December 05, 2023

Kim Jong-un and the Power of Propaganda

Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent to North Korea’s troubled throne, remains an enigma. The mystery surrounding this young man has thrown a veil over what the international community –and South Korea- can say for certain about the question of succession in North Korea. Of especial importance to this issue is the matter of propaganda. Propaganda will be essential for the successful and peaceful handover of power, so it is telling to examine the degree to which a visible campaign in favour of Kim Jong-un can be found. Of equal importance is the examination of the propaganda campaigns that granted both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il such remarkable lasting power. Are the formidable powers of North Korea’s propaganda machine being utilised to the same extent on Kim Jong-un’s behalf? If not, why not? And what does this mean for the future of North Korea’s leadership?

For long, the Pyongyang leadership has relied on Confucian ideals of patriarchy and respect for elders and an effective propaganda base to portray certain members of the Kim family as natural rulers with exceptional leadership capabilities. North Korean conceptions of Confucianism only serve to reinforce the notion that the Kim dynasty has a ‘divine right’ to rule the North Koreans, in the manner of a monarchical family. It is upon this myth of greatness that political eligibility can be built in order to permit the concept of power-inheritance from father to son.  But how well does Kim Jong-un fit into this tradition?