South Korean intelligence now considers Kim Il Sung’s ex-wife Kim Song Ae – born in 1924 – to be officially dead, although the Ministry of Unification said it would “share” information only after thorough investigation.
At first glance, the death of a member of the Kim family clan might normally be a big deal. One could therefore even start speculating about it as being one of the reasons Kim Jong Un appears unlikely to come to Seoul before the end of 2018, as he was expected to do.
But there is no confirmation that her death happened recently. In addition, this present author heard about Ms. Kim’s reported death a few years ago, meaning it is unclear if she died in 2018 or if it is simply the slow emergence of old news.
Furthermore, a close look at Kim Song Ae’s biography reveals that it has been several decades since she exercised any real influence on DPRK politics.
So, just exactly who was she and why does her death probably not matter that much?
Kim Song Ae was the second official wife of Kim Il Sung and a stepmother of Kim Jong Il (his mother Kim Jong Suk died in 1949).
She was first mentioned in the state press in 1965, with her political prominence coming in the early 1970s when she was appointed the Chairwoman of the Union of Democratic Women.
Reportedly, she received a small personality cult as the most loyal follower of Kim Il Sung and as such, frequently appeared on the pages of the Union’s official bulletin Choson Nyosong, titled “Respected Chairwoman”.
However, when Kim Jong Il was anointed as a successor of his father in 1974, his stepmother was quickly removed from politics.
Reasonably assuming that Kim Song Ae would very much prefer one of her two sons to succeed Kim Il Sung, the Party Center – as Kim Jong Il was called at the time – thus decided she posed a political threat to him.
Before his confirmation, Kim Jong Il therefore sponsored Kim Jong Suk’s personality cult as a means to oppose the Leader’s current wife.
Further, it is likely he played some role in contributing to the production of an unusual film entitled “Problems of our family,” which – produced in 1973 – showed the family of a good cadre becoming ruined by his evil wife.
Thus after Kim Jong Il was confirmed as the successor to his father in February 1974, it was more or less over for Kim Song Ae.
Several of her relatives, who by that time had otherwise become more or less prominent figures in North Korean politics, were reportedly purged as well.
Still loved by Kim Il Sung, Kim Song Ae herself was not purged, just becoming less and less of a prominent figure – with official biographies of the Great Leader simply no longer mentioning her.
One notable exception occurred in the North Korean press in 1994, however, when ex-U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea – the same year her husband died. But during Kim Jong Il’s reign, her figure was subsequently ignored completely by the DPRK state propaganda.
As for Kim Jong Un, there are neither testimonies nor objective reasons to believe that his step-grandmother would have been of any importance to him.
From the point of view of contemporary state ideology, she never existed, and when it comes to the family level, it is uncertain if Kim Jong Un has ever met her.
(There is neither any confirmed evidence that he met his grandfather Kim Il Sung, by the way, as the Great Leader reportedly did not like Kim Jong Il marrying Kim Jong Un’s mother Ko Yong Hui and avoided their children as a result.)
A lady who ceased to be a prominent figure in North Korean politics 44 years ago, who has not appeared in any state publication for the last 24 years, and who was long erased from official historic discourse, is now apparently confirmed to be dead.
While of interest to historians, this news will bear zero relevance to the current political situation.
Main picture: Carter Center, edited by NK News
South Korean intelligence now considers Kim Il Sung’s ex-wife Kim Song Ae – born in 1924 – to be officially dead, although the Ministry of Unification said it would “share” information only after thorough investigation.At first glance, the death of a member of the Kim family clan might normally be a big deal. One could therefore even start speculating about it as being one of the
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.