N.K. Marks Kim's Birthday amid Economic Woes and Nuclear Standoff
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea celebrated the birthday of its aging leader Kim Jong-il on Feb. 16, calling for absolute faith in him as the country tries to curb its deepening economic plight amid a deadlock in aid-for-denuclearization talks.
Scores of presents and acclamations poured in from overseas, the North's official media reported, while performances and festivals were held to honor the 68-year-old Kim. Kim's birthday is one of the nation's biggest holidays, along with the April 15 birthday of his late father and state founder Kim Il-sung.
The socialist country's media also wished him good health and praised Kim's recent brisk activities and inspections, encouraging North Koreans to follow his spirit.
Minju Joson, the newspaper of the Cabinet, said that a very rosy future is in store for Songun (military-first) Korea, holding Kim at the top of the revolution. It called upon all the (North) Korean people to advance toward a thriving socialist nation with firm confidence in victory, rallied closer around him.
North Korea runs a massive cult of personality built around Kim and his family. Rodong Sinmun said recently in an editorial that defending them against outside threats amounts to defending "the lifeline of a prosperous nation."
"We must follow and trust our General to the end of this world with the belief that we will triumph no matter what happens," read the editorial, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It also called Kim "the Sun brightening the future" of the state.
On Feb. 15, the KCNA said senior party, army and state officials attended a national ceremony to pledge their loyalty and watch photos and films praising their "Dear Leader" while a group of schoolchildren offered their best wishes to him.
In the national meeting held at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, delivered a report saying that Kim Jong-il set the grandiose goal to open the gate to a great prosperous and powerful nation in 2012. The president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly also underlined the need for the people to bring about a decisive turn in the improvement of the people's standard of living and build a thriving socialist nation.
"Steadfast is the stand of the DPRK (North Korea) to improve the inter-Korean relations and pave the way for national reunification on the basis of the June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration," Kim said.
He underscored the need to put an end to the hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. through dialogue and negotiations, develop the good neighborly and friendly relations with other countries under the banner of independence, peace and friendship and work hard to realize global independence.
According to a KCNA report, dancing parties of youth and students took place across the country on Feb. 16 to celebrate Kim's birthday. In Pyongyang's dancing places, including the plazas of the Party Founding Memorial Tower and the Tower of the Juche Idea, youth and students presented beautiful dance rhythms with the deep reverence for Kim to the tune of "Bunches of Best Wishes to You," "Our General Is Best," "Let's Sing of Our Pride in Being under the Guidance of the General" and other songs, the report said. Similar dancing parties were held in provincial cities and counties on the same day, it added.
North Korean children also received gifts from Kim Jong-il ahead of his birthday state media reported Feb. 13. "All the children of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have received presents on the occasion of the birthday of leader Kim Jong-il," the KCNA reported.
Where Kim was born is a matter of debate, but the North claims that he was born in a secret guerrilla camp on Mount Paektu, a sacred peak to North Koreans. North Korean media reported that a meeting to vow resolution took place at the site of the camp on Feb. 11 on the occasion of Kim's birthday. Attending the meeting were leading officials of the party and armed forces, working people's organizations, ministries and national institutions, the KCNA said.
In a speech, Choe Thae-bok, alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party, underlined the need for all the party members and other working people to create a new speed of advance of a great surge at every site for an economic power.
Kim inherited power from his father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. He was named as successor to Kim Il-sung, founder of the socialist regime, in 1974 and is referred to as the Dear Leader.
The North, which has tried to lure foreign assistance through on-again, off-again nuclear negotiations, could become the world's first communist state to engineer a back-to-back father-to-son power transfer if Kim Jong-il succeeds in handing the reigns to his youngest and third son, Jong-un -- as many suspect he is planning.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said North Korean workers at a joint industrial park with the South took Feb. 16 off because of Kim's birthday. "The workers will also take Feb. 17 off as the holiday period has been extended on the occasion of Lunar New Year's Day" on Feb. 14, Chun said.
The first broadcast on Kim's birthday began Feb. 14 with a program wishing him good health. North Korea's Central Television Station and Radio Pyongyang echoed, "The general's good health is the joy and happiness of our army and the people."
The television station also showed footage of his public appearances and children receiving gifts presented by the leader.
Additionally, it aired a mass rally of the Workers' Party Central Committee in which about 100,000 Pyongyang citizens took part. He has received congratulatory messages from other countries and various gifts, including rare animals, according to reports.
The festivities in the North came as the country grapples with the aftermath of a currency redenomination it conducted late last year. The reform, which knocked two zeros off existing bank notes, reportedly sparked unrest among some regions of the country and disrupted the already troubled economy, prompting senior officials to apologize and Kim to sack those in charge.
Kim appears to have regained his health after a reported stroke in 2008, U.S. and South Korean sources say, as he has bolstered the number of field inspections and rarely shies away from meeting envoys from China, which remains North Korea's biggest benefactor and ideological ally.