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‘Superstitious’ submarine christening irks North Koreans

The smashing of a champagne bottle on the submarine was 'hypocritical' for the regime that bans superstitions, residents say
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a launching ceremony for a new tactical nuclear attack submarine in North Korea on Sept. 8

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a launching ceremony for a new tactical nuclear attack submarine in North Korea on Sept. 8. (Photo: Korean Central News Agency via Reuters)

Published: September 15, 2023 11:33 AM GMT
Updated: September 15, 2023 11:37 AM GMT

North Korean people are frowning at a christening ritual for a new nuclear submarine, calling it a “hypocritical” act of the government that criminalizes superstitions, says a report.

Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, in the presence of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, smashed a champagne bottle on the hull of a submarine on Sept. 8, prompting citizens to question the regime’s “double standards,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Some residents voiced their “surprise” at the move.

“I couldn’t help but be surprised that a ceremony that the authorities say is a punishable superstitious act was held in front of Kim Jong Un,” an unnamed resident from the northeastern city of Rason told RFA.

“The authorities have been cracking down on the simple rituals of fishermen performing ancestral rites and pouring alcohol to ensure the safe navigation of boats, defining them as superstitious practices,” he said.

Media reports say the North Korean authorities have suppressed even simple rituals by fishermen while taking their new boat to sea or after repairing it.

Some of the rituals involve a pig’s head and copious amounts of alcohol which North Koreans say is in a similar spirit as the recent submarine christening by the minister.

The government had not strictly enforced the anti-superstition laws under Article 256 of the North Korean constitution until the 2020 Anti-Reactionary Thought and Culture Act was enacted, RFA reported.

The law is aimed at preserving the purity of North Korean socialist ideals by harshly punishing people for watching foreign media, speaking like a “South Korean,” wearing “capitalist” fashion, or even dancing like a “capitalist.”

Article 256 forbids fortune-telling, divination, exorcism, and other superstitious acts.

The small ceremonies done by the fishermen are covered in the act and punishments can range from “up to a year” in a disciplinary labor facility to “a minimum of three to seven years” depending on how serious the act is.

Despite the law not covering the ancestral rituals of the North Korean fishermen, the authorities have interpreted their activity as a “reactionary ideology” brought in from neighboring South Korea.

The North Korean fishermen have been secretly holding these ceremonies under cover of night to avoid being punished, RFA reported.

The local fishermen and other residents have alleged the government of being “two-faced” and felt that the residents should be allowed to perform their ceremonies in public.

“After seeing the reports of the submarine launch ceremony, fishermen and other residents are saying that the authorities are two-faced, and they should no longer have to do their ceremonies in secret,” the resident said.

A second unnamed resident of Rason’s surrounding North Hamgyong province said that the video of the submarine christening for the first time had sent out contradictory messages.

“It is deeply contradictory for the authorities to tell residents not to believe in superstitions and not engage in superstitious behavior, but then to do something similar [themselves],” the resident said.

“People are mocking the authorities by asking, ‘Do [the authorities] believe in superstitions, too? Is it okay to do superstitious acts in front of Kim Jong Un?’” the resident added.

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