Many readers will have seen video and pictures from North Korea showing parades of thousands of goose stepping soldiers (and they do it very well) and armoured vehicles carrying the most up to date military hardware including rockets and missiles (though many are just mock-ups) passing a review stand of the military top brass, barely able to stand upright due to the weight of medals on their tunics.
These parades are held here in Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang’s, and indeed North Korea’s, main square, right in the heart of the city. The square was set up in 1954 and, while much smaller than its counterparts in Beijing and Moscow, it can still accommodate over 100,000 people. As I understand it, tourists do not get to enter the square when military displays or parades are being held. In addition to our normal sightseeing here during the day, we were fortunate enough to be let join thousands of people celebrating the Eternal Leaders 102nd birthday fireworks display. I have written a separate review on the fireworks.
I have always wondered how the goose stepping soldiers seem to march in such perfect straight lines and how the positioning of soldiers, etc within the Square is always spot on. Well, now the secret is out! Of course they practice and practice but also thousands of guiding white dots are painted on the ground (see final picture below).
The Square is surrounded on three sides by major buildings – the most impressive of which is the Grand People’s Study House which, as you can see above, has large pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il displayed in front of it and just behind a large grandstand where all the important people (read military) sit for displays, parades and other events in the square. Pictures of Marx and Lenin adorned other buildings until the square was refurbished in 2012 for the 100th birthday celebrations of Kim Il-sung. Marx and Lenin were removed on the order of Kim Jong-un at which time the former dour picture of Kim I-sung was also replaced with a smiling Kim Il-sung and he was joined by Kim Jong-il. By 2012 (actually somewhat earlier) the Soviet Union/Russia had ceased to be a benevolent benefactor of North Korea and the new Leader no longer wished to be associated with a brand of communism which had failed, unlike his grandfather’s Juche brand which was alive and well.
The other main buildings, of classic communist architecture on the square are the Korean Central History Museum, the Worker’s Party of Korea Headquarters and the Korean National Art Gallery. We did not get to enter any of these building but the displays on top of many of these buildings are amazing examples of soviet inspired propaganda.
The other side of the square is the west bank of the Taedong River, across which and directly opposite the square is the Tower to the Juche Idea (more commonly referred to as the Juche Tower). When the square was laid in 1954 the centre of it was made slightly lower than the riverbank giving the illusion that the Juche Tower is situated on the east side of the square as opposed to the other side of the river.
The Square is best viewed from the balcony of the Grand People’s Study House. The view from the top of the Juche Tower is also good but was spoiled a little by the fact that the sun was in the wrong place when we went up the Tower. We had ample opportunity to walk around in the square itself which I found a much pleasanter experience than strolling around a more open and impersonal Tienanmen Square in Beijing though people were strangely absent for this central city square.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on my trip to Pyongyang. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Foreign Language Bookshop: ‘Buy a book or two‘ – or to start the loop at the beginning go to – Pyongyang – A Capital City Unlike any Other