By Chang Gyu Ahn and Hyemin Son
North Korea is in the midst of a seven-day period of forced mourning to mark the 11th anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong Il, and no singing, drinking or celebrating will be allowed, sources in the country tell Radio Free Asia.
The government has ordered its citizens to maintain an attitude of solemn reflection on the life of the late “Dear Leader,” the father of current leader Kim Jong Un, who died on Dec. 17, 2011. The mourning period began on Wednesday and will end on Dec. 20.
“You must never drink alcohol or engage in entertainment such as singing or drinking during the period of commemoration,” a resident of the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA’s Korean Service on Wednesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Additionally, people are supposed to tone down or avoid key life events, such as coming of age ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and even jesa, the ceremony to remember the dead.
“The atmosphere of fear that controls and pressures the residents will be strong during the commemoration period,” the source said. “If you do not watch yourself and are not careful during this time, you may get into serious trouble.”
Agents on the lookout
Authorities have also told people to avoid making political statements or offer any criticism against the government during the period, and threatened that secret agents were on the lookout.
Movement between different parts of the country would also be more restricted than normal, and bribing officials for travel passes would be nearly impossible during the mourning period, the source said.
Residents in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong were told to “be careful about what [they] say and do” during the mourning period, a resident there told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.
The second source said that in addition to the directives about acting respectfully and refraining from criticizing or complaining about the authorities, the central government ordered the neighborhood watch units to enforce a tighter surveillance of the people.
“Documentaries about Kim Jong Il’s achievements and his love for the people are being aired on television every day,” the second source said. “Various memorial-related events such as museum visits, intensive lectures, and commemorative lectures are continuously being held, but they always end with a theme of endless loyalty to Kim Jong Un.”
December is also the birth month of Kim Jong Il’s mother, Kim Jong Sook, and she also has commemorative events, so the people find the focus on the Kim Dynasty this time of year to be exhausting, the second source said.
Some of the events during Kim Jong Il’s mourning period are being held outdoors in the cold.
In South Pyongan province, North of the capital Pyongyang, residents were made to attend memorial services all day starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday. Temperatures ranged from minus 12 degrees Celsius (10.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to minus 2 (28.4 F), a source there told RFA.
The authorities mandated that all women in attendance wear Korean traditional clothing, according to the South Pyongan source. There are both winter and summer versions of the traditional garb, but most women own only one set that they wear only for formal events, most of which are indoors. These would have offered little protection against the cold.
“The authorities are ignoring the shivering women even if they show symptoms of frostbite, such as hypothermia and itchy skin, so people here are about to burst with resentment,” the South Pyongan source said.
In North Hamgyong’s Musan county, authorities on Friday gathered coal miners in front of a government building for a two-hour memorial service when the weather was minus 20 C ( minus 4 F), a source there told RFA.
“The grumbling workers said things like, ‘[Kim Jong Il] still starves the people and makes them suffer in the cold weather even long after his death.’
Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee, Leejin J. Chung, and Eugene Whong. Written in English by Eugene Whong. Edited by Malcolm Foster.