Article by: Angelo Manaloto
Photographs compiled by: Matthew Seet
Given the notoriety for an almost religious veneration of its leaders, it can almost be considered an expectation that two of the most important holidays within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are those that commemorate the lives of two of its past heads of state, the “Eternal President”, Kim Il-sung, and “The Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il. And to this day, even after an extremely rigid thirty years, this profound and unplaceable worship taught to and espoused by the North Korean masses has stirred great polarization amongst academics and political commentators alike as to the nature of this arguably secular religiosity that characterizes and blankets across the North — and some just find themselves confounded and content with calling it —simply— totalitarian.
This past Wednesday, February 16, marked the 73rd birthday of the Dear Leader, and saw Pyongyang rivet as the centerfield of day-long military parades, patriotic cheers, and the staple propaganda the regime has perfected in application so as to keep its heedlessly subservient state in line under a perpetual euphoria. Known throughout the country as the Day of the Shining Star, Kim Jong-il’s birthday roared with countless processions and festivities that celebrated the “benevolence” that characterized his life. Amongst the notable events in the revelry was that of an astounding hydrogymnastics performance, an ice sculpture festival across the streets of Pyongyang, and the ninth annual Kimjongilia Exhibition, which featured flowers named after the former leader. February 16 also saw the promotion of dozens of top military officials and the accession of a number of the regime’s most critical confidants into the current supreme leader, Kim Jong-un’s, inner circle that remains as ever-elusive to the West as it did during the reign of his father, and his grandfather before him.
Now regardless of the celebratory image that has been painted of Kim Jong-il within North Korea, the outside world remains objective. The US-based Human Rights Watch, for example, in a statement to coincide with the 73rd anniversary, called for the international community to remember Kim Jong-il for presiding over “one of the world’s most brutal and repressive governments”, having prioritized a policy of songun (military first) dismissing the welfare of his people and rendering them destitute in their starvation on account of holding on to absolute power. This period, later becoming known as the Arduous March, cemented the politically oppressive trajectory that would define the Kim Dynasty to the international community for —at the very least–– the surmisable future.
Today, The Dear Leader’s son, Kim Jong-un now sits at the helm of what some call to be the most rigid country in the world today, with public executions, political oppression, and forced labor still as rampant and prevalent as ever before. And rest assured, the phrase, “like father like son”— especially under the Kim Dynasty— does seem to warrant a very bleak future for the North.