In a first, Kim Jong Un’s portrait is displayed next to his predecessors

The move implies he is to be revered on the same level as Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
By Lee Jeong-eun for RFA Korean
In a first, Kim Jong Un’s portrait is displayed next to his predecessors North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) visits a classroom at the completed school of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang, May 21, 2024.

For the first time, a large portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was placed alongside portraits of his father and grandfather in a public place in what experts say is a move to boost the cult of personality surrounding him.

State media released images of the three portraits adorning the facade of the Central Cadres Training School of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang during the school’s opening ceremony this week. 

The three portraits were also shown above the chalkboard in one of the classrooms.

Photos of the first two dynastic leaders, national founder Kim Il Sung, and his son and successor Kim Jong Il, are displayed in every public building and private home. They are treated with such respect that citizens have been praised in state media for dashing into their burning homes to rescue the portraits.

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A general view of the completion ceremony to mark the opening of the newly completed school of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Cadres Training School in Pyongyang, May 21, 2024. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS/AFP)

Until now, Kim Jong Un’s photo had not been displayed next to his predecessors in an official setting. It’s not yet known if this will become the norm nationwide. 

Should the display of all three leaders be mandated by law, it would suggest that Kim Jong Un demands more respect than his father did. Displays of Kim Jong Il’s portrait only became mandatory upon his death in 2011, though people voluntarily hung it up while he was still living as a display of patriotism. 

Kim Il Sung portraits, meanwhile, have been mandatory since the 1970s.

Murals and music video

The move comes amid other propaganda efforts to elevate Kim Jong Un’s status. 

Just a few weeks ago, the country debuted a new music video that casts him as the “friendly father of the nation.” New murals depicting Kim have been erected nationwide over the past few years.

These are all examples of the systematic idolization of Kim Jong Un carried out in stages according to Kim In-tae, a senior researcher at the South Korea-based Institute for National Security Strategy.

The portrait display follows the trend of placing Kim Jong Un at the pinnacle of North Korea's collectivism and totalitarianism,” he told RFA Korean.

By placing his photo alongside his father and grandfather, Kim is trying to inherit the legacy and revolutionary tradition of his predecessors, Hong Min, from the North Korean Research Division at the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, told RFA.

“It shows that he has gone from prioritizing his predecessors and setting himself at a level lower than them to now standing as a leader of the exact same level,” said Hong, adding his prediction that the country will now start heavily promoting Kim Jong Un’s own ideological principles.

The cadre school’s opening ceremony also served to cast Kim as a champion of socialism, as portraits of prominent communist ideologues Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin also were also on display, Hyun In-ae, from Seoul’s Ewha Womans University noted.   

“It seems they declared to the whole world, ‘We are orthodox socialism,’” she said. “At the same time, this also signifies a declaration to the world that Kim Jong Un is the firm leader of North Korea.”

Translated by Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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