Kim Jong-il birthday roundup (2.16)

Pictured above are Kim Jong-il’s two birthplaces. On the left is Vyatskoye, Khabarovsk Krai, Russia, where Kim Il-sung was reportedly stationed with the Red Army and where Kim Jong-il is believed to have actually been born.  Learn more here.  On the right is Kim Jong-il’s official birthplace southeast of Mt. Paektu and the nearby “Jong-il Peak”.  Both images via Google Earth.

But although Kim’s birthday is supposed to usher in a period of celebration, by most accounts times are tough in the DPRK.  According to the Associated Press (via Washington Post):

But this year many North Koreans are hungry, and a brutal winter is threatening the early spring harvest. The country is coping with natural disasters: foot-and-mouth disease has devastated its livestock and heavy flooding swamped precious farmland last year. There is also the ever-present tension with neighboring South Korea; conservative lawmakers in the South planned to mark Kim’s birthday Wednesday by floating balloons filled with anti-Kim propaganda across the border.

North Korean diplomats have been asking for food aid when meeting officials in foreign countries, a South Korean intelligence official said. North Korea’s food shortage is grave, and the North is likely looking to stockpile food to distribute to citizens next year, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to reporters.

The North has also reached out to the U.N. World Food Program, saying it needs help because of the severe winter and a bad vegetable harvest. On Monday, the United Nations said it had begun a new assessment of North Korea’s food needs and planned more than 300,000 tons of humanitarian assistance.

These signals seem to point to skimpy holiday gift distributions to everyone outside Pyongyang and senior party/military leaders. However, with the rise of markets, these gifts have meant less and less over the years.

Though according to KCNA, the North Koreans are in a celebratory mood nonetheless.  Pyongyang held a rally, a figure skating competition (with Japanese participation), a synchronized swimming  show (Footsteps was played), Kimjongilia flower exhibition, an art show, and a photography exhibition all in celebration of Kim’s birthday.

The AFP also reported on some other activities highlighted by the official North Korean media:

Aircraft delivered gifts on eight islands in the Yellow Sea as part of an annual handout of candy, chewing gum and cookies to all children, the agency reported.

Spring has even come early to the leader’s claimed birthplace at Mount Paekdu on the border with China, the agency said Monday, and a solar halo appeared above Jong-Il Peak there.

Although times are tough for the vast majority of North Koreans, I still see the DPRK as relatively stable, so maybe Kim and his supporters have something to celebrate after all.

Here is additional coverage of KJI’s birthday:
Daily NK
Donga Ilbo
New York Times
KCNA: Natural wonders


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