February 25, 2024

The kaleidoscope – Two years of Kim Jong Un

"Am I the only one who thinks that it is just a little bit worrying our main sources of information on the leadership in Pyongyang are a former chef and Dennis Rodman?"

As the news broke of the fall and execution of Jang Sang Thaek at the end of November, it was hard to think that it was less than two years since Kim Jong Il died and Kim Jong Un replaced him. Even if the more lurid stories of what happened to Jang were probably not true, his was a rapid descent from the apparent heights of power to a hasty death. The man who had walked immediately behind Kim Jong Un in 2011’s funeral procession was publically humiliated as he was denounced and dragged out of a party meeting, dragged before a kangaroo court and then eliminated. His links to the Kim family that may have protected him in the past did not work this time. There now can be no return for the man who twice before was purged but who each time came back.

The last two years have been remarkable. In some aspects, there was clearly a break with the past. Kim Jong Un did not go into mourning for his father in the way that Kim Jong Il did when Kim Il Sung died in 1994. There were rumours of some degree of mourning being imposed, and of generals executed for holding parties too soon after the death to be seemly. But the new leader did not retire from the public view. Perhaps mindful that he had not been in view for very long, Kim Jong Un quickly began to be seen doing many of things that his father had done, especially with the military, but also in other ways behaving more like the grandfather to whom he bears an uncanny similarity. He smiled and joked and seemed to enjoy himself, whether walking about, riding at a fun fair or watching basket ball with Dennis Rodman. This was not how the North Korean people had been accustomed to seeing the leader to in recent years. Kim Jong Il may now be referred to as “smiling Kim Jong Il” and invariably portrayed with a grin, in life he seemed a far more dour person, at least in later years. When Kim Jong Un also began appearing with his wife, something Kim Jong Il never did, he again would have reminded people of his grandfather.