n korea 70th 1
North Korea's Workers' Party prepares anniversary celebration
01:49 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Elaborate celebrations, including mass choreographed dances, have been rehearsed for months leading up to the anniversary

On its 70th birthday, the Korean Workers' Party appears as strong and omnipotent as ever

Party's authority and ideology permeate every aspect of North Korean life

Pyongyang, North Korea CNN  — 

As we drive around the North Korean capital, everywhere we look we see people carrying artificial red and pink flowers.

On Saturday, the reason will become apparent as tens of thousands of Pyongyangites turn Kim Il Sung Square, in the heart of the city, into a sea of pink and red.

Brandishing their bouquets above their heads, they’ll shout out their loyalty to North Korea’s third generation leader, Kim Jong Un, and to the party whose 70th anniversary they will be celebrating that day – the Korean Workers’ Party.

Rehearsals have been happening for months. We see large groups practicing their routines day and night. At Pyongyang’s Party Foundation Monument, hundreds of university students rehearse a 50-minute dance routine, choreographed to everything from traditional music to disco-sounding beats.

The crowd of young faces in colorful traditional Korean dresses known as “Chosen-ot” is a striking contrast to the monument’s solemn three, gray 50-meter towers in the shape of party emblems – a hammer, sickle, and writing brush.

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“Our joy is simply boundless! We’re so overwhelmed,” says 18-year-old Sun Un Gyong, who is studying math at a local university. “We want to celebrate in the most significant way.”

Saturday’s parade will be the biggest celebration of the year – and possibly one of the biggest ever. The parade serves two functions – to show off the country’s military hardware to the world, and to showcase its people’s seemingly fanatical devotion to their young leader and the party his family has controlled since its very beginnings in 1945.

A story heard from birth

The Party's austere Founding Museum

Every North Korean child learns from school the official history of the party. Adults attend political study throughout their working lives. Television is filled with documentaries giving the same lessons. Now it is our turn.

We are brought to the Party Founding Museum, housed in a pre-war Japanese-style colonial building – a rare sight in a city that was ravaged by aerial bombardment during the Korean War. This was the original headquarters of the Korean Workers’ Party, where Kim Il Sung founded his party, routing out rival factions and ensuring his undisputed position as North Korea’s first ‘Great Leader.’

The ground floor is given over to pictures and artifacts from the party’s early history, while the upper floor has been preserved much as it was in those early days.

Lessons in Party history

At one end, a portrait of a 30-something Kim Il Sung looks down on the empty auditorium. On the flanking walls, sit portraits of the communist pantheon, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and 20th century ideologues Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.

Tellingly, there is no sign of the founder of Mao Zedong, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party, to whom the DPRK feels no ideological debt – even though hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers gave their lives to help the young nation survive almost certain defeat in the Korean War.

Today Stalin and Mao are relegated to history, but Kim Il Sung – the ‘Eternal President’ – is still a very much a political presence 21 years after his death.

Groups of visitors are taken around each room in turn and lectured in party lore and history. There is an almost religious reverence as the crowds follow the guide’s every word and turn their gaze to each artifact, photograph and document she points out. It’s a story they’ve been immersed in from their earliest years – from their first days in school to their adult working days.

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‘Defiant show of force’

In the Soviet Union, the Communist Party, which ruled undisputed for over 70 years, has long since faded into obscurity. The Chinese Communist Party still rules, but it has made a bargain with its people – leave us the reins of power and we will let you get on with your own lives.

But on its 70th birthday, the Korean Workers’ Party appears as strong and as absolute as ever. Its authority and its ideology permeate every aspect of North Korean life.

Today, third-generation leader Kim Jong Un rules a nation some outsiders consider an anachronism, a throwback to the Cold War. But North Korea insists it is here to stay – developing nuclear weapons and missiles to defend the regime.

This weekend’s parade a public display of devotion to the leadership, a defiant show of force to the world.

READ: Everything you need to know about North Korea