Tag Archives: Cult

Inside North Korea: How Kim Jong-un is carefully crafting a personality cult to keep grip on power

Inside North Korea: How Kim Jong-un is carefully crafting a personality cult to keep grip on powerThe tiny five-year-olds, dressed in pink tutus and bright, sequined shirts, were angelic as they sang in perfect chorus at the end of a half hour performance at the Changgwang kindergarten in downtown Pyongyang. Singing in harmony and clapping in unison, the smiling infants performed their catchy melody: “Our father is General Kim Il Sung…our home is our party…We envy nothing in the world.” Visitors to the modern and well-equipped boarding school leave with an image of idyllic childhood after seeing pupils light up at the chance to show the few foreigners allowed to enter the country their high-tech game machines, sports classes, ballet performances, and immaculate artwork. But the demonstrations also offer an insight into one of the more chilling aspects of North Korean life: a conditioning from infancy to express fawning devotion to the ruling Kim family. Three generations of the dynasty, from current leader Kim Jong-un, to his father Kim Jong-il, and war hero grandfather, Kim Il Sung, are venerated as deities and their personality cults permeate daily life with a suffocating effect. Kim Jong-il greets residents at one of Pyonyang's subway entrances Credit: Eddie Mulholland But while the two elder Kims are omnipresent – their portraits adorning the walls of every household, factory, school, even metro carriages – the young, current leader has so far resisted self-aggrandising monuments. However, in a move seen as an attempt to cement the 35-year-old as life-long ruler and to head off any possible leadership challenge, he is rapidly creating his own generational chapter of family mythology through tales of his own benevolence, superhuman talents and exemplary feats. According to some of the most outlandish claims, he learned to drive at age three and became a competitive sailor at nine. Last year, state-run media reported his ability to change the weather as he ascended the country’s sacred Mount Paektu through snow in black, leather shoes. Wedding groups gather at the Korean Revolution Museum to lay flowers at the statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il Credit: Eddie Mulholland In drip feed of carefully controlled state-published images of the leader, Kim is frequently photographed imparting his wisdom to officials scribbling in notebooks or to emotionally-overcome workers. On visits around Pyongyang last week the Telegraph learned of his “expert instructions” on the design of the natural history museum and on how to improve football boots. At the maternity hospital, Mun Chang-un, a guide, attributed the introduction of the epidural injection to the leader’s sage advice.   Portraits of North Korea's former leaders even make their way into the subway carriages Credit: Eddie Mulholland The sculpting of future generations to ensure their unwavering faith in the wisdom of the country’s past and current “great leaders” is a top priority for the regime to keep its grip on power.  In Changgwang, some 800 children living apart from their working parents, sing of their wish for Kim Jong-un to visit. In a history class, one boy sprang from his seat. “I will uphold highly the great, respected Kim Jong-un,” he said to joyful clapping from his classmates.  At the school’s entrance, a floor to ceiling painting in soft pastels of Kim Il Sung surrounded by children, some sitting on his lap, frames him as a modern-day Jesus.   “Let the little children come to me..the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” says Jesus in the Gospel of St Matthew.  “Young people are the successors to the revolution, a shock brigade in building a thriving nation and masters who will shoulder the future of Kim Il Sung’s nation,” states the red book of Kim Jong Un Aphorisms, volume 1, page 52.  North Korea claims to be a non-religious state, but it has simply replaced religion with Kim family worship.  Citizens bow deeply to imposing wax sculptures of “Eternal President” Kim Il Sung, while the party faithful proudly wear a red lapel pin depicting him and his son. The absence of Kim Jong-un billboards and portraits is noticeable and unexplained, although he is still officially idolised.  Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung look down upon the population across the capital Credit: Eddie Mulholland He could be taking things slowly while moulding his own cult-like image around that of his grandfather, the most popular of the Kims, suggested Robert Kelly, a political science professor at South Korea’s Busan university. “He is famously styling himself after Kim Il Sung, with the hair and the weight.” He added: “It seems like the propaganda apparatus didn’t really miss a beat. Kim Jong-un has been given all the relevant titles, he’s been given the same majesty and superstitious exaggeration.” Objects Kim once touched are revered – a hospital bed he sat on, a chair he used when addressing textile workers, now encased in a plastic box. Every factory has its own story of his concern to improve workers’ lives.  At the model Jangchon vegetable farm on the city’s periphery, deputy manager Kim Yong-ho, 53, spoke of his joy when the “great Marshall” visited. “I felt really proud to have met such a great man as the leader of our country! He is like the sun to us,” he said.   Such is the depth of mass indoctrination that even the most innocuous everyday occurrences prompt spontaneous gratitude to the leader.  Student Kim Song-gwang won an orange balloon after kissing a dolphin during a Sunday afternoon performance at the aquarium. “I am really impressed by the love and care of our great Marshall Kim Jong-un that we are enjoying ourselves in this wonderful location,” he said, when asked about the event.  Portraits sit above the sofa at the home of Kim Chun-Son. All portraits must be sanctioned by the state before being hung  Credit: Eddie Mulholland But unlike his father and grandfather, Kim faces the challenge of keeping his people isolated from the global internet age to sustain his legendary status.  As a result, the flow of outside information is still deeply curtailed. Most citizens may only access the state intranet and its heavily censored content, while calls or emails to foreigners must be officially registered.  Foreign news is highly restricted. One educated Pyongyang resident recounted the details of the June Singapore summit between Kim and Donald Trump, the US president, but had not heard of the Thai cave rescue which gripped the world for two weeks. Pornography and Bibles are considered to be “evil methods of infiltration”, used to “destabilise society.” Individualism is discouraged, dissent is punished. In one of the more bizarre restrictions, men and women may not dye their hair, and should choose from approved styles, including the “butterfly”, “seagull” and “coiled bundle.” Korea experts question how long Kim can maintain such draconian control? Although popular for improving the economy and securing the North’s nuclear weapons, Kim still faced future challenges to his power, said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin university.  “In order to keep the country stable they have to keep it isolated. If they open it, it will be suicidal for the elite and even for many common people because if you have revolution in North Korea it’s going to be very messy and bloody,” he said.  Visitors to the Changgwang Kindergarten are presented with an idyllic image of childhood in North Korea Credit: Eddie Mulholland “Basically, you cannot maintain such a level of ideological mobilisation forever. Information is getting in. Kim Jong-un is now taking it very seriously, he is doing what he can to prevent people from learning too much about the outside world. But he cannot fully stop it.” In a sign that the secluded society is slowly opening up, Oh Song Chong, 25, the soldier who was shot while made a daring defection across the border last year, told Japan’s Sankei Shimbun paper this week that “probably 80% of my generation is indifferent and has no loyalty,” to Kim.  “I actually think that most North Koreans think the ideology is kind of bunk,” said Robert Kelly. “My sense is that it serves two purposes. Firstly, it’s a mobilisation tool and the second is that without the Kim cult then North Korea just becomes a poorer version of South Korea.” For now, the regime’s imperative remains shaping the minds of schoolchildren.  At the Mangyongdae schoolchildren’s palace, a surreal after-school club that hosts regular performances for tourists, students sang and executed flawless dance routines in praise of the nation’s achievements.  Ri Jin-hyang, a 12-year-old guide, wearing the red scarf of the Children’s Union, a political organisation linked to the ruling Workers’ Party, was unsure what to reply when asked what she knew about the UK.  But her response on America was immediate and scripted to perfection. “The US is the country that invaded us,” she said.



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