North Korean youngsters ordered to complete a freezing “patriotic” mountain challenge have been bribing officials or even deliberately injuring themselves to avoid having to do it after several previous students suffered frostbite.
Mount Paektu, the official birthplace of former dictator Kim Jong-il is North Korea's national emblem.
Climbing the mountain is meant to show “Paektu revolutionary spirit” in the young, but now the Pyongyang regime is struggling to fill places on its tours.
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Many North Korean kids fear getting injured on the climbs, after one tour in mid-January caused “large numbers of frostbite cases” according to South Korea-based newspaper Daily NK.
To make matters worse, these days students have to stump up the cost of the trip themselves, shelling out for uniforms, food, and any medical treatment they end up needing.
Kim Jong-un's Pyongyang-based government used to cover the cost of the 10-day trip, but was strapped for cash after Covid, according to Radio Free Asia.
One youth in the eastern city of Hamhung reportedly threw themselves down the stairs after landing a place on a Paektu tour, deciding they’d rather take a trip to the hospital.
“Last year, about 60% of the people recommended by various organisations refused to participate, citing family or health issues,” a source told Daily NK.
“This year, even more people are avoiding the tours.
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“It’s tough enough to make a living, so there’s no reason to use their own money to climb Mount Paektu, where the average temperature plummets to minus 40.”
Youths who make the trip complain that they’re “tortured by cold weather” but get no sympathy.
They’re reportedly told that “for young people, struggle is priceless” and that “young people grow up when their noses and feet freeze”.
North Korean propaganda has often emphasised how arduous the Paektu pilgrimage is, releasing photos of visitors struggling through the snow spurred on by patriotic fervour.
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Greg Scarlatoiu, director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said the news could point to a growing lack of faith in the regime.
He said: “Kim Jong-il's birthday is February 16, and Kim Jong-un's is January 8.
“Thus, the winter trips to Mount Paektu – the holy mountain of all Koreans, which the Kim family regime claims as its own – are critical to maintaining the Kim family cult.
“If young people are indeed bailing out of these trips, this may indicate that North Koreans are losing their faith in the Kim family genesis myth, and all other elements of the personality cult.”
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