The ego of the Kims

North Koreans seem to have an intense fascination with their leaders. As NK's founding president, Kim Il Sung was adored and celebrated by his people... or at least that's the impression left my the endless pictures and monuments in honour of the man. Such was his impact on NK that he was enshrined in the country's constitition as a permanent president, meaning that his death in 1994 had no impact on the status of his presidency. He is often affectionly referred to by NKers as the "Great Leader". His son, Kim Jong Il fought of a number of contenders before being announced as successor, and has earnt himself the honorific title of "Dear Leader". Despite the fact that he has yet to break his duck in giving a speech in his time as national leader, he is revered in the same spirit as his father was.

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.

Il Sung on the left, and Jong Il on the right

- 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.

Kim Il Sung Grand Monument at Munsudae

- 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.

Kimjongilia Flower Show

- 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!

More Kim

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.


Anonymous said…
Wow.. That's a bit sad. A lot. Up until the first half of this piece i was wondering what have they got to fear of now? But if you say its geniune then it must be a good brainwashing in education from little age. They now actually seem to believe in it. What is the place for any kind of religion in NK? I suppose none. They made him religion. That reminds me a peice i read yesterday on why the Israelites made a golder calf? Do you think its a similar case? -
"Our ancestors lived in a world where all cultures related only to corporeal forms of deity. They believed that man must pay homage to G-d and win His grace, but could not relate directly to an intangible deity. Man must therefore deify objects of his own making that represent his highest idea of the world-directing G-dhead. These objects would then be invested by G-d with divinity and become the bearers of man's fate."
Anonymous said…

Excellent insight into the world that is North Korea. You should have had a crack at posting these articles whilst still there!!

I guess what is interesting is when you compare it to the society in which we live. Open, honest, and especially disorderly... anyone who has been on a tram past Scotch College at 3:40pm can attest to this. We are willing to talk back to our political leaders, yet take our sport more seriously than our national leadership. For example, Howard can lie and deceive the public for years and get away with it. Richmond lose a few games in a row, and the mob is after the coach!

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Unknown said…
Some may be wicked, and some may be despicable. Only when I put myself in their position did I know they are more miserable than I. So forgive all that you have met, no matter what kind of persons they are.
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