Category Archive: Kim Il-Sung

Dec 18

Kim Jong-Il dead at 69.

You heard it here last – Dear Leader and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Marshall Kim Jong-Il died early Monday according to state-run television KCNA.

He apparently died on his private train, due to “physical and mental overwork”. Heart complications on his usual “on-the-spot guidance” tours are to blame. It will be fascinating to see what the weeks ahead hold for the DPRK: The crash succession of Kim Jong-Un, potential power struggles, glorification and state funeral arrangements, and the future of foreign policy to the reclusive state.

More to come…

Source: BBC News | Associated Press

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Jul 08

Kim Jong-Un alleged to have undergone 6 plastic surgery procedures to resemble granddad.

Kim Pyong-ilRumours of the future leader of North Korea’s supposed plastic surgeries were rampant from the moment he was revealed to the world last September. While there’s really no new evidence now, the speculation has been spreading through the media outlets lately. Why? According to the Chosun Ilbo, half brother and once a potential threat to Kim Jong-Il’s succession to leadership, Kim Pyong-Il (the guy in the hat) has been placed under house arrest as well. Purportedly, Pyong-Il has a closer resemblance to the deceased Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, a figure still well respected in North Korean hearts and minds despite a quiet resentment for his son, Kim Jong-Il. The idea behind the surgeries according to the president of Open Radio for North Korea:

"Half the procedures were designed to make his face resemble Kim Il-sung and half were intended to give him the same profile.”

There’s another thing that makes people resemble other people: genetics. However, former personal sushi chef to Kim Jong-Il, Kenji Fujimoto had stated that the Jong-Un revealed to the world last year does not resemble the precocious teenager he recalled from his time there. If true about the surgery, they did a pretty good job. Wonder if those surgeons are still around today?

Source: Open Radio for North Korea / Sydney Morning Herald

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Feb 25

Why North Korea isn’t going to overthrow its dictatorship anytime soon


I’m going to share a somewhat longwinded rant that I posted on the news aggregation website Reddit. A number of popular posts were excitedly discussing the possibility of revolution in North Korea, while basing most of their claims on wild speculation and sometimes outright false information.

One of the top stories in /r/WorldNews, with over 1500 comments is the hype surrounding a certain article that citizens in North Korea are staging unprecedented public protests against the Kim Jong-Il regime. The original article is here:

The Asia Times article cites most of its information from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper. I can’t find the article they speak of, but there’s plenty of alternative stories on the English Chosun site. This SK professor makes some good points:

  • Discontent: It’s been a harsh winter, and North Koreans are once again very hungry. Rations aren’t being distributed properly, because the international food aid on which the country has been dependent for decades is all sparse. What does come through is coming from China, and is primarily reserved for the military and the elite.
  • Easier access to information: Word is getting out about just how deplorable the North Korean situation really is to its citizens. Cellphones are becoming more widespread, though strictly compartmentalized with no outside access. People close to the SK or Chinese borders are sometimes able to get a signal from those countries and communicate with the outside world. South Korean television shows and anti-regime propaganda videos are finding their way into peoples hands.
  • Chinese influence: Information is exchanged during trading sessions. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this information spreading quickly or very far.

First let me get into a little bit about how North Korean society is structured. Pyongyang, the capital, is where most of the elite and those most loyal to the party can live. It is considered a great reward to be moved from one of the provinces into the capital. They get first dibs on pretty much everything. A far cry from the luxuries we take for granted, but idyllic in the eyes of most North Koreans.

Flattery will get you everywhere in the DPRK. Young people aspire to serve in the military, for a 10 year period, just for the shot at getting a good job and becoming a party member. Anything you say against the regime will very likely put you into a labour camp. Once you’ve served time in the labour camp, you’ll either die or get shipped to one of the crummier provinces, never to rise in rank again. It really doesn’t take much for this to happen. Almost all military defectors in South Korea have done so because they realized their "careers" were in ruins for good. The Kim Jong-Il regime, like his father’s (Kim Il-Sung) before him, doesn’t take any shit.

I’m sure every Redditor has read George Orwell’s 1984. Kids ratting out their parents. Neighbours throwing neighbours under the bus for an offhand comment, or something trivial such as not dusting the portraits of the Great and Dear leaders in their households. Spies are literally everywhere in North Korea, and for the most part, people are absolutely terrified to speak out. So they put on a smile and continue worshipping the Kim personality cult. When you get in trouble, typically your entire family goes with you, effectively "purging the bad blood". Many North Koreans fear more for their families lives than their own, so behave accordingly. It is truly a dictatorship based on fear.

