North Korea's cult of personality
The North Korean cult of personality surrounding North Korea's ruling family, the Kims, has existed in North Korea for decades and can be found in many examples of North Korean culture. Although it is not officially recognized by the North Korean government, there are often stiff penalties for those who do not show "proper" respect or criticize the regime. The personality cult began soon after Kim Il-sung took power in 1948, and was greatly expanded after his death in 1994.
Kim Il-sung developed the political ideology of the Juche Idea, generally understood as self-reliance, and further developed it between the 1950s to 1970s. It was the main guide of all forms of thought, education, culture and life throughout the nation until Kim Jong-il introduced the Songun (military-first) policy which augments the Juche philosophy and has a great impact on national economic policies.
At the 4th Party Conference held in April 2012, Kim Jong-un further defined Juche as the comprehensive thought of Kim Il-sung, developed and deepened by Kim Jong-il, therefore terming it as "Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism".
North Korean authorities have co-opted portions of various religions and adopted them to their own uses, while greatly restricting all religions in general. An example of this can be seen in the description of Kim Il-sung as a god, and Kim Jong-il as the son of a god or "Sun of the Nation", evoking the father-son imagery of Christianity. Korean society is traditionally a Confucius society which places a strong emphasis on paternal hierarchy and loyalty. The Kim's have taken these deeply held traditions and removed their spiritual component, replacing them with loyalty to the state and the ruling family in order to control the population. Despite the suppression of religion, however, some have described that the state itself, under the political philosophy of Juche, is a sociological religion worshiped by the entire population of North Korea.
Kim Il-sung 
While the beginnings of a personality cult had taken roots earlier (the first statues were erected around 1949), following a mass purge in 1953 the veneration of Kim Il-sung came into full effect. According to legend, Kim Il-sung came from a long lineage of leaders and official North Korean modern history focuses on his life and activities. He is credited with almost single-handedly defeating the Japanese at the end of the occupation of Korea and with rebuilding the nation after the Korean War. Over the course of his life he was granted many titles of esteem such as "Sun", "Great Chairman", "Heavenly Leader" and others. The Korean Central News Agency (the official government news agency) continually reported on the titles and perceived affection granted to Kim Il-sung by world leaders including, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro and former US president, Jimmy Carter.
All major publications (news papers, textbooks etc.) were to include "words of instruction" from Kim Il-sung and North Korean children were taught in school that they were fed, clothed and nurtured in all aspects by the "grace of the Chairman."
The larger elementary schools in the country have a room set aside for lectures that deal specifically with Kim Il-sung (known as the Kim Il-sung Research Institute). These rooms are well taken care of, are built of high quality materials, and have a model of his birthplace in Mangyongdae-guyok. The size of the images of him which adorned public buildings are regulated to be in proportion to the size of the building on which they hang. His place of birth has also become a place of pilgrimage.
According to a state-approved book, during a visit to the Indonesian Bogor Botanical Gardens Kim Il-sung stopped in front of a particular flower which was unnamed and the Indonesian president Sukarno "insisted earnestly" that the flower be named after North Korean leader, the Kimilsungia.
After his death in 1994 he was referred to as the "Eternal President." In 1998 the national constitution was changed to reflect this. When his father died, Kim Jong-il greatly expanded the nation's cult of personality.
In 1997, the Juche Era dating system was introduced and replaced the Gregorian calendar, which begins with the birth of Kim Il-sung (April 15, 1912) as year 1. The year 2013 would thus correspond to Juche 102 (there is no year 0).
According to budgetary outlays at the 2013 plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and the Supreme People’s Assembly, 44.8% of North Korea's budget is to be used for "funding the building of edifices to be presented to the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung...", for "face-lifting" the country, and consolidating the foundations for a Juche-based economy.
Kim Jong-il 
In keeping with the modern mythologies that pervade North Korea's version of history, it is alleged that Kim Jong-il was born on Mount Paektu at his father's secret base in 1942 (his actual birth was in 1941 in the Soviet Union) and that his birth was heralded by a swallow, caused winter to change to spring, a star to illuminate the sky, and a double rainbow spontaneously appeared.
Prior to 1996, Kim Jong-il forbade the erection of statues of himself and discouraged portraits. However, in 1996, schools were required to build a separate room for lectures dealing specifically with Kim Jong-il known as the Kim Jong-il Research Institute. They include a model of his birthplace.
