This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Koreans living near a major North Korean government-backed construction project are becoming resentful after being forcibly mobilized to prepare for a visit from leader Kim Jong Un for the third time this year.
The Supreme Leader came to town Monday to celebrate the completion of part of the massive Samjiyon tourist zone, said to be an integral part of Kim’s plan to revitalize the country.
Samjiyon is located in Ryanggang province near Mt. Paektu, the birthplace of the Korean mythical figure Dangun, and also claimed by the Kim family to be the birthplace of Kim Jong Un’s late father and former ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. The area’s cultural significance made it an ideal spot for the tourist zone, which completed its second phase of construction.
The zone also includes a ski slope, a stadium, new apartment buildings and other modern tourist facilities.
The state-controlled Korea Central News Agency reported Tuesday on Kim’s role in Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, where he called the new township an “epitome of modern civilization.”
But despite all of the new town’s splendor, the people who live nearby are resentful that they were conscripted to prepare for yet another visit by the Supreme Leader, a happening of such significance that it is referred to as a “number one event” in Korean.
“Residents had a hard time. They started working to repair railways and roads a few days before the ceremony, and they also had to remove snow from the roads,” a source from Ryanggang told RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday.
“Even though the ceremony was yesterday, the area around Samjiyon is still under ‘special security control,’ which means people can’t move around or go out. Residents haven’t been able to do business for nearly a whole week because of the number one event.” said the source.
The source said that in addition to being mobilized to work on the rails and roads, residents also had to donate money so that the military could keep up appearances in front of the Supreme Leader.
“In November, the Central Committee issued orders saying that the soldiers who had been mobilized to help with the construction of Samjiyon must present themselves in new winter uniforms at the number one event, so the Ryanggang provincial party forced the factories and residents to collect funds and import material from China to produce the uniforms,” the source said.
A second source, also from Ryanggang told RFA on the same day that the residents have been mobilized for Kim Jong Un visits multiple times this year, and it is taking its toll on the people.
“This year alone, we held number one events in April and October, and again in December. The people have been made to suffer through these number one events throughout the whole year,” said the second source.
“They are griping about how terrible it is to have another number one event. They even hate the number one event itself,” the second source said.
In the past, under the rule of Kim’s father and grandfather, number one events were seen as joyful occasions because they meant certain benefits like an uninterrupted supply of electricity and access to food supplies that had been suspended. In addition the citizens could expect to catch a glimpse of their leader, which society props up in a cult of personality, giving him near-godlike status.
But now the citizens are jaded and, according to the second source, only see the negatives associated with Supreme Leader appearances.
“In particular, after the number one event, the citizens’ tax burden gets doubled, making them resent it even more,” said the second source.
The second source recalled how Kim came to inspect a hospital and a beverage factory in the area in October, but announced he was giving them more work.
“He ordered that the second phase of construction be completed ASAP and the people had to again struggle to provide funds for construction and food for the workers,” said the second source.
“People now think these number one events squeeze the blood and sweat out of them, so resentment of Kim Jong Un is mounting among them,” the second source said.
“After every number one event, not only do taxes rise, but the people must attend indoctrination sessions. They are taken away from their businesses and it hurts their livelihoods.”