Mount Paektu (North Korea) (AFP)
The official story tells that it is here, on this sacred mountain, in the discomfort of a rustic hut, that was born the father and predecessor of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The guide, enthusiastic, continues: " Welcome to the Holy Land of our revolution ".
The North Korean regime is resolutely atheist, with its own ideology, the Juche, which proclaims that "man is master of all things". Yet, quasi-religious metaphors abound on Mount Paektu, a sleeping volcano on the border between North Korea and China.
The mountain is considered the cradle of the Korean people. And, according to the official North Korean story, Kim Jong Il, the son and successor of the regime's founder Kim Il Sung, was born in a secret guerrilla camp that his father commanded against him. Japanese occupant.
This pilgrimage site sees tens of thousands of North Koreans brought up every year to worship their leaders.
Kim Jong Il "was born in difficult conditions," explains Kim Un Sim. "Not in a luxurious house, but in a cabin made of logs", while the mercury could fall to minus 40.
His mother Kim Jong Suk, who also belongs to the North Korean revolutionary pantheon, could only eat soup of dried herbs and corn, the guide said.
- The Nativity -
"The guerrilla fighters were crying with pity at seeing that our general, who was only a few months old, had so little to eat and brought him food and goat's milk."
With the shining star, the gifts of well-intentioned people for a child of extraordinary destiny, the story evokes the Nativity.
According to the guide, this secret camp was from 1936 the base where Kim Il Sung organized the resistance that "finally achieved the historic liberation of the country".
She never mentions the role of the American atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the capitulation of Tokyo and the end, in 1945, of the 35 years of Japanese occupation.
The Korean Workers' Party and the Kim Dynasty base their legitimacy on the regime's leadership in Kim's decisive role in the struggle for independence.
Mount Paektu is also the legendary birthplace of King Tangun, grandson of Heaven and founder of the first Korean kingdom.
Situating on this mountain the birth of Kim Jong Il anchors the Kim Dynasty in this sacred tradition. And for the regime, Kim Jong Un, the current leader, belongs by descent to the "Paektu lineage".
- "Burning desire" -
For foreign historians, Kim Il Sung actually spent most of the war in exile, fighting Japanese forces in occupied China and then commanding a Soviet battalion.
The Soviet administration situates the birth of Kim Jong Il in the Siberian village of Vyatskoye on February 16, 1941, a year before the date advanced by Pyongyang.
After the war, the camp was abandoned and colonized by the forest, according to the guide. But in 1986, Kim Il Sung recognized the place and ordered that three huts be erected for the building of the masses.
"All North Koreans have a burning desire to visit the secret camp," she adds.
Each year, 100,000 or more North Koreans come to visit the camp, the mountain and various sites presented as high places of resistance.
Dressed in khaki uniforms that look like guerrilla warriors, they walk with a red flag in their hands to the top, where a handwritten inscription by Kim Jong Il presents Mount Paektu as "the sacred mountain of the revolution" .
There, they sang patriotic songs or paddled on the lake of the crater.
- "Medieval Europe" -
The pilgrimage, which takes two or three days for those who work, can extend four weeks for students, with the key to volunteering on construction sites or in other projects.
"Everyone needs spiritual pillars," said 30-year-old Ri Yong Myong, who studies Korean literature at the prestigious Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang after spending ten years in the military.
"Rather than riches or honors, Koreans see Mount Paektu, the sacred mountain and mountain of our great leaders, as a spiritual pillar."
But according to a Western official who is very knowledgeable about North Korea, propaganda is so plentiful in people's lives that their beliefs are often deeply ingrained.
He draws a parallel with "medieval Europe and the role of the Church and its doctrine": "Most North Koreans have no reference to question this story."
© 2019 AFP