Kim Jong Un gains a new title among youth: ‘Respected Father’

Move generates resentment among young people who see it as inappropriate and clueless
By Jieun Kim for RFA Korean
2023.05.15
Kim Jong Un gains a new title among youth: ‘Respected Father’ North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greets the crowd during a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of North Korea's army at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea Fe. 8, 2023.
KCNA via Reuters

North Korean young people are now required to refer to the country’s 38-year-old supreme leader Kim Jong Un as “Respected Father” – generating resentment among youth who consider him to be similar in age and undeserving of such an honorific, residents in the country say.

Such idolization also comes across as clueless, given the widespread hunger that many face, they say.

Kim Jong Un seems to be attempting to perpetuate the personality cult of his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung, who were both referred to by that title, but at a later age.

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People bow to the statues of former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill to mark the 11th death anniversary of Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, Dec. 17, 2022. Credit: Cha Song Ho/AP

The decision was evident in new educational materials distributed to youth organizations that citizens 35 and younger must attend, residents told Radio Free Asia. 

“Until now, the authorities have been saying [in the media] that the hearts of the people admire and obey the general secretary … like they follow and obey their own fathers,” a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“According to this month’s educational lecture, young people between the ages of 14 and 35 now have to call the general secretary their father, even though he is estimated to be 38 years old,” he said. “Even though Kim Jong Un is of a similar age to some of them, they have to call him father, and it takes on a political meaning.”

‘Resentment rising’

Many people still consider him young and inexperienced compared to the previous two leaders, so the new title seems inappropriate and even as idolization, the source said.

North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung began using the title In 1967, when he was 55 years old. In 1992, the youngest North Koreans began calling him “Grandfather.”

After his death, his son Kim Jong Il, took on the title “Respected Father” at age 53, which was used until his death in 2011.

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Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il hang inside the convention hall of the April 25 House of Culture as leader Kim Jong Un chairs the party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit: Wong Maye-E/AP

The move also rankled people because it seemed like a tactless step amid widespread starvation across the country, a resident in the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely. 

“The media praises him as an outstanding and sophisticated leader, ‘a fearless patriot who spreads the dignity and power of [our country] to the world,’ and now we are to call him Father,” she said. “Resentment among young people is rising.”  

Kim’s new title may be a part of a broader propaganda effort that has included more public visibility of the ruler and his family, the source said.

Since October, Kim has been making public appearances with his daughter Kim Ju Ae in what some experts believe is an attempt to soften his image and perhaps prepare the populace for a future female leader to be the fourth generation of the Kim dynasty.

“It seems that … it was preparatory work to make himself the father of the people,” the resident said.

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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