As the BBC reported, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was provided with mass marches throughout the country in mourning of his recent death. As the thousands were shown on TV, they did what is routine on such occasions in countries with absolute rulers. The people gyrate and undulate and holler, supposedly expressing their earnest grief, although it is remarkable that no tears were in evidence from any participants.
These sort of mass exhibitions are not confined to mourning. They also occur during what are supposed to be celebrations of anniversaries, holidays, etc. Because North Korean officials forbid any visits from foreign journalists, it is difficult to get reliable information from the country, including about these mass events. When television footage is shown outside the country, reporters only have the pictures produced by the lackeys of the regime inside.
One way to obtain reasonably accurate news of what is happening is to consult with refugees who have taken part in these kinds of demonstrations in the past. Since, however, such refugees are mostly highly critical of the regime and the rulers, it can be claimed that they will be biased and that they have a stake in giving false reports.
I was personally part of such demonstration during the era of Joseph Stalin, when he came to visit Budapest in the early 1950s. Thousands of young people were taken out of school and ordered to join the mass demonstrations that Hungary's puppet government was required to organize for the Soviet dictator. We were ordered to get into our Young Pioneer uniforms – white shirt with red scarves – and gather at Budapest's Hero's Plaza and shout at the top of our voices "Our Dear Father Stalin" for as long as the parade lasted (except when a speech was given). And at the end we were all counted up so the officials could divide those of us who attended from those who were absent since the latter would be penalized, mainly by docking their grades in school. What happened to adults I do not know, although we heard that they were often physically beaten for missing such demonstrations.
The inference that all of this was a charade is impossible to avoid. No kid I knew wanted to be there for most of a weekend's day; very few I was aware of wanted to exhibit joy at Stalin's presence in the country. It was all done out of fear except perhaps by a very small percentage of dedicated communists. (And by the way, the political system of communism was itself betrayed at these events and throughout the history of these Soviet puppet regimes since such a system would not have a dictator but would be a massive commune! That's true for North Korea, Cuba and any other such society.)
The dishonesty surrounding all of this is well illustrated by the terms being applied to the rulers, such as "Supreme Leader" and "Our Dear Father," let alone by the utterly artificial expression of emotions, good or bad. There are – and have always been – quite a few societies in which the population is coerced into various gestures shown at mass demonstrations, for example, for the rulers and the regime or against foreign critics. It is something of a mystery to me how so many people can be induced to take part in these dishonest mass gestures and, indeed, in decades of compliance with the ruler's orders. For us, the biggest incentive was that in our midst there were always people who were lurking about taking down information about those of us who showed any sort of reluctance or rebellion so they could gain favor by making their reports. Since these regimes do not only punish the non-compliant or rebellious but also members of their extended families and friends, the show of resistance wouldn't only have bad consequences for the perpetrators but many others and hardly anyone wanted to be the cause of such grief and gross injustice.
Making friends with people who rule these countries, as some suggest, is out of the question for anyone with even an ounce of decency. If one must deal with them, as diplomats often do, they have to be treated with utter formality so that no propaganda gains could be gotten for them from such associations.
Indeed, it seems to me that one line of education for diplomats who are required to deal with these dastards would be to learn just how most effectively to refuse to show any kind of sanction of the ruler and their regimes while not encouraging the brutalization of their population.