A set of North Korean candies with the words "We have nothing to envy" written on it. The candy sets were given to children on Kim Jong-il's birthday in 2012. They were not well received and many people sold them in the markets. The photo was sent to Japan.

Feb. 16 is the anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s second leader who died in 2011. The day, referred to as the "Day of the Shining Star," is considered one of the biggest national holidays in North Korea, along with the Day of the Sun (the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth) on April 15.

Before the 1990s, special rations of food, alcohol, miscellaneous goods, school uniforms, and sweets were given to ordinary people and workers as a gift from the supreme leader. However, as the economy deteriorated, the quality and quantity of the rations became poorer. What was the atmosphere of this year's Day of the Shining Star? On Feb. 15, a reporting partner told ASIAPRESS about the situation in Yanggang Province.

"This year, apart from gifts of sweets for students, there were no special rations for ordinary people. No matter how bad the financial situation is, we've always given at least a bottle of alcohol; this year, however, there was nothing except what factories and government agencies gave to workers on an individual basis. There was talk of special rations from state-owned stores on Feb. 10, but in the end, there was nothing. It doesn't even feel like a holiday."

There are two types of special rations for the Day of the Shining Star: those distributed by government agencies to the entire population, and those procured by organizations or businesses at their own discretion and given to workers.

"There is a huge disparity between businesses. In factories that have not been operating properly, there have been cases where special rations have not come out at all this year, causing uproar as workers complain to cadres at meetings or say they'll transfer to other workplaces."

◆ Events canceled as focus shifts to mobilizations

The birthday festival usually includes events such as performances of loyalty songs and gatherings to remember Kim Jong-il. In previous years, all organizations, including schools, youth league branches, women's clubs, and businesses would have participated; however, this year, only students and youth league branches performed at ceremonies.

"Every year, the events are held on the afternoon of Feb. 15, but this year, the Socialist Women's League event was canceled, and only students and the youth league performed. The number of people who could participate in the performance was greatly reduced because they were mobilized for compost production and labor at factories. Yet, I don't think the government intentionally made Kim Jong-il's birthday festival smaller on purpose."

As of Feb. 16, ASIAPRESS was unable to confirm any information on the special rationing and scaling back of the events outside of Yanggang Province. Local governments, rather than the state, have been organizing special rations for ordinary people for some time now, so what the reporting partner in Yanggang Province experienced may be different from other regions. (KANG Ji-won)

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

A map of North Korea (ASIAPRESS)