A National Holiday for the Korean People’s Army?

Monday 25th April, 2016

Today on April 25, the DPRK marks again the founding day of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). It is considered the most important national holiday in North Korea after the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Originally, February 8 was the founding day of the North Korean military, in line with its establishment on February 8, 1948. But in 1978, the date was changed.

Kim Il Sung had been designated as the direct successor to the Chosun People’s Revolutionary Army, a resistance force from the era of anti-Japanese struggles. In line with the official account in which the force was first organized by Kim Il Sung on April 25 1932, the founding day of the Korean People’s Army was moved to April 25. This supported the central state policy of making the idolization of Kim a foremost priority in the nation’s decision-making.

On this holiday, Korean People’s Army personnel receive extra rations. To prepare for the occasion, DPRK authorities declare themselves open to offerings from civilians in the run-up to April 25. These are referred to officially as “donations to add to provisions”. Despite what the term suggests, the request is not voluntary in practice.

According to 43-year-old Lee Jeong Min, a North Korean refugee from Musan, adult residents in her area were asked to offer meat or chili paste from late March, while students were asked to donate daily necessities such as toothpaste and toothbrushes. If someone does not make an effort to contribute the recommended quantity of goods, they are convicted to penalties associated with a political criticism session.

To celebrate Songun (Military-First) politics, the Korean People’s Army holds a wide variety of internal events and on the day of its founding. Ordinary soldiers are given snacks or cookies, while more senior officers are presented with items such as watches, blankets and exotic fruits.

The blankets, in particular, have a symbolic significance, as they represent an episode in the revolutionary propaganda canon of Kim Il Sung. In the account, he is said to have given up his own blanket to a soldier serving under him, to keep the man warm while they are living in the cold mountain areas and engaged in guerrilla warfare.

The climax of the day’s celebrations is a synchronized dance that takes place in the evening, when all the troops gather at a sports ground to move in formation to music. As the events of the day demand mobilization from early morning to late at night, it can be an exhausting day for soldiers.

According to former North Korean soldier Kim*, there were practices for formation dancing starting in early April, with sessions several times a day nearer the date so as to be ready for April 25. Although it is a national holiday in celebration of the KPA, its personnel do not get this particular day off.

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