Why Koreans were banned from laughing on 17th December

North Koreans were ordered by the government to abstain from laughter or drinking alcohol for an 11-day period to observe the 10th anniversary of the death of ex-leader Kim Jong Il.

Citizens visit the bronze statues of their late leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, on the occasion of 10th anniversary of demise of Kim Jong Il. (AP Photo/Cha Song Ho)

It is, indeed, no laughing matter, as government officials have instructed people to steer clear from exhibiting any form of joy while North Korea observes the anniversary of Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Il’s rule in North Korea lasted 17 years, until his death in 2011. Thereafter, Kim Jong Un, the youngest of his children, was the successor and still rules.

“During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh, or engage in leisure activities,” a resident of Sinuiju, North Korea, told Radio Free Asia.

The Sinuiju resident stated that people from North Korea are also prohibited to shop for groceries on 17th December, the date of the former leader’s death.

“In the past, many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals. They were taken away and never seen again,” according to another source.

“Even if your family member dies during the mourning period, you are not allowed to cry out loud and the body must be taken out after it’s over. People cannot even celebrate their own birthdays if they fall within the mourning period,” they said.

Kim Jong Il, 69, succumbed to a heart attack on the 17th of December, 2011, following a 17-year dictatorial ruling marked by ruthlessness and suppression.

Although a 10-day mourning period is held annually for the former leader, it will be observed for 11 days in 2021.

At midday Friday, as a siren blared for three minutes, North Koreans fell silent and bowed in respect for Kim Jong Il. Cars, trains and ships blew their horns, national flags were lowered to half-staff and masses of people climbed Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill to lay flowers and bow before giant statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. 

During an outdoor ceremony, senior North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae called Kim Jong Il “the parent of our people” who built up the potential for the North’s military and economic might. Under Kim Jong Un, Choe said North Korea’s “strategic status” has been boosted and urged the public to “faithfully uphold” his leadership. 

The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper published articles venerating Kim Jong Il and calling for greater unity behind Kim Jong Un. 

In an apparent echo of official propaganda, Pyongyang citizen Won Jong Rim also told the Associated Press Television News that “our great general (Kim Jong Il) went through so much hardship, pushing his way along such an arduous path, to build a paradise here, achieving what the people want.” 

On previous anniversaries, Kim Jong Un paid respect at a mausoleum where the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather lie in state. But state media didn’t say whether he went there this year too. 

Kim Jong Il’s 17-year rule was overshadowed by a famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people and international isolation over his nuclear ambitions. North Korea’s economy had reported a slight yet gradual growth for the first several years of Kim Jong Un’s rule. But the coronavirus pandemic, mismanagement and U.N. sanctions following Kim’s nuclear and missile tests have taken their toll.