North Korean Media See Heaven’s Blessing on Leaders, Defector Says

2006-03-20
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Photo: AFP/Alexander Nemenov

North Korean media regularly fabricate stories of rainbows and other signs of heaven’s blessing on their leaders, a North Korean defector now working as an RFA columnist reports.

North Korea’s official Rodong Shinmum newspaper reported last month that “three pairs of rainbows” appeared and “mesmerized” viewers on the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, according to Huh Jin, who escaped from North Korea in 2002 and now works in South Korea as a journalist.

At around 9 a.m. on Feb 16, the newspaper said, the weather abruptly cleared over the village of Sinyang-gun, the site of a large smiling portrait of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father and founder of North Korea.

At the time, I thought it was odd that Kim Jong Il’s birthday coincided with the mountain’s height, but I couldn’t say anything. If I had said something, I would have simply disappeared,

A huge rainbow then appeared around the sun, and others shone “at angles” in both the East and West, according to the newspaper’s account, Huh Jin said.

Huh Jin added that North Korea’s Chosun Central Broadcasting Station reported last year, as another sign of celestial favor, that Feb. 16 was an “auspicious” date, falling on the third week and third Wednesday of the month and on the third day of the week.

Natural phenomena

“Both elders and children exclaimed in amazement,” the station reported, “that this year’s February is General Kim Jong Il’s February, the people’s February.”

In a further connection with the Feb. 16 date, Huh Jin said he was once told that the Kim Jong Il Peak of North Korea’s Mount Baekdu is itself 216 meters high.

A Mount Baekdu god established this height, a guide informed him, “to let the world know that this auspicious person [Kim Jong Il] was born with Baekdu’s spirit.”

“At the time, I thought it was odd that Kim Jong Il’s birthday coincided with the mountain’s height, but I couldn’t say anything,” Huh Jin said.

“If I had said something,” he said, “I would have simply disappeared.”

Huh Jin noted that each year in February, North Korean media report occurrences glorifying Mount Baekdu’s “Three Great Persons”—Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, and the elder Kim’s wife, Kim Jung Sook.

All these “legends” are based on natural phenomena, Huh Jin said.

Huh Jin said that he finally learned the “truth behind the Baekdu legends” from a “Mr. Jang,” who defected to South Korea after working for seven years as a broadcast reporter in Pyongyang.

According to Mr. Jang, Huh Jin said, reporters where he worked had to make up at least one Mount Baekdu story each Feb. 16. One year, Jang said, he wrote a story about 50 white pigeons flying over the mountain in the sky.

Further, high-ranking officials in North Korea drive cars, mostly Mercedes-Benz, with license plates that begin with the digits 2-16.

George Washington University professor of Korean language and culture Young-Key Kim-Renaud said Kim appears to be exploiting “Korean traditional thinking and customs” to secure his rule.

For example, she said, Kim “stayed almost in seclusion for three years after his father’s death.” This, she said, demonstrated his filial piety and observance of traditional ritual.

Original reporting by RFA's Korean service. Service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Translation by Carrie Yang. Written for the Web by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Korean

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