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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 220 (July 26, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N. Korea Intensifies Personality Cult for Kim Jong-un after Given Marshal Title

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After officially opening the Kim Jong-un era, North Korea has begun in earnest the task of building up the personality cult surrounding the leader in his late 20s. The idolization of the young leader has intensified since he was recently awarded a new title.

   In a surprise announcement on July 18, Kim was awarded the title of marshal, the highest military rank after grand marshal, a designation held only by his late grandfather Kim Il-sung and late father Kim Jong-il.

   Since then, the North Korean regime has been heaping laudatory remarks on the junior Kim. Pyongyang's propaganda machine is also in full gear to bolster Kim's public image while extending him the greatest glory and congratulations.

   The idolization of Kim Jong-un took rapid steps last week after the socialist country dismissed powerful military chief Ri Yong-ho and replaced him with lesser-known army general Hyon Yong-chol.

   The latest military reshuffle could either signify his successful control over the armed forces or reflect his lingering concerns about the military's loyalty.

   Immediately after the military reshuffle, North Korea's military as well as top party and government officials repeatedly pledged loyalty to their new leader, as the country's state propaganda media have praised him as "the outstanding leader" and "another great sun."

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said its people are now "very excited with the happy news that the dear respected Kim Jong-un was awarded the title of DPRK Marshal. They are unanimous in saying that the future of Songun Korea will be rosier under his guidance."

   Even the aged revolutionary military figure Ri Ul-sol, who is the only remaining person holding the title of marshal besides Kim Jong-un, pledged allegiance to the young leader.

   In a contribution to the North's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun, Ri said, "Comrade Kim Jong-un is our fatherland and the symbol of all victories and honors," adding that revolutionaries who fought against Japanese colonialists will double their determination to respect his leadership in earnest.

   Aside from members of the Kim dynasty, three other men have been named marshal in the past. The other two, both guerrilla fighters who fought against the Japanese with Kim Il-sung, have already died. Ri, a 91-year-old former guerrilla fighter and bodyguard of founder Kim Il-sung, is the last one still alive.

   Kim Yong-il, party secretary for international affairs, also pledged to severely punish "the U.S. and Japanese imperialists and South Korea's Lee Myung-bak group of gangsters on their mad behavior of suffocating our socialist system."

   On the day Kim Jong-un was awarded the title of marshal, the North Korean People's Army (KPA) and the Korean People's Internal Security Forces (KPISF) met in Pyongyang to vow to loyally support Kim Jong-un's leadership.

   KPA officers and service personnel gathered at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang to extend the highest glory and congratulations to the new leader and vowed to uphold his leadership.

   Prominent figures present at the meeting were from Kim Jong-un's new group of loyalists such as Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA; Hyon Yong-chol, chief of the KPA General Staff; and Kim Jong-gak, minister of the People's Armed Forces.

   Hyon Yong-chol, who just replaced his ousted predecessor Ri Yong-ho, said it is the supreme mission, duty and noble obligation of the service personnel "to reunify the country and achieve the final victory of the revolutionary cause of Juche, closely united around Marshal Kim Jong-un."

   Also on July 19, service personnel of the KPISF met to extend the highest glory and congratulations to Kim. In a speech, Ri Myong-su, minister of People's Security, said all the KPISF service personnel will concentrate all their efforts on their work for the people's security upon inheriting the tradition of devotedly defending the leader and more thoroughly establish the monolithic command structure of the supreme commander for the whole army.

   The meeting participants also held a dance party to reflect the feeling among all the KPISF personnel of extending the greatest glory to Kim Jong-un.

   Pyongyang citizens gathered at Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on July 19 to extend congratulations to the "dear respected Kim Jong-un." Senior party, state and army officials including Kim Yong-nam, the ceremonial head of the country who also is the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, were in attendance.

   Also present were Premier Choe Yong-rim, Choe Ryong-hae and Hyon Yong-chol, leading officials of party, armed forces and ministries and national institutions. "All the participants broke into thunderous cheers in excitement with happiness of being blessed with the illustrious leaders generation after generation and with the feelings of congratulation to the great Songun brilliant commander," the KCNA reported.

   Also on July 19, youth and students had dance parties at the gymnasiums of Kimilsung University, Kimchaek University of Technology and the Central Youth Hall in Pyongyang in celebration of the awarding of the title of DPRK (North Korea) Marshal to Kim Jong-un.

   Shoring up the personality cult for the new leader seems to be the most effective way in the dynastic state to rally internal support and further consolidate power. Even before his father Kim Jong-il died, the then crown prince Kim Jong-un was highly honored by the North Korean media as part of the power succession process.

   After Kim Jong-il's death, North Korea's propaganda machines began to churn out reports highlighting the early achievements of Kim Jong-un, although his young age and apparent lack of experience have continued to raise doubts about his leadership.

