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Pyongyang, north Korea

Celebrations display popular unity against Bush's threats

By Deirdre Griswold
Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea

People here in the socialist north of Korea are well aware of U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks branding their country as part of an "Axis of Evil." It has in no way dampened their ardor for their independent socialist system. On the contrary, they look on it as further proof of the irrationality and aggressive intentions of the U.S. rulers, and feel they must struggle even harder to defend their national sovereignty.

Beginning on the evening of April 14, two days of celebrations honored the birth 90 years ago of Kim Il Sung, the man everyone here calls the Great Leader of the Korean people. Kim's military and political skills led them to victory in two wars against imperialist invaders--first Japan and later the U.S.

Kim died in 1994, at a time of great difficulty for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The economic impact of the demise of the Soviet Union and other European socialist states was exacerbated by several years of extreme drought in Korea followed by floods that wiped out crops and destroyed topsoil and local infrastructure.

The DPRK has still not fully recovered from these blows, and in particular suffered power shortages after the U.S. dragged its feet on an agreement to deliver fuel oil in exchange for north Korea abandoning construction of a nuclear reactor. Nevertheless, Koreans today are celebrating. The April 15 holiday is the occasion of immense national pride in Korea's achievements under Kim Il Sung's leadership. It is also a celebration of the continuity of leadership represented by unity around his successor, Kim Jong Il, who is pledged to follow the course of national independence and socialist construction charted by Kim Il Sung.

This has been a harsh winter, but today in Pyongyang the willows are green, the azaleas and forsythia are in bloom, and women stroll the streets in bright costumes for the national holiday. On the evening of April 14, tens of thousands of elementary and high school students, dancers, singers, athletes and army irregulars put on a spectacular pageant and display of mass gymnastics for a crowd of 100,000 people. The irregulars in their brown uniforms are part of the vast pool of women and men who have received military training and can be mobilized in the event of any national emergency.

The venue was May Day Stadium, named in honor of the international holiday that came out of the struggle of workers in Chicago in 1886. This beautiful and futuristic structure built on an island in this capital city looks from a distance like a giant scallop shell. It is just one of Pyongyang's architectural marvels which make it truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. This fact can only be fully appreciated in light of Pyongyang's history: During the 1950-53 war, U.S. planes destroyed every building over one story high in all of north Korea and left the country in ruins. The entire city was rebuilt from scratch.

How were they able to do so much? At the stadium, the coordination and precision of the mass gymnastics and dancing--before a backdrop of ever-changing scenery provided by thousands of students with flashcards--gave some idea of the Koreans' genius for large-scale organization.

As they flipped rapidly from one color to the next, their young voices punctuating each maneuver with a staccato shout, the high school students created vast mosaic-scenes from Korean history, revolutionary slogans, even special effects like rippling grass and twinkling stars. In front of them, on the field, dancers and acrobats carried out dazzling routines illustrating the themes on the backdrop. At one moment, graceful dancers would weave intricate patterns of color and motion. A quick scene change and thousands of athletes would be on the field setting up four-level human pyramids. A sea of small kids twirling hoops or jumping rope in tandem would replace them.

At one point, aerialists involved in this matchless spectacle were all volunteers who had honed their skills over months of practice.

The spirit of these young people was undeniable. When the program was over and they left the stadium in large groups, they walked arm in arm through the night, often singing as they went.

Many Koreans from abroad--Japan, China and the United States--were in the audience. So were solidarity delegations from scores of countries, who had decided to come to north Korea at this time as a deliberate answer to Bush's bullying words.

The theme of this great pageant was the unity of the Korean people behind Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. It was a celebration of national pride at having defeated the efforts of two imperialisms to reduce their country to colonial slavery. And it was a reaffirmation of the DPRK's socialist system, which has kept it from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.

It was also a sensitive expression of the great pain felt by the people over Korea's division. Woven into the performances was the legend of Arirang--a tale of the separation of a husband and wife that is a metaphor for the millions of families broken up by Korea's division. The biggest obstacle to reunification is U.S. military occupation of the south, which began in 1945 and still has not ended.

The audience in May Day Stadium cheered the loudest for an acrobatic dance performed by a young woman soldier in which she single-handedly, using incredible martial arts skills, dispatched a whole group of male dancers dressed in U.S. military uniforms.

"We have nothing against the people of the United States," said a guide to some international visitors after the performance. "But if the U.S. ever attacks us again, we will fight to the last person."

Reprinted from the April 25, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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