsh winter weather and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, residents of the border regions told RFA.

The birth anniversary of Kim Jong Il (1942-2011) on February 16, known as the Day of the Shining Star, and his father and predecessor Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), known as the Day of the Sun, solidify the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and the country’s third-generation leader, Kim Jong Un.

The two days bookend a two-month Loyalty Festival period, where in most years the country puts on mass games, military demonstrations and cultural events that draw large crowds.

People now being made to practice singing and dancing during the harsh blizzards of the Siberian winter say the government is being hypocritical for making them gather in large groups during the pandemic, when even small gatherings are banned.

“These days every organization is busy preparing for a performance to celebrate the Day of the Shining Star. People from factories, schools, and neighborhood watch units must gather at the practice site,” a resident from North Hamgyong province in the country’s northeast told RFA on Jan. 28.

“It’s not easy for the people to gather at the practice sites right now because it snows a lot and the wind stings. Even though the authorities previously banned gatherings and ceremonial events because of the coronavirus, now they are forcing us to practice in the extreme cold,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

In most years on the Day of the Shining Star, the people compete in a national musical performance contest where they sing the praises of Kim Jong Il. This year they have been ordered to praise the current leader Kim Jong Un, who recently promoted himself to General Secretary of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party.

“Even though the coronavirus situation has not at all improved, they are still making us practice singing songs about the General Secretary. Some people are complaining that they don’t know why they are celebrating the Day of the Shining Star by praising Kim Jong Un [instead of Kim Jong Il,]” the source said.

“Even as the coronavirus crisis is making our lives even more difficult, the authorities are making us prepare for the celebration. They might be trying to raise the celebratory mood for Kim Jong Un’s ascendency to general secretary, but these are forced musical performances to showcase loyalty. Who could genuinely welcome the new general secretary from the bottom of their heart in this situation?” said the source.

A source in neighboring Ryanggang province told RFA on Jan. 27 that factories, companies, neighborhood watch units and the women’s union mobilized to practice singing and dancing for Feb. 16.

“Due to the blizzard and strong winds crashing in from Mt. Baekdu, it is hard to even open our eyes. The people who have to go to the practice site every day are blaming the authorities for their misery,” said the second source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“The people who are still suffering in the aftermath of the coronavirus are made to practice so they can praise General Secretary Kim Jong Un through song and dance. Who would like that?” asked the source.

“The residents are fiercely protesting that the authorities are ignoring the ban on gatherings, and seem to be unconcerned about the health and safety of the people who are barely holding it together amidst widespread food shortages and harsh cold weather.”

Though North Korea still claims outwardly that it has not confirmed a single case of the virus, authorities over the past year have taken extensive measures to limit its spread, including cancelling major cultural events, quarantining entire counties and cities, and restricting travel between provinces.

Most importantly, North Korea and China closed their border and suspended all trade in January 2020, a move that has been disastrous for local North Korean economies, and import-dependent industries.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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