President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 32 years, established an organization dedicated to commemorating Kim Il-sung when the North Korean leader died in 1994. Chaired by the vice president, the organization holds memorial events and a seminar every year. Zimbabwean public servants are instructed to read a collection of Kim Il-sung's speeches and writings.
Mugabe started to emulate Kim Il-sung in the early 1980s when he visited North Korea. He was envious that the leader's birthday is a national festival, and that tens of thousands of people take part in mass calisthenics shows in his honor.
Copying the practice, Mugabe has group dances and troops marches performed and distributes ceremonial food on his own birthday on Feb. 21. On his 85th birthday in 2009, he had a mammoth 85 kg cake made. It cost US$250,000, a sum it would take the average Zimbabwean over 830 years to earn. Mugabe is now 87, but life expectancy among his people is no more than 42 years due to disease and poverty. There are clearly many ways in which Mugabe is emulating his idol.
Kim Il-sung's birthday April 15 has been North Korea's biggest festival since 1974. The Juche Tower in Pyongyang, built in 1982 to celebrate his 70th birthday, is made of 25,550 pieces of granite, symbolizing the number of days he had lived in 70 years. The festival was re-designated the "Day of the Sun" in 1997, three years after his death, apparently based on his son Kim Jong-il’s dictum, "The Great Leader is always with us like the sun."
Kim Jong-il raised his late father to quasi-divinity, bestowing on himself the mantle of the son of a god. The personality cult is essentially a pseudo-religion. When the North claimed success in creating nuclear fusion to develop a hydrogen bomb in May last year, it also claimed to have made "an artificial sun on the occasion of the Day of the Sun."
For this year's Day of the Sun on Friday, the North holds commemorative events featuring foreign performers and hosts a Kim Il-sung flower exhibition. It has chartered airplanes to transport some 200 foreign guests to the festival, which is said to cost US$5-6 million. Meanwhile Kim Jong-il spends $10,000 to fly in a French veterinarian to examine his pet dog, even as he holds out his hand to the international community for food aid
The eternal slogan promising all North Koreans "rice soup and beef stew," though it seems a humble enough ambition, recedes ever further into the distance against the monumental effort required to keep "the Sun" in the firmament.
By Jeong Woo-sang from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk