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Amid power shortages, North Koreans forced to illuminate statues of former leaders

Visitors bowing for North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - - Released)
February 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The North Korean authorities are ordering citizens to hold lighting ceremonies by any means possible despite a countrywide power shortage.

The regime has directed state organizations to proceed with festivities for the Day of the Shining Star, a holiday that commemorates the lives of former leaders Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) and Kim Jong Il (1941-2011), the father and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.

Falling on Kim Jong Il’s birthday, the Day of the Shining Star is celebrated with the illumination of statues of the late leaders in a ceremony called the First Lighting. But with power shortages causing many to go with little or no heating or electricity in the cold winter months, sources say that citizens are expressing anger over what they see as wastefulness.

“Officials and workers are very dissatisfied with the directive,” said a source from North Hamgyong Province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday.

“At the beginning of the New Year, we were provided only a small amount of electricity so we could watch [Kim Jong Un’s] New Year’s speech and light [the statues] at night,” the source said.

“But now the electricity has stopped, and everything is pitch dark at night, except for statues of the Kim family and some of the buildings at historic sites,” the source added.

“Up until last autumn, [important buildings and monuments] were being lit until 11:30 at night, but now with the power shortages worsening this winter, they moved it up to 10:30, and recently they stopped lighting them up altogether,” said the source.

“Not that long ago they even stopped shining light on the giant mountain banner with the words ‘Following the Supreme Leader Until the End of the Sky and Earth’ that can be seen from the view of a hotel in Rason, where many foreigners stay,” the source added.

“People are feeling the reality of electricity shortages in their bones,” said the source.

“Even with [the shortage] the regional committees are commanding us to somehow find a way to hold the First Lighting,” the source said.

Another source, also in North Hamgyong said, “Electricity completely stopped after the New Year holiday.”

“The instruction to maintain lighting [on the statues] was delivered to every level of every institution, especially emphasizing the time that these should be lit,” the source said.

“They’re demanding that we maintain lighting on Kim Jong Il’s birthday to create a holiday atmosphere regardless of the situation on the ground,” the source said, adding, “They distributed statues to every factory and are telling us to light them until 9 P.M.”

“Employees of each institution have resorted to collecting funds to purchase fuel for a gas generator, because there’s no electricity,” said the source.

“People are even bribing workers in the electric company in an attempt to draw electricity from other regions just to light up these statues,” the source said.

There’s no dam power.

The main causes of North Korea’s power shortages are deteriorating power plants and bad management of water resources needed for hydroelectric dams, sources say. The latter cause is especially pronounced in winter, when flowing water freezes.

A source from Chagang province said that his region is now reeling from power shortages because most of the region depends on hydroelectric power.

“Almost all the hydropower plants don’t have enough water, and they’re getting old, so [to us] the shortage is real,” he said.

“Most of the equipment in the plants are retreads that were used in Eastern Europe in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s all basically junk,” said the source.

“Every time there’s a malfunction they replace the parts over and over to give it more life, but now they’ve reached their limit, there’s no way these can continue to operate,” the source said.