This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea is preparing for a nationwide birthday celebration for the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung on April 15 by producing large amounts of candy for children despite rising food prices and the ongoing coronavirus crisis, sources in the country say.
The birthday of Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), known as the “Day of the Sun,” and that of his son and successor Kim Jong Il (1942-2011) on February 16, known as the Day of the Shining Star, solidify the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and the country’s third-generation leader, Kim Jong Un.
The preparations seem out of place considering that North Korea scaled down celebrations for the Day of the Shining Star due to the ongoing epidemic. RFA reported in late February that two major events falling on that day had been canceled, disappointing many of the athletes and artists that were looking forward to participating in those events.
North Korea has yet to report a single confirmed case of COVID-19 within its borders, but experts believe it is unlikely the virus is not there yet given the excessive measures the government is taking to prevent its spread, including the quarantine of entire counties and the establishment of an isolation center in a large Pyongyang hotel.
But the coronavirus is not stopping preparations for the founder’s birthday even as the epidemic rages on, and food prices skyrocket in the isolated country.
“These days, food factories in Chongjin have started to make candies for the Day of the Sun,” a resident of North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service Sunday.
“[The factories] didn’t have orders to produce anything due to the coronavirus crisis, but as the Day of the Sun is just one month away, the order was given,” the source said.
The source pointed out that many are complaining that the government is focusing on candy production at a time when food is harder to come by.
“Due to the coronavirus, we are running out of food and prices in the local markets are rising. Perhaps it is because of the candy order that we don’t see sugar and flour sellers around much,” the source said.
“People are complaining that even the flour that’s usually for sale in the local market might be going to candy factories,” said the source.
The source said that candy production did however begin later than usual this year.
“I thought there was going to be no candy gifts [for the kids] this year because there hadn’t been a production order due to the coronavirus,” said the source.
The source said that the people’s worries about staples being diverted are valid because the candy companies have the same supply chain as food producers.
“No matter how important the candies are, people complain about the government’s decision to mobilize food producers [for candy] without thinking about all the people in need,” said the source.
Another source, also a resident of North Hamgyong, confirmed to RFA Monday that candy production is in full swing.
“The authorities banned group activities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but they are pushing employees at the factory every day, saying they must provide candies to children for Kim Il Sung’s birthday,” the second source said.
According to the second source, people think the candy that was produced for the Day of the Shining Star in February was a waste of resources.
“[It] was sold at bargain prices in the local markets because it was of poor quality and it tasted awful,” the second source said.
“Some residents are criticizing the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party], saying they should focus more on their quarantine efforts instead of focusing on candies for the holidays,” the second source added.
The effect of diverting raw materials to the production of candy is an increase in food price.
“Residents here say they don’t understand why the government is allowing food prices to rise because of the preparations for the Day of the Sun, especially since they declared a state emergency due to the coronavirus and they have not lifted it yet,” said the second source.
“Despite the lingering danger of becoming infected, the government is preparing their political events without paying attention to our lives. People are rightfully venting their resentment.”