A cookie set manufactured in North Korea, whose packaging says, “We envy no one in this world.” The cookie set was handed out to children to celebrate Kim Jong-il’s birthday in 2012. A lot of people who received the cookie sets turned around and sold them in the markets because they did not taste good. This picture was sent to ASIAPRESS in Japan. (ASIAPRESS)

◆ Nobody expects to get special gifts anymore

February 16 was Kim Jong-il’s birthday, called the Day of the Shining Star in North Korea. It is the biggest holiday in the country alongside the Day of the Sun, Kim Il-sung’s birthday on April 15.

In the past, the regime’s leadership provided special gifts such as rice and other foods, alcohol, cigarettes, and school uniforms and other supplies for students.

How did North Korea celebrate Kim Jong-il’s birthday given that the country’s economic troubles continue amid its overreaching COVID-19 policies and massive investments into missile development. A reporting partner in Yanggang Province gave the following report during the evening of February 16:

“Special rations for ordinary people amounted to just sweets for children. State-run food shops did, however, sell 7 grams of corn per household on February 12.”

※ State-run food stores sell food for holiday

“Today is a holiday so we got more than five hours of electricity. That’s how I’m able to recharge my cell phone. Electricity typically isn’t provided for more than two hours a day in February.

Different enterprises got different special gifts handed from the government. Some workplaces handed out half a bottle of soybean oil, while others handed out five kilograms of sailfin sandfish. Some trading companies gave out five kilograms of white rice. Nobody expects to get the kinds of special gifts they got in the past anymore.”

There are two kinds of special gifts handed out on special occasions: those handed out by government agencies to all citizens, and those handed out to individual laborers by agencies and state-run companies.

Starting some time ago, local governments - not the central government - began distributing special gifts for ordinary people. As a result, the gift amounts mentioned by the reporting partner in Yanggang Province may be different in other areas. Moreover, Pyongyangites receive special gifts from the central government every year. At this point in time, it is unclear what Pyongyangites received on the holiday. (KANG Ji-won)

※ ASIAPRESS communicates with its reporting partners through Chinese cell phones smuggled into North Korea.