Happy Anniversary, Dear Leader

Sunday, October 8, 2006

In the West, traditional gifts for a ninth anniversary include pottery or leather. In North Korea, leader Kim Jong Il has threatened to celebrate his ninth year in power with a demonstration of nuclear might. According to North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, the nation will conduct a nuclear test in response to "the U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war." The test could even happen today, nine years after Kim's formal appointment to succeed his father, Kim Il Sung, as head of the Korean Workers' Party. "The North Koreans usually carefully time major events," says Bruce Cumings, a North Korea expert at the University of Chicago. For North Korea's 50th anniversary in 1998, it celebrated by firing a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.

Far beyond this weekend, the North Korean holiday calendar is littered with other opportunities for nuclear-themed commemorations.

Jan. 1 is New Year's Day, though the North Korean calendar is officially marked from the year of Kim Il Sung's birth (1912).

Feb. 16 is Kim Jong Il's birthday. Cumings says that the leader usually uses his birthday to escape to one of his villas for a couple of weeks.

April 15 is Kim Il Sung's birthday. "The top leadership visits his not-too-well-preserved body, people get out of school and they have parades. It's something like July 4th," Cumings says.

April 25 is Army Day -- a chance to celebrate the country's military force, more than 1 million strong.

July 4 is not a North Korean holiday -- but still a noteworthy date in nuclear missile tests. On U.S. Independence Day this year, North Korea test-fired at least six missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2.

July 8 is the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's death in 1994. Mourning was so intense that there was a three-year wait before Kim was officially anointed to succeed his father.

Aug. 15 is Liberation Day from the Japanese occupation during World War II.

Sept. 9 is Republic Day, the anniversary of the founding of the regime in 1948.

Oct. 3 is Foundation Day, which, Cumings says, refers to the mythical figure Tan'gun, who purportedly founded the Korean nation 2,333 years before the birth of Christ.

Oct. 8 marks the day in 1997 when Kim Jong Il officially became the general secretary of the Korean Workers' Party.

Oct. 10 is the anniversary of the party's founding.

Dec. 27 is the anniversary of the establishment of the constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

-- Rachel Dry

© 2006 The Washington Post Company