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Defector's story

Residents ordered to wipe snow off Kim statues barehanded

Kim Ga Young  |  2017-01-02 09:31

On December 23rd, the weather forecast indicated that snow would fall in Pyongyang, Wonsan, Hamhung, Chongjin, and Samjiyon. For North Korean residents, what sort of implications are there for a snowy day?


Just like in South Korea and around the world, the people who tend to greet the snow with the greatest enthusiasm are the children. The kids head outside to go sledding and play folk games. Those without a proper means of transportation are excused from going to school for the day, leading to anxious anticipation as soon as the first snow hits the ground.  


However, for most ordinary adult residents, news of an impending snowfall is no happy event, according to defectors. Thats because the residents are responsible for tirelessly sweeping and shoveling away snow that accumulates around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il statues and murals. To ensure that the job gets completed, the authorities assign shifts and make inspections.

Residents during Kim Jong Ils Sending Off Ceremony on
 December 28, 2012. Although the temperature was below freezing, hardly any of the
 residents who attended wore gloves. According to a subsequent Daily NK report, residents were
banned from wearing gloves and caps by Kim Jong Un so that they could pull the sleigh with their
bare hands. When idolization ceremonies are carried out in North Korea, there is a competitive
element to them and they are usually undertaken barehanded.
 Image: KCTV

Performing these idolization feats with no gloves on is a way to show off ones devotion to the Kim family. We needed to wipe the snow off the statues so they wouldnt freeze. We did it barehanded to emphasize our loyalty. We didnt even get a brush to wipe off those huge statues; we had to use a little towel, said one defector who formerly served as a shock trooper in the North.


The residents complain about this activity not only because its hard to endure the cold, but because they are forced to forego market selling activity. One defector with experience in the jangmadang markets said, We felt that all the time we spent cleaning the statues was time lost earning money in the marketplace. Residents who are so poor that they are scraping by a living by working in the marketplace certainly dont have the luxury of playing in the snow, and they dont feel any particular loyalty either.  


South Korean armed forces are ordered to shovel snow for many days after a large snowfall. North Korean troops are no different. One defector with experience as a cadre in North Korea explained that, troops near the South Korean border in Kangwon Province and North Hwanghae Province have to clear snow all day. During the Songun [military-first ideology] era, there was  a lot of idolization buildings and facilities, which means even more time spent shoveling.  


On the other hand, the border guards near the Chinese border up north do not work as hard shoveling snow, she explained. There arent enough soldiers to do the work and clearing out too much snow would actually help defectors to sneak out of the country. Leaving the snow helps the border guards to track their footprints and discovered escape routes.  

Kim Jong Un inspects the facilities created for the Masikryong Ski Resort.
Image: Rodong Sinmun December 31, 2013.


Things are much different for North Koreas upper crust, including Kim family relatives and high level cadres. Kim Jong Il was said to have enjoyed hunting in the wintertime as a hobby. There is evidence that Kim Jong Il even ordered soldiers from his guard headquarters to comb snowy mountain passes in search of game for him to hunt.

Kim Jong Un inherited his father's taste for high-end hobbies. In this spirit, he ordered the completion of the Masikryong Ski Resort. Kim Jong Un's justification for the resort's construction was that it was "a place for the people." In reality, the ski resort is known for its pricey rental fees and inaccessibility to ordinary people. The only people who can afford to spend time and money on such a luxurious expenditure are high-ranking Party cadres. 

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