What are the values of Kim Jong
New personality cult under Kim Jong Un?
On Sunday, North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un welcomed President Miguel Díaz-Canel from Cuba, one of the few allies of the East Asian dictatorship, at Pyongyang's Sunan Airport. What was actually worth reporting on the state visit, however, was emblazoned in the form of a larger-than-life painting in the background: For the first time, the regime has put an official portrait of Kim Jong Un on display, together with the portrait of his guest from Cuba in the same style and format. Both works unmistakably come from the Mansudae art studios, the state culture factory. One shows a friendly smiling Kim Jong Un in a western suit and tie with fashionable glasses model "Malcolm X".
"The similarities to the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are clear and long overdue," says the German North Korea researcher Martin Weiser. That North Korea's head of state in the third generation resembles his father and grandfather in the public image (with adjustments to the modern Western taste), was quickly interpreted as an attempt by the propaganda apparatus to stimulate the leadership cult around Kim Jong Un and to raise it to the same level as its predecessors.
Mandatory accessory for North Korean officials: Kim Il Sung badges
North Korea's cult of personality remains unmatched
Weiser considers this to be exaggerated: "This is not a new stage in regime propaganda, but rather a very banal portrait of what one would like to present when visiting heads of state." The painting probably existed before, but only found a reason to use it with the visit of the Cuban President.
However, official portraits play a central role in the personality cult surrounding the Kim family. The likenesses of state founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011, are ubiquitous: They hang in every building in the country as pins on the left breasts of most North Koreans and are also immortalized in the form of bronze statues on the city centers.
Strict rules apply to portrait paintings: They can only be hung on empty walls and must be dusted regularly. Tourists are only allowed to take full pictures of them and not cut off the sides. If North Korean newspaper readers crumple pages with a portrait of the head of state or stain them with cigarette ash, this is regularly punished with penalties.
"After the founding of the state, North Korea's personality cult quickly surpassed that of its Eastern European brother states in terms of extravagance. By the end of the 1940s, the country's leading university was named after state founder Kim Il Sung, his home village was chosen as a national shrine and his statue was erected in several cities", writes Brian R. Myers in his standard work on North Korea's propaganda "The Cleanest Race".
No longer in vogue: Anti-American propaganda art from earlier years from North Korea
Kim cult has been toned down in recent years
Compared to later decades, the regime's propaganda was still downright hesitant: It always emphasized the "superior" culture of the Soviet protective power and the performance of the Chinese Red Army in the Korean War.
In the 1960s, however, Kim Il Sung's biography as a heroic resistance fighter against the Japanese occupiers was mythically "polished up", and in retrospect he was credited with the authorship of a number of plays and ideological manifestos. When Kim Il Sung celebrated his 60th birthday in 1972, there were more portraits of him hanging in the country than was the case with Stalin in the Soviet Union or Mao in China.
The 34-year-old Kim Jong Un has so far been exempt from this extreme cult of leadership. This certainly has to do with the Confucian tradition, which attaches great importance to seniority. In addition, as president in the third generation, he no longer had the natural authority of his predecessors. Kim Jong Un can rely far less on the blind loyalty of his compatriots than his ancestors, but has to be measured more by his deeds. It is not for nothing that the young dictator has linked his legitimacy with the promise of economic prosperity for the population.
In general, the regime's personality cult and propaganda have recently weakened significantly, especially since the inter-Korean rapprochement at the beginning of this year. For example, for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the previously ubiquitous anti-US murals have disappeared from the cityscape of Pyongyang.
The governor of the South Korean province of Gangwon, Choi Moon Soon, who has already met Kim Jong Un twice in person, says: "When I visited North Korea last month, I noticed a noticeable change. When we used to go to the tourist landmarks of Pyongyang these were always introduced by our tour guides in the first sentence with reference to the kindness of the guide Kim Jong Il. Recently, little of that was felt. An international standard is slowly making its way. "
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