It is difficult to appreciate just how central these two figures are to North Korean life. Their images are omnipresent, and their auro worshipped. A few quick examples to demonstrate how Kim-crazy NK really is:
- Portraits of KIS and KJI appear in most rooms in all public buildings. People have also taken (possibly with some coersion) to putting up pictures of the two in their homes. All this creates the eerie sensation of being constantly under the watchful eye of an untrusting father - two, in fact. It would be fair to parallel this Kim devotion with the obsession with the cross shown by many committed Christians. Indeed, admiration of the Kims seems to have overtaken any sort of organised religion.
- The central attaction in Pyongyang is a 26 metre tall statue of Kim Il Sung, who reaches commandingly into the skies. The statue in Mansudae is a central gathering point in Pyongyang, and one that many workers will visit as part of their daily routine. On our visit, many locals were expressing their thanks and placing bundles of flowers at his feet. As the Lonely Planet guide points out, its worth remembering that this monolith was constructed whilst KIS was still alive as a birthday celebration, rather than being a tribute after his death. The man had balls, big dangly steel ones, it appears.
- With astonishing predictability, many of the major buildings and institutions are named after K1 or K2. The most prestigious university in NK - Kim Il Sung University. The central gathering point - Kim Il Sung Square. The two national flowers - Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia.
- Public art and culture is slavishly devoted to the Kims as well. During our visit, the Kimjongilia Flower Festival was on in honour of KJI's 63rd birthday. The festival consisted of various arrangements of the single type of flower under courageous portraits of the Dear Leader. Various public institutions with stands at the festival seem to have tried to outdo each other in their sycophancy. In other demonstrations of the trend, a public art show consisted almost exclusively of portraits of KJI in heroic poses, like a "Where's Wally" for complete idiots. With some pictures, one sensed a clearly talented landscape painter desperately seeking to throw Kim from the canvas, but lacking the courage.
- Various other Kim flotsum and jetsum... 80% of the titles at a bookshop visited by the tour were either written about or written by (or sometimes both) the Kims... a preface at the start of a children's book explained that the story that followed was once told by Kim Jong Il in his younger days... every adult Korean wears a small badge portrait of KIS on their lapel, and last year a request was issued by KJI that badges with his photo not be worn because - wait for it - he claims to be a shy man. Go figure.
But is this public honouring of the Kims genuine, or is it the product of a malicious state who will punish those who don't comply? Strange at it may seem, the admiration appears genuine. People seemed to be genuinely uplifted by small daily encounters with Kimthings, and wore the badges on their lapels with pride and distinction. Perhaps this is a product of growing up knowing little else, given that it has been instilled as a way of life for over half a century. NKorean people seem to feel that they are genuinely blessed to have such divine guidance... two times over!
One wonders, though, what it says about the ego of any individual who requires such regular, graphic demonstrations of admiration. Clearly there is an underlying insecurity in the character of KIS and KJI, particularly KJI who has no real notable achievements to his name yet is lauded with such unbridled joy. At some points, there is a strange sexual overtone to the admiration, particularly with people speaking of their desire to 'please the Dear Leader' and their earnest pledge to do 'anything for the Dear Leader'. The scary part is that KJI seems to believe his own publicity, and struts the public stage as if the outpouring of admiration is both genuine and deserved.