North Koreans forced to attend lectures to solidify personality cult of Kim family

Celebrations also push ‘Kimjongunism’ to mark current leader’s ascension to power 10 years ago.
By Myungchul Lee and Do Hyung Han
North Koreans forced to attend lectures to solidify personality cult of Kim family North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the proposed building site for the Ryonpho Vegetable Greenhouse Farm in the Ryonpho area of Hamju County, North Korea, in this undated photo released January 28, 2022

North Koreans were forced to attend propaganda lectures last week lionizing the achievements of their country’s two previous leaders in celebration of their birthdays, sources in the country told RFA.

Kim Jong Il (1942-2011), the father and predecessor to current leader Kim Jong Un, was born on February 16, a date now known as the “Day of the Shining Star.” His father, national founder Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), was born on April 15, or the “Day of the Sun.”

The lectures and celebrations seek to solidify the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family, which has now ruled North Korea for three generations. In addition, the central government is hosting public discussions promoting the achievement of Kim Jong Un as North Korea prepares to usher in a new era of so-called “Kimjongunism” to mark to 10th anniversary of his ascension to power on April 13.

“A six-day political education event that emphasizes the achievements of previous leaders is starting today for everyone in the People’s army, to celebrate the upcoming Day of the Sun and Day of the Shining Star,” a military source from the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service Jan. 24.

“All soldiers and officers must attend for one hour each day, every day this week. In the past, political education for military personnel has been conducted ahead of special occasions, but it is very rare for all the officers to participate for one hour each week,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

As planned, the first three days were to be dedicated to study, with the final three days set aside for self-criticism. Self-criticism sessions typically happen once per week. Citizens must confess their shortcomings, and then criticize their colleagues for their mistakes.

“On the last day, individuals renew their determination to participate in upcoming celebration,” the military source said.

“In these kinds of lectures, they claim that the happiness of the people is possible because the previous leaders carried the country through a long journey, personally covering over 35,000 miles,” said the source, referring to the total documented distance traveled across the country by the first two leaders in personal visits meant to advise and encourage the people.

The source said that the authorities would likely also demand that officers and soldiers concentrate efforts into completing their winter training assignments more efficiently.

“They argued that we should identify what problems appear in combat preparations and take advantage of that as an opportunity to improve as we welcome the Days of the Sun and Shining Star.”

Every institution — the military, businesses, and cooperative farms — must participate, an official in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA.

“Selected lectures from senior members of each institution are the primary focus of the lectures, which will be held for six days through 29th. They keep attendance to ensure that all residents participate,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely. 

Even people who are not affiliated with a company or institution must attend. This can be problematic for some because the wages from a government-assigned job is nowhere near enough to support a family, and adult family members who are officially not working actually bring in most of the family’s income by running a family business.

“They have to attend the lectures for an hour every morning, so they cannot go to the market for business and are having a hard time making a living,” the second source said.

Birth of Kimjongunism

North Korea held a widely publicized discussion that praised the achievements of Kim Jong Un on Jan. 25, state media reported.

Experts in South Korea said that it was a signal that the government is preparing to officially formulate a specific ideology of the current administration, which could be called Kimjongunism.

The term harkens back to Kimilsungism, or the ideas and policies of Kim Il Sung, and Kimilsungism-Kimjongilsm, which updates those ideas for the era when Kim Jong Il ruled.

North Korea has already begun using Kimjongunism internally, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service reported during the National Assembly’s audit of state affairs in October.

The discussion, called the “Symposium on Greatness and Exploits of Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un,” included high-ranking North Korean officials who are experts in ideology and governance theory. These included the Korean Workers’ Party’s Propaganda and Agitation Secretary, Ri Il Hwan, and the president of the Kim Il Sung Military University, Han Chang Sun.

“They said that the past ten years marked by dynamic advance under the leadership of Kim Jong Un were meaningful days when the validity and vitality of the Party's revolutionary ideas were fully demonstrated,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency reported.

“They praised the general secretary as a brilliant thinker-theoretician and distinguished statesman who shows the road ahead of revolution with his outstanding ideas and ushers in a new era of great changes by giving full play to the mental power of the popular masses,” the report said.

The symposium is just one of many examples of North Korea’s drive to idolize Kim since the beginning of this year, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the official beginning of his rule in April.

“This is part of an effort to transition to Kimjongunism,” Chung Young Tae, chair professor at South Korea’s Dongyang University told RFA. “To officially call it that, they are first showing a general pattern of reporting that will emphasize his achievements. This will intensify.”

Chung said that North Korea was politicizing its current economic difficulties. A closure of the Chinese border and suspension of trade two years ago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic have taken its toll. The economy is in shambles and nearly everything is in short supply. Though China and North Korea resumed rail freight earlier this month, recovery remains a long way off.

“North Korea attributes the reason for its economic hardship to external factors, such as pressure from the United States. They try to strengthen internal solidarity by highlighting Kim Jong Un as a divine being who can overcome difficulties,” Chung said.

Since last year, North Korea has been promoting Kim’s achievements in an effort to draw comparisons between him and his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, Director Cheong Seong-chang of the Center of North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute told RFA.

Kim Il Sung founded the country and its Juche ideology of self-reliance and holds the most revered status in North Korea’s cultural psyche.

“They want to promote Kim Jong Un as a great leader like Kim Il Sung. This symposium is an opportunity to spread that idea throughout society,” Cheong said.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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