North Koreans forced to mourn on 10th anniversary of former leader’s death

Visitors bowing for North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - - Released)
December 16, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea is forcing residents to observe an 11-day period of mourning for the 10th anniversary of former leader Kim Jong Il’s death on Dec. 17, sources in the country told RFA.

Kim Jong Il succeeded his father, national founder Kim Il Sung, when the elder Kim died in 1994. He ruled the country until his own death in 2011, and was then succeeded by his son, current leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Il’s rule coincided with one of the darkest periods in North Korea’s history, the 1994-1998 famine, which killed millions of the country’s citizens, according to some estimates. The period is now referred to by North Koreans as the “Arduous March.”

Though periods of mourning are held every year for both leaders, Kim Il Sung’s lasts only a week. Kim Jong Il’s death was more recent, so it usually has a mourning period of 10 days. This year’s is slightly longer because it is the 10th anniversary. Citizens are prohibited from showing anything other than solemnity in public while the country commemorates his life and achievements.

“During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh or engage in leisure activities,” a resident of the northeastern border city of Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from China’s Dandong, told RFA’s Korean Service.

The source said that grocery shopping is also prohibited on the anniversary day itself.

“In the past many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals. They were taken away and never seen again,” the source said.

“Even if your family member dies during the mourning period, you are not allowed to cry out loud and the body must be taken out after it’s over. People cannot even celebrate their own birthdays if they fall within the mourning period,” the source said.

Police were told in advance to be on the lookout for people who fail to appear appropriately bereaved, a resident of the southwestern province of South Hwanghae told RFA.

“From the first day of December, they will have a special duty to crack down on those who harm the mood of collective mourning,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “It’s a month-long special duty for the police. I heard that law enforcement officials cannot sleep at all.”

State-owned companies and citizens groups are also ordered to take care of the hungry during the period of mourning.

“Social order and safety must be ensured, so companies are responsible for collecting food to give to residents and employees who cannot come to work due to food shortages,” the second source said.

“Residents must also work together to help out the kotjebi,” the second source said, referring to the growing number North Korea’s homeless street beggars.

The long mourning period is disruptive to North Koreans’ daily lives, the second source said.

“I just hope that the mourning period for Kim Jong Il will be shortened to one week, just like the mourning period for Kim Il Sung,” said the second source. “Residents are complaining that the living are forced to mourn these two dead people to death.”

Ode to Kim

To celebrate the life of Kim Jong Il, the government is tapping elderly military veterans to promote to the late “Dear Leader’s” greatest achievements and contributions to the country.

The eastern province of South Hamgyong is planning several events to commemorate Kim’s life. These include an exhibition of his photography and art, a remembrance concert, and an exhibition of the Kimjongilia, the flower named after the late leader, an official from the city of Tanchon told RFA.

“The old soldiers’ lecture and propaganda team, made up of discharged military officers in their 50s and 60s, are visiting every factory, company and neighborhood watch unit to educate the people about Kim Jong Il’s hard work and dedication,” the third source said.

“Not long ago a female soldier who plays the accordion joined the team and she sings songs and reads poems praising Kim Jong Il,” said the third source.

Members of the organization receive better rations than the average citizen, according to the third source.

The lectures and performances have already started in parts of the province, a resident from nearby Puryong county told RFA.

“They came and sang songs praising Kim Jong Il and held a short lecture about his greatness and achievements,” she said.

“It would probably be a better idea to supply the residents with coal or firewood to get them through the winter rather than lectures and propaganda, which is really about as useful as a talking parrot.”