Few events in human history transformed the world like the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Leading to the birth of the Soviet Union and the eventual creation of the Communist bloc, it was an event which defined the course of the 20th century.
The revolution which toppled the Russian Provisional Government and opened the way for Bolshevik takeover of the nation took place on November 7, 1917. However, since at that time Russia was still using the now-obsolete Julian calendar, inside the country the date was October 25. As a result, the historic event became known as the October Revolution, or to use the style later adopted in the USSR, the Great October Socialist Revolution.
The revolution, of course, would eventually lead to a chain of events which would result in the creation of North Korea, so on this 100th anniversary of the event, it seems fitting to reflect on how it is remembered in the DPRK.
“THE HOLIDAY OF THE GREAT SOVIET PEOPLE”
On November 7, 1945, the newspaper Chongro – the Rodong Sinmun’s predecessor – mentioned Kim Il Sung by name for the first time and congratulated Korea’s communist benefactors:
Finally, after the chorus sang a national anthem, [everyone], led by Commander Kim Il Sung, started shouting: Long live the liberator of all oppressed nations – the Red Army! Long live the anniversary of the October Revolution – the holiday of the great Soviet people! Long live Comrade Stalin – the Generalissimo, the Supreme Leader of the world’s weak and small nations!
Many things have changed in North Korea since 1945, but the basic concept of the October Revolution has remained the same: it was “the holiday of the great Soviet people”. In other words, a national holiday of the Soviet Union, a cause to congratulate Moscow, but not to celebrate inside the country.
On November 7 each year, North Korean newspapers published a congratulatory message to the Soviet Union, often accompanied by a portrait of Lenin, and, until 1955, Stalin. The message was signed by Kim Il Sung, and, until 1972, by the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly as well. Sometimes the message to the Soviet leader was accompanied by a message to a Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, here is a typical example:
To respected comrade Andrei Andreevich Gromyko, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
I send warm congratulations to you, respected comrade Minister, on behalf of the forty-first Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The ever peaceful foreign policy of the Soviet Government makes a huge contribution towards defusing tensions and preserving peace and it is supported by all peace-loving people. Selfless and brotherly assistance of the Soviet people to the Korean people further strengthens the unbreakable bonds of friendship between the Soviet and the Korean people and encourages the people of our country to be victorious in the struggle for peaceful reunification of the fatherland.
Please accept my sincere congratulations on successes of the invincible friendship between the people of Korea and of the USSR, strengthening of unity between the socialist nations led by the Soviet Union and your efforts to preserve the world peace.
November 6, 1958.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nam Il
The basic concept of the October Revolution has remained the same: it was “the holiday of the great Soviet people”
Until roughly the early 1960s, poems dedicated to the events were composed by North Korean writers, but eventually this was retired in favor of a focus on the greatness of Kim Il Sung, and of course, later messages mentioned the leading role of the USSR in the socialist camp were scrapped.
This tradition continued until the early 1990s, with 1991 being the last year when Moscow was congratulated on the event of the holiday. On November 7, the Rodong Sinmun published a message to Mikhail Gorbachev, who was called “President” and not “General Secretary”, as the Communist Party was, by then, dissolved and the Soviet Union was in a state of near-collapse.
With the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991, the holiday fell into obscurity in the North Korean press. In 1992, then-Russian President Yeltsin did not receive any messages at all.
In 1997, on the 80th anniversary of the revolution, the Rodong Sinmun published a piece covering a plan by some Russian Communists to erect a monument to Lenin – cases of Soviet nostalgia in modern Russia are always welcomed in Pyongyang. Ten years later, in 2007, the anniversary was completely ignored, and ten years later, in remains conspicuously absent from DPRK media.
NATIONAL VS INTERNATIONAL
Ironically, this North Korean image of the October Revolution as a Soviet national holiday was almost a complete reverse of how the holiday was presented in the USSR itself.
The Soviet Union always presented the Revolution as representing the beginning of a new age for the entire world. 1917 was a mandatory turning point for the periodization of history books. For example, when it came to Soviet books dedicated to Korean history, the new era began in 1917, not the opening up of the country in 1876 or its annexation by Japan in 1910.
But in North Korea, it was presented as a national holiday of the Soviet Union with little implications for the DPRK itself. And when the USSR was no more, there was no need to dedicate special attention to it.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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