North Koreans say they’re the happiest people in the world. Their great leader is like a father who takes care of them and all their needs. They’re told that he’s made their country the most powerful and economically developed on the planet. A quick look at the World Wide Web or any international media might lead to a different conclusion but in North Korea, they’re banned.
Students from the country's most prestigious academic institute, coincidentally Kim Il Sung's University, dance on mass in the open air on Star Day to mark the great leader Kim Jong Il's birthday. Dozens take part and rehearsals begin weeks in advance and they practice after class every day. Young ladies are required to appear in national dress while their partners wear formal trousers and jacket.
Every morning propaganda teams work in the streets of Pyongyang. They accompany city residents to their workplaces, aiming to raise morale and revive spirits. As a rule, the teams consist of housewives. Every morning the Inminban chairperson, the district’s senior propagandist, gathers the women and they organise two-hour performances with flags and drums in various districts of the city.
The parade celebrating 105 years since Kim Il Sung’s birth is the most large-scale of late. It was the first parade to feature new types of troops - special tactical units. They are North Korean special forces whose business is to combat foreign infiltrators. The soldiers are equipped with new grenade launchers. In front of a hundred foreign journalists, new ballistic missiles able to carry nuclear weapons were paraded across Kim Il Sung Square. The main novelty and pride first shown to the public are the Pukkuksong-2 missiles, which can be launched from submarines. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has announced it will continue development in this field. Soon, North Korean missiles will be able to reach the USA’s western coast.
Traditionally, on the evening of the Day of the Sun, a holiday celebrating Kim Il Sung’s birthday, thousands of young people gather at a square in the centre of Pyongyang. They perform national dances, in which they move with extraordinarily precise coordination. Towards the end of the ceremony anyone who wants can join the dancers. The celebrations end with a 30-minute firework display.
A camp for young ‘pioneers’ called Sandowon is in the city of Wonsan, 200 km from Pyongyang, on the coast of the Japanese Sea. Every year thousands of Korean children from all over the country are sent there on vacation. A few years ago Sandowon was renovated. It now boasts a football pitch, a gym and modern residential buildings. Vouchers to the camp are awarded to A-grade students and children from the best workers’ families. In the video you can watch a solemn line-up celebrating the end of the winter session.
The textile factory (as well as a number of other major production plants) is in Eastern Pyongyang. It’s a model factory that has been visited several times by all three heads of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Mun Gan Sun works there. She is the factory’s best worker, or an ‘innovator’ as they say there. She’s exceeded her targets by three, four or even five times for several years running. She manages to operate five looms simultaneously.
The sanctuary of sciences is a new building in the centre of Pyongyang. Its main goal is declared to be enlightenment and education. The establishment runs several popular science exhibitions. However, its main feature is a digital library whose computers provide access to an intranet, a localised counterpart of the internet. The information uploaded to the network is strictly censored. The amount of data available on life outside North Korea is extremely limited.
Compulsory places for Pyongyang residents to visit during Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s birthdays are the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia flower exhibitions. Kimilsungia is a species of orchid named after North Korea’s founder. Kimjongilia is a hybrid of begonia created by a Japanese botanist who was fond of North Korea. Major ministries and plants cultivate these flowers, and the best ones are sent to the exhibition. On the Day of the Star and the Day of the Sun, tens of thousands of Pyongyang residents pass through these displays.
Every year a new street is inaugurated in Pyongyang. As a rule these are spacious avenues with high-rises on each side. Apartments in these buildings are distributed among the best workers of production factories, decorated military officers and members of the Party. The main means of transport in Pyongyang are trolleybuses and buses. They don’t come very often, which leads to queues at bus stops. Important crossroads are managed by traffic controllers, both male and female, despite the fact that there are traffic lights everywhere.
Bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill are two of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea’s main symbols. Before Kim Jong Il’s death, only his father’s statue had stood there. In 2012, the second statue appeared. Every visitor to Mansu Hill must stick to a strict ritual: clothes must be unassuming and tidy, and all visitors must lay flowers at the pedestals and bow before the statues. Pyongyang residents go there during major public holidays, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s birthdays. Newlyweds have to visit Mansu Hill, and groups of schoolchildren and military personnel are taken there for a visit.
Almost 500 children were robbed of their lives after their parents were murdered by a vile regime and their identities erased. Years later, a determined group of grandmothers, who refused to give up, finally found the children of the “disappeared”, and re-introduced them to their true selves.