There are three basic traits of Stalinist personality cult. First, a ruler is portrayed as an exceptional genius and, thus, worthy to lead the people. Second, the future victory of the state is attributed less to the qualities of the leader, but more to the “scientific laws of history discovered by Marx”. Third, the leader is portrayed as a spiritual successor to his predecessor(s) and his loyalty to them is constantly stressed.
These were characteristics of the cult of Stalin – and they were transplanted to the cult of Kim Il Sung in 1945. However, following decades of development, the cult of Kim Il Sung has deviated from this original to a certain extent.
First, of course, there have been periods when the cult has been less intense than usual. During the first two years of the Korean War, DPRK newspapers focused more on the frontline and less on Kim Il Sung. Second, following the denunciation of Stalin in Moscow in 1956, Kim Il Sung had to reduce the intensity of the praise on himself.
This lasted up to 1967, when the cult was once again revived and brought to a completely new level. The grotesque, super-Stalinist cult with mandatory quotes from Kims in every text, the entirety of the population wearing badges with the Leaders’ portrait etc. – was born then, in the late 1960s to early 1970s.
There have been periods when the cult has been less intense than usual
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
There are many rumors that it was Kim Jong Il who is responsible for this sudden rise of the cult. While they are yet to be confirmed with documents, the theory looks relatively plausible. The rise of Kim Jong Il began in the late 1960s, which was followed by a relatively mild cult of personality in the 1970s and a full-blown campaign since roughly 1981.
The new cult of both Kims differed from that of Stalin, to some extent. It usually did not assert that the DPRK will be victorious because of some laws of history, discovered by Marx or anyone else.
Rather, it was the Leader who was the guide of the country and the justification of its existence and the person who will achieve victory for the people. This personality cult was much more personality-focused.
Under this system, Kim Jong Il was notably below his father. No statues of him were erected, badges with his portrait were much rarer and he received his rank of Marshal only after his father was promoted to Generalissimo.
There are many rumors that it was Kim Jong Il who is responsible for this sudden rise of the cult
In a way, Kim Jong Il related to Kim Il Sung in the way that Stalin did to Lenin, with the difference being that Kim Il Sung soon became portrayed as a great being without a predecessor and the leader of all “progressive mankind”.
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL
Kim Jong Il died in 2011, and under Kim Jong Un there has developed a balance between the cults of his father and grandfather.
Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il started their military career as Marshals and were later promoted to Generalissimos, although the later received the title posthumously.
Both Kims have their statues across the country – often paired to commemorate the father and the son together. Their portraits have also been omnipresent since 1970s, and after 2012 their design was standardized: they both feature smiling Kims.
The two highest orders in the DPRK are, as readers may have guessed, the Order of Kim Il Sung and the order of Kim Jong Il. Both Kims are enshrined in the North Korean constitution and the Ten Principles of the Party (the latter text is the defacto constitution).
However, if one looks at the situation more carefully, one can spot differences. First, the North Korean Juche calendar is based on Kim Il Sung’s birth year, not Kim Jong Il’s. Second, only Kim Il Sung’s portrait can be found on North Korean banknotes.
There is also a difference between the positions occupied by both Kims after their deaths. Kim Il Sung is an Eternal President of the DPRK. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Il is Eternal Chairman of the National Defense Commission and Eternal General Secretary of the Party.
Under Kim Jong Un there has developed a balance between the cults of his father and grandfather
But under Kim Jong Un, the National Defense Commission was renamed to the State Affairs Commission and the Secretariat of the Party was renamed to Administrative Council. As Eternal Chairman and Eternal General Secretary, Kim Jong Il now who eternally presides over two non-existent institutions.
One can assume that the DPRK still asserts that Kim Il Sung is greater than his son, but given how state newspaper constantly hail the “Great generalissimos” as two equals, this is probably not the case.
Kim Jong Un, most likely, does not care about the cult nearly as much as his father did. This new cult was constructed faster, and is much less creative, than it was under Kim Jong Il, probably because the current ruler is indifferent to its peculiarities.
MADE IN THE USSR
While its origins lie in the Soviet Union, the DPRK’s personality cult has far surpassed its inspiration, replacing North Korea’s state ideology and becoming the main justification for its existence. Of the cult of the three Kims, the cult of Kim Il Sung is the most important, as cults of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un are dependent on it, as is the entirety of the North Korean ideology.
Thus, those fighting the ideological war on North Korea should attack Kim Il Sung – without his greatness, the DPRK loses its very reason for existing.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Grand People's Study House. Pyongyang, North Korea. by (stephan) on 2008-06-09 15:30:36