“North Korea was founded on September 9, 1948.” We hear this phrase again and again, and often say it ourselves. But rarely do we ask the question – what happened on that day?
If a country has a holiday commemorating its foundation day, it’s usually easy to name the historic event it is intended to commemorate.
For example, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, announcing the secession of the Thirteen Colonies from the British Empire.
On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood at the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, announcing the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.
Sometimes that date is more obscure. For example, Russia Day commemorates the 1990 Declaration of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR that Russian laws overrode the laws of the Soviet Union. Not every person interested in Russia knows this, but still, one can find out.
Not so in North Korea. We do not know of any major ceremony which took place on September 9. In fact, we do not know about anything of significance taking part on that day.
TWO STAGES OF FOUNDATION
Perhaps it would have been more fitting to celebrate foundation day on July 10, the day when the DPRK flag was unfurled for the first time.
By that time Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet and American occupation zones, and talks of unification had stalled.
We do not know about any major ceremony which took on September 9
The Soviet Union had ordered a session of the People’s Assembly for northern Korea to ratify the enforcement of the constitution of the DPRK in the northern part of the country.
This was implemented, and on July 10 at noon the vice-chairman of the Assembly, Choe Yong Gon, announced the adoption of the new constitution. The traditional Korean flag – now the national flag of South Korea – was removed from the Assembly and the new one was unfurled.
The DPRK was now literally semi-proclaimed, and Moscow and Pyongyang prepared to announce the promulgation of the constitution on the entire Korean peninsula.
To do that, North Korea announced elections to the Supreme People’s Assembly. The elections, were, of course, a pure formality, with only one candidate allowed to run in each district.
Both North Korea and the Soviet Army claimed that these elections took place in the South, too, and despite them being illegal, 77.5% of the South Korean population allegedly participated.
Then we finally come to September.
On September 2, the new first session of the Supreme People’s Assembly began. On September 8, it was announced that the Constitution was now in force on all of the Korean peninsula.
On September 9, however, nothing of importance really happened.
COSMETIC SURGERY OF HISTORY
The first celebration of the DPRK anniversary took place on September 9, 1949, and had been commemorated even since. Why was this date picked?
We should remember that we are talking about a country which has always twisted history for political reasons.
The “77.5% South Koreans participating in a secret election” line was one of the first in a long row of such claims.
Later the DPRK would claim that it was a victim of aggression in the Korean War and erase the entire period of Soviet administration from its history, replacing it with a story of an independent national construction.
This author’s hypothesis is that the reason why the change was made was, simply, because the date looked good.
In Korean, September 9 is literally “9th month, 9th day” (9월9일). “Double 9” looks much better than “9.8” – and this was probably the reason.
After all, Party foundation day in North Korea was moved to October 10 from October 13 – because “10.10” looks better.
And Kim Jong Il’s birth date was moved to 1942 from 1941 – because being born in 1942 meant that he was exactly 30 years younger than his father and it looked good.
This kind of historical revisionism is one of the worst kinds – when history is not even rewritten to fulfill some propaganda goal, but simply because it is more visually appealing.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
“North Korea was founded on September 9, 1948." We hear this phrase again and again, and often say it ourselves. But rarely do we ask the question – what happened on that day?If a country has a holiday commemorating its foundation day, it's usually easy to name the historic event it is intended to commemorate. For example, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.