North Korea has designated the week of December 17, the seventh anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, as a “week of mourning,” and will hold national events to commemorate the late leader’s death. In parallel to these events, the authorities have selected “model workers” from the country’s farms that have completed their yearly production and will feature them in an upcoming rally honoring “enthusiastic workers,” multiple sources in North Korea have reported.
“The participants in the rally have been ordered to make their schedules available from December 13-22,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on December 11. “Participants left for Pyongyang on December 13 for a two-night/one-day tour of the capital.”
This is the first such rally in 19 years, following a long break since the previous one was held in 1999. The country held similar events recently including the 2014 “National Conference of Farm Sub-Work Team Leaders” in Pyongyang, the 2016 “8th Congress of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea,” and the “National Meeting of Activists of Rural Youth Workteams and Subworkteams” held earlier this year.
Three or four individuals from each farm (generally unit leaders) are invited to participate in the rally. The recommendation process began last month within each primary party (organization) and the final list of participants was fixed on December 7 before each farm was notified of the results, according to a source in South Hamgyong Province.
The North Korean authorities have tended to announce such rallies only after the participants have arrived in Pyongyang and the rally is poised to begin.
That the rally is being held during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il is a rare turn of events, and the South Hamgyong Province-based source suggested that Kim Jong Un decided to avoid delaying the event due to the importance the regime places on agricultural production. North Korea suffered from an onslaught of natural disasters ranging from intense heat waves to typhoons this year, leading to a poor harvest.
“The production of food this year fell as international sanctions continued and Kim Jong Un may have felt like he was pressed for time,” Seo Jae Pyong, secretary-general of the Association of North Korean Defectors, told Daily NK.
“There’s a strong possibility that he will conduct a total review of the field management system (pojon) which has not yet been properly implemented in some areas. He is likely emphasizing self-reliance in the agricultural sector with a view to increase agricultural production next year so that the civilian economy stabilizes.”
During the 2016 “8th Congress of the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea,” the first of its kind in 34 years, the rally participants were scheduled to tour Pyongyang after the event, but this was cancelled due to the early start of a period of mourning for Kim Jong Il, a source in North Hamgyong Province reported.
“This year’s rally, however, will include visits to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to pay respects to Kim Jong Il as part of efforts to compensate for the mourning period,” he said.
Disagreements at farms throughout the country arose over who should be recommended to attend the rally in Pyongyang, and some farmers who didn’t make the cut are reportedly unhappy.
“A manager who worked as the head of a work unit in Onsong County for the past six years had high performance marks and a lot of experience but didn’t have enough personal connections to win a recommendation so he’s very disappointed, ” the North Hamgyong-Province based source concluded.