During the severe flooding in North Hamgyong Province in
late August, Daily NK has learned that a group of teachers and students in a
school near Hoeryong died in the rapid currents while trying to save idolized
material and portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
“At Songhak High School
located near Hoeryong, 7 teachers – including the vice-principal, and 6
students lost their lives while attempting to recover portraits and oil
paintings out of the flood waters,” a source in North Hamgyong Province reported to Daily NK on October 5.
“The vice-principal, fearing punishment for not
properly protecting the idolization material, declared an emergency during the
flood, and the teachers and students mobilized for the recovery task ended up
losing their lives.”
In North Korea, citizens who prioritize saving portraits of
the Kim family are praised as heroes, while those who focus on the rescue of
people or household goods are subject to ideological criticism. The state
mandates a dogged adherence to the notion of “serving the leader first with
eagerness” which essentially
orders people to place the safety of portraits of the North Korean leaders
before their own family.
Any failure to save portraits is recorded on an individual’s
official records, and stays with them for life. There are also political
penalties such as being expelled from the Party. In this way, the regime
enforces loyalty by directly threatening people’s livelihoods and social
“If it weren’t for the vice-principal’s forced display
of loyalty, they could have avoided tragedy. It was the demand for loyalty that
the Party so emphasizes that drove them to their deaths,” the source
“The authorities are not even conducting proper loyalty
evaluations for the group that died,” the source continued, adding that
“residents are commenting that they died in vain, and concluding that
their own lives must now come first.”
Although the bodies of the teachers and students have not
yet been found, the authorities remain focused on restoring idolization figures
and houses, stating that those who died while trying to save the portraits were
not the only victims of the flood.
According to separate source in North Hamgyong Province, the family members of the victims
cannot approach the government directly about the matter, as it is directly
under the authority of the General (Kim Jong Un).
They are instead redirecting their anger toward the late
vice-principal saying, “He shouldn’t have brought children into the
dangerous rapids,” and “How could the poor children rest in peace
after dying in such miserable conditions?”