Still there is a fierce nationalism in the country. From birth, North Koreans are taught to hate the USA and Japan. To a lesser degree, South Koreans, but in that case mostly just the "puppet" capitalist government that they teach is the cause of the North’s repression. The North is a mountainous region with many natural resources, but difficulty growing their own crops. The South is plentiful in farmland and food, but imports most of their natural resources. Korean reunification has been the ultimate goal since the end of World War II, or so either side would have their citizens believe. They would be a powerhouse if they could reunite, and the American military is blamed for keeping them divided. China props up the DPRK because they too are resentful of the strategic military positions the Americans have on the Korea peninsula. This was Kim Il-Sung’s goal, and all of the shortfalls in North Korean history are said to be an ongoing battle in a long running revolution for Korean supremacy.

Here’s another article about one of the protests in Sinuju, a border town near China. The protests were sparked by police cracking down on markets, which are typically ignored but technically illegal in the country. Many count on these markets to survive, as they are not receiving food from the state as they’re supposed to. When the police crack down on these markets, and there are no alternatives to food, people get understandably angry. But the protests were quelled pretty quickly. People were probably killed and injured. Many others and their families probably trucked off to labour camps never to be heard from again.

That being said, sometimes protests are allowed to happen. DPRK attempted a grand currency reform in late 2009 which screwed a great deal of the population out of any money they had in their savings accounts. Since Kim Jong-Il’s songun or military first politics are centered around strengthening their forces, the people can be convinced that the poor economic decision was the result of poor high level decision making outside of Kim’s scope. Demonstrations were held, citizens were not punished. The regime said "yes, this was a mistake, and now were are executing the people responsible", and that’s what happened.

When Kim Il-Sung had tapped his son to be successor, party members loyalties were put to the test. Many adored Kim Sr. but questioned the leadership capabilities of his reckless son. Thus, a lot of purging occurred where dissenting party members were executed or demoted, and key supporters were put in the vacant positions. Much of the leadership of North Korea are directly related to the Kim family, or to the original families that fought alongside Kim Il-Sung’s guerilla struggles against Japan (which he is largely lauded for achieving Korean independance, though history indicates his true impact was minimal). Kim Jong-Il is getting old and his health is questionable, and so in turn he is propping up his son, Kim Jong-Un for succession. This means a whole new round of purges, a tighter crackdown on defectors and malcontents, and more credit to Kim Jong-Un for anything nice that happens in North Korea. Jong-Un is allegedly to continue his father’s military-first policy, but is also being heralded as brining about the dawn of "CNC" or Computer Numerical Control– basically the automation of manufcaturing the improve the quality of lives of North Koreans. Part of this is the distribution of cellphones, computers and digital technology, though obviously cut off from the rest of the world.

South Korea’s just as in the dark about North Korea as the rest of the world. Yes, the SK government marked Kim Jong-Il’s birthday on the 14th by launching propaganda balloons filled with anti-regime pamphlets, shortwave radios, DVDs, etc. This is nothing new and will not bring about a revolution. South Korea has been launching these balloon propaganda campaigns for decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Koreans, seeing these balloons heading for their town don’t go into their houses and shut the doors. If you find a balloon, you must turn it over to the authourities. If you read the contents you will be punished. If you keep what’s in it, you’ll be punished. If you see someone else reading the material and don’t report them, you will be punished.

Here’s another article from the Korea Times about how Seoul has stated that there are no signs that the North Koreans are staging widescale protests. The protests are small, and localized, and have no chance of growing beyond that. People are not allowed to travel between provinces at will, and there are military checkpoints all over the country.

Sorry for this long-winded rant. In a nutshell, North Koreans can’t revolt because they lack the ability to organize. There are no mass communication tools available to them. There is a great fear of repression from the authourities. The only real opportunity for change in North Korea will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, and this must happen sooner rather than later, or Kim Jong-Un’s grip will become as strong as his father’s. The coup would happen at a high military level, and as I mentioned before, many of these people are family to the Kim dynasty. I’m going to stop now, I could probably go on for hours.


