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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 250 (February 21, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Holds Various Events on Kim Jong-il's Birthday to Promote Personality Cult

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- With its fanatical worship of the Kim family akin to a state religion, North Korea spares no expense each year to celebrate the birthdays of its deceased leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung despite its moribund economy and impoverished populace. For the 71st birthday of Kim Jong-il, the isolated communist state held a variety of ceremonies and events aimed at promoting his "brilliant achievements and good images" and shoring up his massive personality cult.

   With new leader Kim Jong-un heavily reliant on the legacies of his father and grandfather to justify his ascension to power, North Korea has pushed the effort to build up Kim Jong-il's personality cult into full gear since the leader's death from a heart attack on Dec. 17, 2011. The Feb. 16 birthday of Kim Jong-il, known in the North as the Day of the "Kwangmyongsong," or the Shining Star, was designated as an important national holiday in 1995, and has been widely celebrated every year since.

   Starting in January, the North has held with cultural events, festivals, public gatherings and international forums in honor of Kim Jong-il's birthday. Rising tensions with the international community over the communist country's defiant rocket launch and nuclear test have not dampened the celebratory mood, official media outlets have claimed, as people across the country and overseas join in on the festivities.

   North Korean media reported on Feb. 5 a wave of North Koreans were visiting Mount Jangja, a historical site in Jagang Province where the late leader is known to have spent his childhood. A group of young North Koreans also went on a group trip to the late leader's birthplace near Mount Paektu from Jan. 22-28 while another band of young workers embarked on a group trip there on Feb. 1, according to North Korean media reports. Groups of soldiers and government employees also pledged allegiance to the late leader in Kim's hometown there, the reports said.

   The reports also covered the country's cooking competition as well as a festival and a sports event, all held in celebration of the anniversary of Kim's birth.

  On Jan. 12, The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that a preparatory committee of the General Association of Koreans in China was formed to "celebrate the Day of the Shining Star." Choe Un-bok, chairperson of the association, was elected chairperson of the preparatory committee. The committee decided to organize diverse events such as a meeting, film show, a book and photo exhibition and an art performance on the occasion of the Day of the Shining Star.

   The KCNA said on Feb. 10 that Kim Jong-il's statue, which was erected alongside his father Kim Il-sung's statue on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, had been remodeled to change his knee-length coat to his signature anorak. The change came about two months after North Korea unveiled a newly renovated mausoleum for the ruling Kim family, where both statues are located. Some watchers in Seoul speculate that the change was because the North Korean authorities apparently considered the anorak a better tribute to the "Dear Leader," who often inspected military units and factories in the signature attire. The statues were erected in humble reverence in different parts of the capital and local areas.

   The North also awarded a new prize to a group of soldiers, scientists and technicians recognizing their devotion to constructing a prosperous socialist country. A ceremony for awarding the "Kim Jong-il Watch Prize" was held in the Workers' Party Central Committee conference hall, with Kim Jong-un in attendance. The newly-made prize was apparently given to those who contributed to the country's successful long-range rocket launch in December and the latest nuclear bomb test on Feb. 12, according to North Korea watchers in Seoul.

   The KCNA also reported on various celebrations that took place across the country, including an orchestral concert, dance performances and art exhibitions. The 17th Kimjongilia Festival -- based on a hybrid flower named for Kim Jong-il -- took place in Pyongyang to celebrate the flower ahead of the deceased leader's birthday. All government organizations, factories and schools marked the day by placing baskets of flowers in front of statues of the two former leaders, while China's ambassador to Pyongyang, Liu Hongcai, and other Chinese embassy officials laid flowers in front of the late leaders' giant statues on Mansudae Hill overlooking the capital city, the KCNA said.

   On Feb. 16, the KCNA said Kim Jong-un, along with his wife Ri Sol-ju, visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-il lies in state. The junior Kim first paid tribute to the statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. After placing a floral basket before the statues, the young leader went into the hall of immortality. The report said Kim and Ri were accompanied by other key government officials and military leaders, such as Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA), and Jang Song-thaek, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and the powerful uncle and guardian of Kim Jong-un. The KCNA added that participants vowed their allegiance to Kim Jong-un and said they'd follow his lead to complete the country's "songun," or military-first, revolution.

   The North Korean media noted that Pyongyang isn't afraid of any sanctions or pressure following its successful nuclear test on Feb. 12, and that its military now boasts a powerful nuclear deterrence, in an apparent plea for international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.

   Kim later attended a ceremony unveiling statues of his late grandfather and father at Mangyongdae Revolutionary School in Pyongyang, the KCNA said. The school is known to be reserved for the children of families who led the North Korean revolution and the ruling elite.

