Kim Jong-il birthday: North watches tributes, South sends propaganda balloons
Kim Jong-il’s different birthday celebrations in North and South Korea dramatize current tensions. For the first time the South's President Lee openly supported groups lofting balloons northward with leaflets bearing insulting messages.
Paju, South Korea
South and North Koreans observed North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday Wednesday – albiet in quite different ways. South Korean activists fired off leaflets proclaiming North Korea a “Republic of the Fat,” while North Koreans spent the day, among other things, watching films honoring their leader and viewing displays of figure-skating and “Kimjongilia" flowers – and trying to stay warm.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Kim’s exact age is unclear – it depends on whether he was born in 1941 or 1942, and whether his date of birth counts as his first birthday, in accordance with Korean custom.
But whatever his age, the observances north and south of the line between the two Koreas dramatized North-South tensions in a period of deadly incidents and failed moves toward reconciliation. For the first time, the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak openly supported nongovernmental organizations lofting balloons northward with bundles of leaflets bearing insulting messages.
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“It’s a rare official event that openly protests the North Korean regime,” says Kim Chung-ho, president of the Center for Free Enterprise one of six groups sending the balloons into hazy skies above the Imjin River south of the North-South line.
Previously, he says, the government and the ruling Grand National Party “suppressed the anti-Kim Jong-il movement.” And during the decade of the Sunshine policy of reconciliation between the two Koreas, from 1998 until President Lee’s inauguration, balloons launches northward were blocked by policemen swarming launch sites.
On Wednesday, however, dozens of South Korean policemen stood by as the balloons disappeared, with leaflets on waterproof pieces of plastic carrying nasty messages about Kim Jong-il and his three sons as well as information on protests in Egypt.
Will the messages to North Korea's dictator spark protest?
One leaflet pasted to a DVD shows images of revolutionary protest in the Middle East, none of which gets reported by the North Korean media. Although few North Koreans are likely to be able to play the DVDs, activists believe some will pick them up and play them despite the draconian penalties inflicted on those caught with such material.