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Jan 19

Time’s Up: DPRK extends economic growth plan to 2020.


In 2007, North Korea made a pledge to its people: A Powerful and Prosperous Nation by 2012. The Stalinist state pledged a boosted economy and better lives for its people, through the usual Juche propaganda of self-reliance and more efficient processes such as the much hyped CNC. To downplay any real economical development in the last 4 years, North Korea has now announced a new broader vision: The “10-Year State Strategy Plan for Economic Development” headed by the “State General Bureau for Economic Development”. According to Korean Central News Agency:

This governmental body will handle all issues arising in implementing state strategy projects for economic development.

This step was taken at a time when miracles and innovations are being performed in the socialist economic construction everyday on the basis of a solid springboard laid for building a thriving socialist nation under the outstanding and tested Songun leadership of Kim Jong Il.

The above-said plan set a state strategic goal for economic development. It puts main emphasis on building infrastructure and developing agriculture and basic industries including electric power, coal, oil and metal industries and regional development. It, at the same time, helps lay a foundation for the country to emerge a thriving nation in 2012 and opens a bright prospect for the country to proudly rank itself among the advanced countries in 2020.

When the above-said strategy plan is fulfilled, the DPRK will emerge not only a full-fledged thriving nation but take a strategic position in Northeast Asia and international economic relations.

It seems likely that much of this “economic growth”, if any actually comes to fruition, will be partly attributed to nepotic leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un. The young successor, like his father Kim Jong-Il, but unlike grandfather Kim Il-Sung, has no real military background and no inputs into political ideology. Therefore, as with the succession from Kim Il-Sung to Kim Jong-Il, the propaganda machine will instead laud him as a “genius”, attributed to ideas and innovations to help boost the North Korean economy. However, the road ahead to a “Powerful and Prosperous”  DPRK will be hard fought for either leader as the US and South Korea maintain a hardline approach by enacting economic sanctions and refusing previously consistent foreign food/supply aid.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo / KCNA

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Jan 04

What’s cool these days in North Korea? Crystal meth.


An inside source close to The DailyNK reports on the recent popularity of methamphetamines amongst North Korean youths with privileged backgrounds. The source claims that to address the issue, authorities have formed special inspection teams but the issue is to widespread to eradicate. An anecdote from Chongjin in North-eastern North Korea:

“An inspection unit composed of Party and judicial officials made a surprise visit to Namkang Women’s Senior Middle School in the Pohang district of Chongjin, just in front of the statue of Kim Il Sung. There, they inspected the bags of female students in one senior class (17-18 years), and found the tools for sniffing meth in more than 50% of them.”

“Tools” for sniffing crystal meth apparently consist of rolled up paper bills, which of course are adorned with the portrait of Kim Il-Sung and thus regarded as extremely disrespectful to the Great Leader. An increase in prostitution is also linked to the high usage of the drug, which has highly addictive tendencies and can be difficult to pay for with money. Often the drug is given away for birthday gifts as well. And as its is mostly the children of the elite who are addicted to the drug, it can be difficult to eliminate the problem since the government corruption runs high.

Source: DailyNK

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Dec 10

Kim Jong-Un portrait most likely Kim Il-Sung

korea-portrait04nw_1048361a_zoomGlobe and Mail’s revelation that a Canadian tourist may have stumbled upon a propaganda painting of Kim Jong-Un’s youth in Switzerland has been met with increasing skepticism since the announcement. DailyNK has spoken with a North Korean defector with a degree in fine arts, who counters the evidence that the portrait is of grandson Kim Jong-Un:

…the angle of the man’s face and line of vision reflect a formula used in innumerable official portraits of Kim Il Sung, who of course did not pose for every picture in which he appeared, and that the background is a homage to the North Korean founder’s time as a revolutionary in cities in places like Jilin and Harbin in Northeast China.
On all levels this portrait resembles the Kim Il Sung seen in cultural films about his revolutionary tradition, for example “The Star of Chosun” and “Sun of the People”.
Not only that, but as one North Korean defector who worked in the arts said, “If this was really a portrait of Kim Jong Eun for his glorification, it would have been distributed systematically by the Department of Agitation and Propaganda,” adding that, “It doesn’t make any sense that a glorification portrait of Kim Jong Eun which hasn’t even been published in Pyongyang yet would have been on display in the Rajin Art Gallery in October.”
“When I look at this picture, it looks like something a student from Pyongyang Art University might have submitted for their graduation piece,” he added.

