November 29, 2023

The cult of Kim: North Korea’s obsession with portraits of its leaders

Complex rules govern the display of images of the Kim family, which are treated like holy icons in a state religion

One of the most bizarre episodes in inter-Korean relations occurred almost exactly 20 years ago, and it illustrates a core feature of North Korean life under the Kim family regime to this day — the requirement of religious-like devotion to not only North Korea’s leaders but to representations of them.

In 2003, a group of North Korean athletes traveled to the South Korean city of Daegu to participate in the Summer Universiade. There were quite a number of cross-border exchanges such as this during the so-called Sunshine Era of the early 2000s, the high mark of North-South reconciliation and detente.