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Loss, fear, threats drive North Korea’s mass grief

December 21, 2011 • World News


In this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service, North Korean military personnel cry as they visit the Kumsusan Memorial Palace to pay their respects to their leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Kim died on Saturday, Dec. 17, North Korean state media announced Monday. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)

BEIJING (AP) — The scenes of mass grief coming from North Korea — people falling to the ground weeping and cries of anguish amid somber crowds — look forced.

More than theatrical, the mass mourning over the death of dictator Kim Jong Il is being driven by a mix of forces. Loss and fear of an uncertain future — the same emotions that many feel at the death of a loved one — become contagious in crowds. Added to that are the perils of crossing a police state. Self-interest is at work too, as many North Koreans work for the ruling Workers’ Party, the military and state companies and institutions.

When Kim’s father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, the mourning proved infectious to Kim Yeong-nam, who defected to South Korea in 1998 and now runs an art troupe of fellow defectors.

No relation to the country’s leaders, Kim said fellow university students in Sinuiju city near the Chinese border wailed spontaneously at news of the death. In the days that followed, Kim found the solemn music and eulogies at staged events at public statues made him cry, even though he did not like the country’s founder.

“They play songs and do everything they can to create a somber mood,” Kim said.

Poor and largely isolated from outside information, North Koreans grieve in an atmosphere that is part family mourning, part coercion. The pressures to be part of a group that are present in all societies exert an especially Login to read more

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