1 March 2017

The Monuments of North Korea

The age of huge monuments to political ideology came to an end for many with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.  In the rush towards change, many massive statues of communist leaders and heroes were toppled or consigned to scrap yards.  The time for colossal testaments to the cream of communism was, it seems, well and truly over. Or perhaps not. No one seems to have told the North Koreans.  The East Asian country, still in the thrall of totalitarian and Stalinist policies combined with a cult of personality based around a single family is awash with grandiose monuments.  Here are just some of them.

The Juche Tower
The Juche Tower was part of a flurry of moments erected in the 1980s.  Juche is the system created by Kim Il-sung, the North’s first Prime Minister.  It consists of self-sufficiency, self-reliance and nationalism – effectively a closed economy which must stagger along without external assistance or international trade. Autarky, as the self-reliance is known had been previously practiced by Nazi Germany (with the realisation that because war was inevitable with some of the countries it traded with, this could not be relied upon in the totalitarian future with plenty of lebensraum that was envisioned).

Although the San Jacinto monument in Texas is taller – this still comes in at 170 meters (or 560 ft) and as such is the second tallest monumental column currently standing.  It is made up of 25,500 blocks of white stone and topped off with a metal torch which itself weighs over 45 tons.  Each block is representative of a day in the life of the then leader (up to that particular point in time, at least).  Fortunately there is a lift (the capital retains its electricity supply most of the time).

Image Credit Flickr User Julian_Limes
Image Credit Flickr User Mardruck

The Arch of Reunification
Image Credit Flickr User D_Stanley
Image Credit Flickr User yeowhatzup
The Arch of Reunification is situated in the country’s capital of Pyongyang and was completed in 2001.  Below it runs the Reunification Highway which is a strictly controlled access route.  The statue shows two women in traditional Korean costume and is meant to symbolize the coming together of the North and South of Korea in a national reunion.

Image Credit Flickr User onsiteguidance
Image Credit Flickr User Mardruck
Although the South Koreans didn’t agree with the plans created by Kim Il-sung, (promoted since his death in 1994 to Eternal President) there had been a time when they almost had to comply.  The statue belies the Kim Il-sung’s previous attitude to how this reunification should come about.  It was he who, in 1950, invaded the South and precipitated the Korean War.

The Arch of Triumph
Image Credit Flickr User Gabriel Prehn Britto
Image Credit Flickr User John Pavelka
The Arch of Triumph commemorates the Korean’s resistance to their Japanese invaders from 1925 to 1945.  If it looks familiar that’s because it was modelled on the Arche de Triumph in Paris.  However, great care was taken to ensure that when this arch was unveiled in 1982 that it was 10 meters taller than its Parisian cousin and, indeed, the tallest triumphal arch on the planet.  And it is massive – 60 meters high and 50 wide and made from over 25,000 blocks of white granite.  That would be Kim Il-sung again.

Image Credit Flickr User rapidtravelchai
Image Credit Flickr User Mardruck

Monument to Foundation of the Workers Party
Image Credit Flickr User laptop and a passport
Image Credit Flickr User laptop and a passport
Just down the road from the Juche Tower stands the Monument to Foundation of the Workers Party. This time, it’s from the 1990s and the name gives its purpose away: 1995 was the party’s fiftieth anniversary.  1945 must have been a confusing time in North Korea because many people will swear that the party was not founded until a few years later.

Image Credit Flickr User (stephan)
Image Credit Flickr User OnsiteGuidance

Kumsusan Memorial Palace
2013 08 Corée du Nord - 243
Built in 1976 the palace was first used as Kim Il-sung’s official residence.  It was converted in to his mausoleum at a cost of $US100 million in 1994 during a famine which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands.  Inside the embalmed body of the great leader lies in permanent state in a transparent crystal sarchophagus.  Just down the corridor his son, Kim Jong-Il lies in a virtually identical room.  No pictures or videos are allowed inside the memorial palace.

Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
Image credit Flickr User SocialismExpo

Kaesong and Samjoyon
Kaesong - Kim watches over the city,
Although these modern monuments are most common in the capital other cities around the country have their own.  In the center of Kaesong there is a huge statue of Kim Il-Sung.  Samjiyon also has a vast bronze edifice of its own – with Kim Il-sung this time in Jodphurs, grasping a pair of binoculars.

Samjiyon Grand Monument
Samjiyon Grand Monument
Samjiyon Grand Monument
Samjiyon Grand Monument

Mansudae Grand Monument
Image Credit Flickr User ComradeAnatoli
Image Credit Flickr User Gabriel Britto
Image Credit Flickr User Gabriel Britto
Dominating this monument are two 20-meter-high bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il . To the left and right are two huge flags, fifty meters in length and twenty high.  Then, clustered around the flags are 228 statues of varying sized but up to five meters in height. 

Image Credit Flickr User rapidtravelchai
Image Credit Flickr User kwram
The left group represent those deemed to have done outstanding work for the revolution.  Those in the right group embody the struggle of the North Korean people against their various enemies.  The monument is considered the most important of all in North Korea and epitomizes the cult of personality which has held the country in thrall for so long.

 Image Credit Flickr User Bryanh

Statues of the Great Leaders on Horseback
Kim Jong-il Statue Pyongyang
Mansudae Art Studio, Pyongyang
Unveiled in Pyongyang in 2012 this is the most recent of North Korea’s giant monuments.  It depicts Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung on horseback.  Although it is only just under six meters in height what it lacks in grandiosity there is more than made up by the sheer bravura of the piece.

What will become of these massive monuments is yet to be seen.  Perhaps, if things ever change in North Korea, they will be pulled down unceremoniously, the images of their demise beamed around the world.  Until then they stand – for better or worse – as a testament to a cult of personality which continues to control over twenty million people.

First Image Credit Flickr User Gabriel  Prehn Britto