Myth busted, I suppose! However, it’s likely only a matter of time before idolization portraits of the Youth Captain start circulating among the North Korean people to hang next to Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

Source: DailyNK

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Dec 04

Portrait of Kim Jong-Un discovered by Canadian tourist?

A contemplative Kim Jong-Un, walking through Central Europe, daydreams about his motherland of North Korea. The portrait above, discovered in an art gallery in the Rason region of North Korea by a Canadian tourist, is believed to be the first outsider look at Kim Jong-Un propaganda and helps us speculate on the mythology being prepared to deify the future leader. Likely representing Kim Jr,’s studies abroad in Switzerland, the portrait shows him looking very much like his grandfather, the immortalized Kim Il-Sung.

The Globe and Mail article quotes B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race and a PhD in North Korean literature:

“It goes to the heart of what will be the regime’s main problem in glorifying the boy, namely the fact that he was overseas during at least part of the famine or [so-called] Arduous March. The regime is for some reason loath to let foreigners see this nascent personality cult,” Prof. Myers said. “We have seen footage of [Kim Jong-un], and of course we can see him on the TV news every few days … but we know next to nothing about how the regime is articulating his biography. This painting offers important insight into what kind of mythobiography the regime is either planning or is already teaching the masses in party meetings, study meetings etc. outside the view of foreign visitors.”

He noted that the young man in the painting was gazing at the sun rising in the east, another suggestion that North Korea consumed his thoughts, even while he was far from home.

However, another North Korea expert, Andrei Lankov believes this artwork to be an older portrait of Kim Il-Sung, set in the 1920s (Thanks @LiberateLaura). The evidence is substantial for either claim, but we will have to wait and see as North Korea’s propaganda machine begins work to glorify the youthful leader-to-be.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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Oct 11

Massive military parade held for North Korean leaders

In a huge publicity campaign for the newly annointed heir to the North Korean dynasty, a massive military parade was held in Kim Il-Sung Square in front of dozens of foreign journalists. (See: Louisa Lim’s and Melissa Chan’s Twitter feeds for liveblogging of two journalists suddenly invited to Pyongyang with many others to cover the events. The journalists were offered internet access at their hotel, and often neglected to follow many around the premises, contrary to past procedures as a visitor to the DPRK. Favourite tweet: “melissakchan: Asked one North Korean when he first heard of Kim Jong-un. He said about a year ago.”

Video of the parade including views of a weak (and mole-faced) Kim Jong-Il and heir Kim Jong-Un here:

Source: Images from AP and Reuters respectively, video from

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Oct 09

North Korea opens up to foreign journalists prior to massive parade

Quite suddenly, many journalists were offered visas to enter the reclusive country, presumably to report on the upcoming military parade described as being “Kim Jong-Un’s Coming Out Party”. The young General was also seen with his father at the Arirang Mass Games. Follow Louisa Lim’s Twitter page as she is one of the journalist allowed into the country. Apparently, the airport staff weren’t prepared for the sudden deluge of foreign journalists. One minder of the group described their visit as “unprecedented”. Louisa has previously been to Pyongyang around this time last year.

Source: NPR

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Oct 05

Father and son attend military drills together; NK capable of jamming GPS

KCNA reports that both leader and son participated in watching the North Korean military drills. Kim Jong-Un has suddenly been quite prominent in North Korean media lately, and it is widely accepted that he is being groomed to succeed his father Jong-Il as the leader of the North Korea dynasty. Kim Jong-Un received key posts that effectively label him 2nd-in-command at a rare Korean Worker’s Party conference last week, while secrecy still shrouds his life prior to these promotions. Events such as this viewing of drills are similar to the father-son behaviour of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, travelling and leading together. Will there be shared leadership in the future while Jong-Il survives?

In related events, the South Korean defense minister reported to parliament that during the US-SK war game exercises in late August, their GPS reception was intermittenly jammed and interfered with by North Korea. The jamming equipment is alleged to be Russian in origin, and can operate on signals within 100km, which may pose a serious concern for South Korea military, who are dependent on guided weapons that utilize the technology. It is also believed that North Korea is also trying to export the technology to the Middle East.

Source: Yahoo! News via AFP / Yahoo! News via Reuters

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