Is this what a Kim Jong Un loyalty badge might look like? According to a recent report from the Daily NK, sources in Pyongyang are saying that Kim Jong Un badges are being distributed to Ministry of State Security cadres based in Pyongyang. According to the source, “[the badges] aim is to instill a sense of mission; namely, to be on the frontline defending Marshal Kim Jong [Un] and military-first Chosun.”
This wouldn’t be the first time that Ministry of State Security personell have been issued with special badges: even before his death, bodyguards and security agents close to Kim Jong Il were said to wear badges depicting his face, instead of the standard Kim Il Sung badge worn by the rest of the population. After Kim Jong Il’s death, many government officials started to wear two circular loyalty badges, one of Kim Jong Il’s face on a white background, and another of Kim Il Sung’s face on red but this “fashion” seems to have died down as more and more people are issued with the new “twin” lapel badges (see illustration below). Some sources have even claimed that the new, larger, twin badges are more fashionable for nostalgic reasons – they’re more like the retro badges worn in the 1970s.
In North of the DMZ, Andrei Lankov describes how the badges, featuring Kim Il Sung, emerged at the apex of his personality cult, and all have since been required to wear it. Numerous types of badges (Lankov puts the number at twenty in 2007, and the number has clearly grown higher since) are in circulation, and each confers a certain amount of power and status. Writing earlier this year, Lankov stated that “an experienced observer can guess the official association and approximate position of a North Korean simply by looking at his/her badge.”
Loyalty badges are worn on the left hand side of jackets or inner garments, but never on coats or outer layers. Perhaps predictably, the position of the badge on the left is said to be to place Kim Il Sung’s miniature face closer to the “heart” of the wearer.
Originally, most of the badges produced featured only Kim Il Sung, though these came in various shapes and sizes depending on what position the wearer held. Another badge, introduced at an unknown time, featured only Kim Jong Il and was worn “by the cadres in the security system.” While badges featuring both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were previously worn by only top cadres, it appears that since Kim Jong Il’s death it has gradually become the “standard” badge, at least according to Ruediger Frank (see image below). The Daily NK also reports that a new twin badge will be similar to this one but feature flowers below the Kim images.
Given the rarity of these new badges, with circulation apparently limited to a specific ministry in a specific area, it is no wonder that they have proven popular among the select few who receive it. The Daily NK reports that these lucky recipients are “brimming with pride as if they’ve received a medal.”
However, if these rumors are true, the badges are especially notable for what they may possibly say about the Ministry of State Security itself. Is it, for example, another sign that the ministry has gained in prominence since Kim Jong Un’s ascension to power in January of this year?
The department’s Minister, Kim Won Hong, gained seats on the Politburo and National Defense Commission in April 2012 to go along with his membership in the party Central Military Commission. Additionally, a statue of Kim Jong Il was dedicated at the headquarters of the ministry in October. The minstry plays a tremendously important role in maintaining the regime’s hold on power, being responsible for counterintelligence and internal security – are the badges and statues Kim Jong Un’s way of saying “keep up the good work”?
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