   Late last year, North Korea established an international award named after its late leader Kim Jong-il, the state media said on Dec. 24. The KCNA said the "Kim Jong-il international award" was created in light of his birthday and to commemorate his inauguration as Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army 21 years ago. The prize will be granted to political leaders, prestigious scholars and leading businessmen across the world who have contributed to world peace, social and cultural developments and have struggled for national sovereignty, the KCNA said.

   In 2012, just months after Kim Jong-il's death, the country celebrated his 70th birthday in a more solemn manner. In one example, the North's state media said people across North Korea participated in pilgrimages to Kim Jong-il's birthplace to celebrate his birthday and to pledge loyalty to his son and successor Kim Jong-un.

   The KCNA reported that thousands of people from all walks of life, including students and children, visited the former home of Kim Jong-il at a secret camp in Mt. Paektu every day. North Korean media often employed phrases such as "the bloodline of Mt. Paektu," Kim Jong-il's supposed birthplace, or inheritance, when lauding the country's leadership.

   According to the official news agency, visitors to Mt. Paektu reflected deeply on the revolutionary career of Kim Jong-il, who performed undying feats for the country and the people with his outstanding political caliber and leadership ability.

   On his 70th birthday, the North also established the Order of Kim Jong-il. The Order of Kim Jong-il and the Order of Kim Il-sung are the highest awards in the country. The North produced a new poster for the Day of the Shining Star, said to represent the firm faith and will of all service personnel and North Koreans to hold Kim Jong-il in high esteem forever.

   North Korea has also used the anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death to reveal grand projects aimed at celebrating the grandeur and excellence of the Kim family. North Korea commemorated the first anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death on Dec. 17 by holding mass rallies, unveiling a renovated mausoleum for the deceased leader and holding various cultural events.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his top brass attended a mass memorial rally on the eve of the anniversary for the senior Kim while the country was jubilant over its successful launch of a long-range rocket on Dec. 12. Pyongyang has spent US$100 million to mummify former leader Kim Jong-il and exhibit his body in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a North Korea source based in Beijing said recently.

   In 2012, the North said dozens of poems were produced in the country to commemorate the solemn demise of the late leader on the one-month anniversary of his death. The North Korean media also introduced a new song in praise of Kim Jong-il, named "Kim Jong-il is Immortal as (the) Sun." The North Korean media has also claimed people around the world have awarded the late leader as many as 1,200 honorific titles, saying he is called the champion of justice, guardian of peace for mankind, great prophet and saint.

   North Korea's personality cults surrounding the national founder Kim Il-sung and the late leader Kim Jong-il necessitate the grandiose celebrations of birthdays and death anniversaries. The socialist country has carved messages in hundreds of rocks and in the sides of cliffs praising the dynasty. The Kims' massive personality cult pervades almost every aspect of North Korean society. The North's glorification of the senior Kim appears necessary in order for his son and his chosen successor Kim Jong-un to consolidate power through rallying internal support.

   When Kim Jong-il died, he left the isolated country in dire economic straits, the result of missile and nuclear programs pursued at the expense of a malnourished population. While stepping up propaganda activities that praise Kim Jong-il's works, the Pyongyang regime has also vowed to uphold Kim's policies in what is seen as an attempt to justify the hereditary power transfer from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and then to Kim Jong-un.

   North Korea has awarded Kim Jong-il its highest title as a generalissimo, praising him for turning the North into a nuclear power. The announcement that Kim had been posthumously appointed generalissimo came a day after a statue of the former strongman was unveiled in Pyongyang, showing him on horseback alongside his own father and national founder Kim Il-sung. The late Kim's new title of generalissimo is the same title that was bestowed upon his father Kim Il-sung in 1992.

   Moreover, North Korea has unveiled a massive carving 120 meters wide across on a natural rock face to mark Kim's birthday. The inscription, "Peerless Patriot General Kim Jong-il. February 16, Juche 101 (2012)" was carved on Mt. Sokda in the southwestern province of South Phyongan.

   Since his death, the North Korean regime has been heaping laudatory remarks on the "great deeds and achievements" made by Kim Jong-il as well as the young leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea has not ceased its provocations in a clear sign that the socialist state is following in the footsteps of Kim Jong-il's songun politics to develop missile and nuclear weapons, despite already heavy international sanctions on the impoverished nation.

   Boasting its successful rocket launch, the North awarded the "Order of Kim Jong-il" to the (North) Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST) on Jan. 4. According to the KCNA report, the KCST was honored for its successful launching of the Kwangmyongsong 3-2 satellite, "thus creditably carrying out the behest of leader Kim Jong-il, strikingly demonstrating the tremendous might of the great Mt. Paektu nation."