N.Koreans Suffer While the Regime Celebrates Itself

A massive military parade in Pyongyang last weekend marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The North Korean calendar marks this as "Victory Day" even though the two Koreas are technically still at war.

Soldiers goose-stepped down Kim Il-sung Square as they always do at such events. Reports say soldiers often faint practicing the absurd marching style under the scorching sun all day long, and former soldiers who defected said goose-stepping can cause serious injuries.

That is not the only example of the abuses the regime subjects the North Korean people to for the sake of its greater glory. The "Arirang" mass calisthenics performance held every year requires the blood, sweat and tears of 20,000 North Korean children.

They practice a synchronized flash-card performance for six months, repeating their moves tens of thousands of times, and a single mistake can lead to brutal punishment. Injuries are common among children who take part when they fall while building human towers.

The young gymnasts are not allowed to drink water from a day before the show to prevent them from needing the bathroom during the performance. If they really need to go during the performance, they have to relieve themselves on the spot. The smell of stale urine pervades Rungrado May Day Stadium where the event is held.

The children are usually recruited from poor families in Pyongyang. Officials and other influential people scramble for sick passes or bribe the authorities to get their own children excused. Human rights activists cite the event as child abuse, but the regime views the event as great publicity and a chance to earn dollars from foreign spectators.

In 2005, 7,500 South Koreans paid between US$1,100 and $1,500 a head to see the disturbing spectacle, and in 2007, President Roh Moo-hyun watched the performance during his trip to Pyongyang.

North Koreans are also forced to take part in mass rallies practically every week. In December last year alone, they had to express orchestrated enthusiasm on the first anniversary of the death of ex-leader Kim Jong-il, the 95th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong-suk, the first wife of nation founder Kim Il-sung and mother of Kim Jong-il, the inauguration of new leader Kim Jong-un, and the launch of the North’s space rocket.

Thousands of students were mobilized in February this year to celebrate the North's third nuclear test. And every evening, university students have to head to public squares dressed in suits or traditional hanbok.

Foreign photographers have recently been able to grab behind-the-scenes shots of a Victory Day rally. They show people yawning or dozing off as soldiers marched down Kim Il-sung Square, and in one of them a soldier is carried away from the parade after fainting from the goose-stepping. Under North Korea's draconian laws, people accused of dereliction of duty face up to two years of hard labor. What will be the fate of the people who were photographed?

By Jee Hae-bum from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 31, 2013 13:16 KST