By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters
PYONGYANG, Dec 2, Reuter – The personality cult of North Korean President Kim Il-sung is being boosted by his son Kim Jong-il, apparently to ensure his own future as leader of the isolated communist state, foreign sources in Pyongyang said.
The cult, which completely dominates the lives of North Korea’s 20 million people, portrays Kim, 74, as a being endowed with super-human powers and as “the sun of mankind who illuminates the world.”
A number of huge monuments to the elder Kim have been built in Pyongyang since his son rose to power in the early 1980s, and the sources said they appeared to be part of the son’s efforts to strengthen his hold on the succession.
Kim Jong-il, 44, was promoted by his father to become heir-apparent in the early 1980s and he is now believed to have full control of domestic affairs while his father retains control of foreign affairs.
But there are persistent rumours in the diplomatic community that some people in the North Korean leadership are unhappy about him succeeding his father.
The official media’s constant stress on Kim’s greatness and infallibility, and on his son as the loyal disciple appears to part of an effort to mute criticism of what will be the world’s first communist dynasty, observers here said.
The cult of personality built by Kim since he was installed as leader of North Korea in 1945 by Soviet troops, far surpasses anything attempted by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin or Chinese leader Mao Tsetung.
Kim’s portrait is seen wherever you turn — on buildings, on badges on the chests of all officials, and on the walls of virtually every office and home in the country.
The names of “The Great Leader” Kim Il-sung and “The Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il are always on the lips of officials and every achievement and advance, no matter how trivial, is attributed to one or the other.
The capital city of Pyongyang is full of monuments to the Great Leader, including a tower 150 metres (yards) high, built to commemorate his 70th birthday in 1982. It is faced with 25,550 granite blocks, one for each day of the Great Leader’s life.
His writings, collected in 27 thick volumes, dominate the education of all students from kindergarten through to university. His birthplace has become a mecca for devotees. The mere sight of him can cause floods of tears from loyal Koreans.
North Koreans say the adulation is a sincere reflection of the deep respect they have for Kim Il-sung as the man who re- built the country after the devastation of the Second World War and the Korean War of 1950-53.
One Korean doctor trained in China during the Maoist Cultural Revolution, asked about the cult of personality, replied carefully: “We don’t have such a concept as personality cult in Korea.”
Meanwhile, the plump “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il is building up his own image as the high priest of Kim Il-sungism, the re-incarnation of his father’s spirit who will insure that the Great Leader’s legacy is respected and retained.
When the Dear Leader is mentioned in the official media these days, the superlatives fly almost as thickly as they do for his father.
One book tells the story of how when the Dear Leader climbed a mountain “the rain clouds dispersed and a rainbow appeared in the sky because the weather recognised its masters.”
Articles praise his “sublime personality” and far-seeing, radiant wisdom.” He is the “Lodestar who unerringly leads the Korean revolution to triumph” and he has “an exceptional gift for everything.”
These personality cults are used to encourage the North Korea workers to fulfil their quotas, and the speed with which the monuments in Pyongyang are erected are a tribute to the diligence of Korean workers as well as to the power of belief.
The Soviet Union and China, North Korea’s main allies, were reluctant at first to accept the dynastic approach to political succession in North Korea and officials of both countries are in private critical of the Kim cult.
According to one foreign source, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 criticised Kim for asking for economic aid when a 70-metre (yard) high statue of himself in Pyongyang was extravagantly coated in gold.
Now the gold has gone but the bronze Kim statue, hand out-stretched to show the Korean people the way forward, is still there.
Foreigners in Pyongyang are reluctant to speculate on the question of whether the Kim personality cult will long survive his death.
The cults surrounding Stalin and Mao were both scrapped within five years of their deaths. Only time will tell if Kim’s spirit has greater staying-power. REUTER