Over the course of his life, the government issued numerous propaganda reports of the great accomplishments achieved by Kim Jong-il, such as that he could walk and talk before the age of six-months; the Rodong Sinmun reported that an "unidentified French fashion expert" said of Kim's fashion, "Kim Jong-il mode, which is now spreading expeditiously worldwide, is something unprecedented in the world's history"; and that he could control the weather based on his mood.
After his death, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that layers of ice ruptured with an unprecedentedly loud crack at Chon Lake on Mount Paektu and a snowstorm with strong winds hit the area. A political paper by his son, Kim Jong-un sought to solidify his father as the "Eternal General Secretary of our Party." Although many had been seen weeping during the 100-day mourning period, which is typical of Korean Confucian society, others have accused North Korea of hiring actors and paid mourners. Those alleged or caught breaking the mourning rules were subject to punishment or, in the case of some high-ranking officials, executed.
Kim Jong-un 
Kim Jong-un, the grandson of North Korea's founder, was largely absent from the public and government service until the mid-2000s (decade). In 2010 he began being referred to as the "Young General", and by late 2011 as "Respected General". Like his father, he lacks any formal military training or service. With the death of his father, state media began to refer to him as the "Great Successor." Although he is still a new ruler the development of his own personality cult is well underway. Some commentators have noted that his striking likeness in appearance to Kim Il-sung has helped solidify him as the undisputed ruler in the minds of the people.
After Kim Jong-il's death the president of the Presidium announced the following:
"Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un is our party, military and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage."
Shortly after coming to power a 560 metres (1,840 ft) long propaganda sign was erected in his honor near a lake in Ryanggang Province which is visible from space. The sign reads "Long Live General Kim Jong-un, the Shining Sun!”
The personality cult extends to other members of the Kim family, although to a lesser degree.
Kim Jong-suk 
Kim Jong-suk (Kim Jong-il's mother) is described as “a revolutionary immortal" and "an anti-Japanese war hero [who] upheld the original idea and policy of Kim Il Sung and performed distinguished feats in the development of the movement for the women's emancipation in Korea." She is typified as a model revolutionary, wife, and maternal figure, and North Korean society looks to stories of her as examples of how to live life. There is a wax replica of her in the International Friendship Exhibition.
Monuments and images 
There are an estimated 34,000 statues of Kim Il-sung throughout the country, and with his death in 1994 the government began erecting 3,200 obelisks, called Towers of Eternal Life, in every town and city. These obelisks espouse the virtues of the "Great Marshal" and, like the other monuments, citizens (and tourists) are required to present flowers and other tokens of respect to the statues during certain holidays and when they visit them.
The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun was built as the official residence of Kim Il-sung in 1976. After his death it was converted into his mausoleum (and then that of his son's). It is reported to have cost between $100–900 million. Kumsusan is the largest mausoleum dedicated to a Communist leader.
After the death of Kim Jong-il the government began to inscribe his name on each of the obelisks and build new statues in his image. The annual cost of promoting the personality cult surrounding the Kims is estimated at over $40 million.
Images of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are prominent in places associated with public transportation, hanging at every North Korean train station and airport. Every North Korean household is required to have a picture of both Kims hanging on a wall. Nothing else may hang on that wall and they are given special cloths to clean the images daily. Party cadres and military officials must keep three portraits, that of the two deceased leaders and one of Kim Il-sung's wife, Kim Jong-suk. The images are only allowed to be made by government approved artists at specific Mansudae workshops. Adult North Koreans are also required to wear a lapel pin that features their image on the left side, above their heart.
There have been sporadic stories of people risking their lives to save the portraits from various disasters but few accounts have been verified. In 2012, a 14-year old girl drowned while trying to save the images from her family's home during a flash-flood. The North Korean government bestowed upon her the posthumous "Kim Jong-Il Youth Honor Award" and her school will be renamed after her.
The birthdays of Kim Il-sung (April 15), Kim Jong-il (Feb 16) and Kim Jong-suk (Dec 24) are celebrated as national holidays with citizens receiving time off work or school and gifts, such as cookies, from the Party.
Between 60,000-220,000 gifts to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il from foreign leaders, businesspersons and others are housed in the International Friendship Exhibition. The museum is a source of pride for the North Korean government and is used as "evidence" of the greatness of their leaders.
See also 
- Imperial cult
- Charismatic authority
- Propaganda in North Korea
- Death and funeral of Kim Il-sung
- Death and funeral of Kim Jong-il
- Culture of North Korea
- Human Rights in North Korea, publications
- The statues of Kim Jong-il
- Historical perspective on the cult of personality
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