   Immediately after the funeral for Kim Jong-il, the country began to build up the personality cult around the senior Kim by eulogizing him with all its rhetorical flourish in line with the country's tradition of massive personality cults surrounding the Kim family.

   Pyongyang has long promoted propaganda verses to idolize its leaders as "benevolent parents of the people" and "the great leaders for the love of people."

   To boost his fledgling leadership and help him secure power, North Korea's state-run media promoted a song praising the new leader in an apparent move to justify the hereditary power succession.

   The new song, titled "Moving Ahead for the Final Victory," marks the first time Pyongyang has enthusiastically promoted a propaganda song dedicated to its new leader. A song titled "Footsteps" was released in 2009 in honor of the then heir apparent, under Kim Jong-il's leadership.

   Even Kim Jong-un's talks with party officials have been praised by the North Korean media as "great" or "hard work." In his first "historic work" in early April in talks with officials, he vowed to uphold the policies of his late father and praised the military's devotion, urging North Koreans to be united by dedicating their lives to the military-first revolution. He also stressed the need to improve people's living conditions and importance of economic rehabilitation.

   As a North Korean leader's instruction in any form is regarded as an absolute order in the autocratic country, the North Korean authorities are now staging a propaganda campaign for the implementation of the leader's "great work."

   In his second bout of "hard work" on April 27 during talks with leading officials, Kim called on them to manage the country's land with ardent loyalty to the party and warm patriotism to the country. He said land management is patriotic work for the eternal prosperity of the country, and a noble work for providing the people with better living conditions.

   From the early days of his leadership, Kim Jong-un has interacted with the people in an approachable manner, embracing and linking arms even with female military officers.

   The characteristics of his field inspections at various sites have differed from his father, with Kim Jong-un displaying physical closeness with people he has encountered.

   In a May 16 report, the North's official KCNA said the late leader had a noble outlook that the masses are almighty and the Korean people are great. Then the media enumerated the good deeds of Kim Jong-un during his field inspections at a machine plant, a health complex, a theater, an amusement park and other facilities.

   Since taking the helm of the country, Kim Jong-un has assumed a leadership style that is different from his father, who was known as a coercive leader who was rarely in direct contact with ordinary citizens.

   Indicating his concern for his starving people, the junior Kim has tried to reach out to the ordinary citizens that have held onto a strong nostalgia for his grandfather, the more outgoing leader Kim Il-sung.

   Analysts have noted the similarity of Jong-un's behavior and gait to that of his grandfather, with whom he also shares the same swept-back hairstyle and protruding belly.

   The North has focused much attention on economic development projects that are part of its bid to become "strong and prosperous" this year. New construction and renovations in the capital city of Pyongyang and its main international airport, among others, and are tied to the rise of Kim Jong-un.

   North Korea's state television quickly aired a series of documentaries of leader Kim Jong-un soon after his inspection trips, in a move to help the young leader gain public support. Korean Central Television broadcast films about Kim on May 26, just two days after he toured an amusement park, an ice rink and a street in Pyongyang.

   The state television aired the new documentaries three times that day in a move apparently designed to show the public Kim's face more frequently. On May 27, the television station also aired a documentary on Kim just after he inspected a zoo in Pyongyang.

   The rare move represents a dramatic change for the state television, which used to make a documentary about Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, about a month after the senior Kim's inspection trips. The move also suggests that the North has been mobilizing the state propaganda machine to give the public more coverage of Kim Jong-un and help him consolidate his power.

   In another example, Kim Jong-un recently made a surprise visit to Pyongyang's main airport to inspect a renovation project, a report said on July 19. The inspection by Kim did not include the massive security escort or traffic restrictions associated with the movements of previous North Korean leaders.

   Some observers think the sudden visit could show that Kim's international experience gives him a new perspective on running the country, including cutting through bureaucracy on site visits to gain a better idea of situations on the ground.

   Moreover, the Pyongyang regime is also stepping up the idolization of Kim Jong-un's mother, Ko Yong-hui. She was not in the public spotlight in bloodline-obsessed North Korea after her death in 2004, but there has been renewed interest in her, as her son took the throne of the dynastic state.

   Ko's Korean-Japanese background has posed a challenge for the socialist regime because the regime justifies its existence by emphasizing the purity of the Kim family bloodline. This is one of the crucial reasons why the dancer-turned-first lady has never been exalted by the North's propaganda machine in the same manner as Kim Jong-il's mother, Kim Jong-suk.

   The North has now begun to cautiously mention Ko in official propaganda in an apparent bid to idolize her, referring to her as "the Mother of Pyongyang" or "the Mother of Great Songun." In early July, Seoul's KBS Television aired a 75-minute special about the propaganda film on Ko.