“Academician” is not a common word in the English language as it refers to a concept which does not exist in the English-speaking world. This word is used to describe a full member of an academy – a club whose purpose was to unite the most distinguished scholars.
One of the most well-known examples was the Soviet Union Academy of Sciences. As is the case with its successor – the Russian Academy of Sciences – membership was highly prestigious.
It is not surprising, then, that after the collapse of the USSR, multiple private academies emerged, offering the title of an “academician” for a price – quite similar to how multiple institutions in English-speaking countries confer unrecognized PhDs.
The first of these fake Russian academies to emerge – and the most infamous – was the Russian Academy of Natural Science. Various others institutions, such as the International Academy of Informatisation, the Academy of Political Studies, the Russian People’s Academy of Science, and many others soon joined the club.
All these organizations worked according to a similar scheme. First, they invited good and honorable scholars to their ranks – for free. As the organizations began to look reputable, they opened their doors to everyone – this time, for a price. In addition to conceited men and women who simply wanted to be called “an academician,” fake academies became very popular among activists of pseudoscience.
People like Valeriy Chudinov, a man who claimed that the Etruscan language is actually Russian, Pyotr Garyaev, who claimed that he could talk (orally) with DNA molecules, and even truly diabolical human beings like Grigoriy Grabovoy – a crook who promised to resurrect children killed in an infamous terrorist attack for a hefty price – all signed up for various academy memberships.
Another group interested in these quasi-academies was the North Korean leadership.
One of the cornerstones of North Korean propaganda is that the Kim family enjoys enormous popularity across the world. As a result, even the slightest manifestation of pro-Kim activity is duly covered in North Korean media – a meeting of five people hailing Kim Il Sung in Ecuador has a much higher chance of appearing in DPRK press than, say, presidential elections in the country.
The diploma, issued by the Russian Academy of Natural Science, was awarded for “the fundamental contribution of the development of the Juche idea”
And of course, a Kim getting an honorary title is a major event.
The emergence of fake Russian academies was, then, a true gift for Pyongyang, and after 1995, Kim started to become an academician of various organizations.
On October 10, 1995, North Korea’s second newspaper, the Minju Choson, reported that the “A certificate of an honorary academician, a commemoration gold medal ‘Author of an academic discovery’ and certificate on the issue of the gold medal, was bestowed upon the Great Leader respected comrade Kim Jong Il.”
The diploma, issued by the Russian Academy of Natural Science, was awarded for “the fundamental contribution of the development of the Juche idea,” which as the readers might be able to guess, is not exactly recognized as a discipline of the humanities in Russia.
The simple title of an academician was merely the beginning of Kim Jong Il’s illustrious career in Russian academia, and on January 17, 1997, the Rodong Sinmun reported that the Great Leader had received an Order – also from the Academy of Natural Science.
This time the only reason given was that he had turned 55. Interestingly, the Rodong Sinmun added additional flattery to the message: “the order was made of gold and silver. The gold and the silver show the deepest respect towards the beloved and respected comrade Kim Jong Il and the eternity of such a respect.”
The process did not end there. On December 15 2003, Kim Jong Il became an academician and a professor of the Russian Academy of security, defense and problems of law enforcement and, in September 21, 2005, an honorary academician of the Russian People’s Academy of Sciences.
In North Korea, virtually nobody knows what the Russian Academy of Natural Science is
In the late 2000s, the DPRK press seemingly stopped publishing these messages, as if they realized that for Kim Jong Il, being a member of a club of crooks and pseudo-scholars was hardly an honor. Yet, when in 2012 the DPRK published a special issue of the yearbook dedicated to the demise of the Great Marshal, one could clearly see that this was not the case.
A list of the Beloved Leader’s orders listed all the titles conferred upon Kim Jong Il by Russian crooks listed above – and some others as well. For example, on December 5, 2005, Kim Jong Il became an honorary academician of the International Academy of Art Defenders, on February 16, 2006 – an honorary academician of the International Social Academy, and February 2, 2008 – an honorary academician of the International Academy of Arts Culture.
In all three cases, as the Yearbook notes, Kim was given the same set of items: an academician’s certificate, an order, a mantle, and a hat. Such a coincidence is not surprising – after all, the owner of all three institutions is the same foundation: “Defenders of the Art of the Century”, which, by the way, is even mentioned in the Yearbook.
Of course, at first glance, this all looks absurd, but if you think about it, this strategy is quite rational. Few people outside the DPRK read the Yearbook, its target audience is located inside the country. In North Korea, virtually nobody knows what the Russian Academy of Natural Science is.
Reports of another award for the Beloved Commander were no different from the rest of the flow of unstoppable praise for the Leaders which Northerners heard every day – and therefore one can hardly expect anyone to will focus on them specifically, let alone attempt an investigation.
Perhaps, someone may have been afraid that this would damage Kim Jong Il’s reputation in Russia? Those Russians with a tendency to criticize the Beloved Generalissimo would like point to the famine and concentration camps – some highly questionable titles from some crooks were small fry.
Meanwhile, members of Russian Juche study groups, ignoring all of the above, would have no problem making peace with this news as well.
Thus, everyone was satisfied: North Korean officials did their job, Russian crooks got their money, and Kim Jong Il received yet another title.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: file photo
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