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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 244 (January 10, 2013)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Striving to Idolize Its Leader Kim Jong-un on His Birthday

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Contrary to public expectations, North Korea marked new leader Kim Jong-un's birthday on Jan. 8 without much fanfare, but it has been working to sow the seeds of a personality cult for him.

   Although the socialist country did not hold major celebrations, it has been promoting a good image of the young leader who is believed to be turning 29 or 30 years old.

   Normal broadcasting hours in the North on Jan. 8 indicate that the country has not designated the birthday of the incumbent leader as a national holiday, even though he took power over a year ago.

   Seoul's Unification Ministry officials believe no special adjustments have been made to the calendar to reflect Kim's birthday, in contrast to the birth anniversaries of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and late leader Kim Jong-il, both of which are celebrated with great pomp.

   Analysts take this as a sign that he is still building his personality cult among the people because a premature celebration could cause grumbling among the populace.

   Initial expectations were that the socialist country would keep up its festive mood until the young leader's birthday as it had just successfully launched a rocket last month. It was also the first birthday since he had completed the succession of power from his father officially a year ago through various political meetings last year.

   Kim became the leader of the reclusive country following the sudden death of his father in December 2011.

   Still, the quiet passing of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's birthday also raised curiosity over the regime's myth-making tactics for the young leader.

   The country's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and other main news outlets remained mum about the leader's birthday, making no mention about the event.

   The exact year of Kim's birth differs depending on the source. Pyongyang has officially said he was born in 1982 making him 31 this year, but Seoul's spy agency maintains he was born in 1984, while others speculated his birth year is 1983.

   This compares with the country's speedy move to celebrate the birthdays of Kim Jong-il after the death of his father Kim Il-sung.

   The Feb. 16 birthday of Kim Jong-il, known as the Day of the Shining Star, was made a national holiday in 1982 while he was only an heir to North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994. The April 15 birthday of the founder, known as the Day of the Sun, is also one of the country's most-widely celebrated national holidays.

   Analysts said the North may still be in the midst of the glorification process for the young leader who took the helm of the socialist country in a shorter period of time than his father.

   The country also had a quiet passing of Kim's birthday last year, which came only a few weeks after his father's death.

   "It's been only one year after the death of chairman Kim Jong-il, and the North would have felt the sense of burden due to uneasy economic conditions and (abstained) from designating it as a national holiday," Dongguk University professor Koh Yu-hwan said. "The country may go ahead with the holiday designation after further power solidification."

   As part of ongoing efforts to stress the leader's everyday activities, the KCNA reported on Jan. 7 that Kim provided candy and other confectionery gifts to children, without referring to his birthday.

   The country's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun also extolled Kim's role in building a welfare complex in Pyongyang on Jan. 8.

   But the personality cult for the leader is apparently being formed in the North's media. Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Workers' Party, has praised the leader's painful deeds for the people during the "Arduous March" under trials in the 1990s.

   In its article, the newspaper said the young Kim Jong-un was with his father Kim Jong-il during the painful famine period, struggling to share the hardship with the people and barely eating porridge and rice balls.

   The newspaper also said during the painful march period, Kim Jong-un did not live and dress well, sharing the pains of the people who were suffering from hunger with little sleep and meager rice balls.

   The "Arduous March" period is remembered as the hardest time for North Koreans, when hundreds of thousand of people died from hunger caused by natural disasters and poor administration by the North Korean regime.

   In North Korea, the term "short, poor sleep with rice balls" was used for idolizing the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   But South Korean analysts say the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un actually did not experience the famine and hardships because he was studying in Switzerland from the summer of 1996 to early 2001.

   Meanwhile, the KCNA's new home page of its Web site unveiled on Jan. 5 highlighted the revolutionary activities of Kim Jong-un, but without the great works and speeches by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, which were formerly featured.

   Three days later on Jan. 8, the home page of the KCNA Web site introduced Kim Jong-un's hard works and instructions made last year.

   An Internet site operated by the Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang carried an essay on Kim Jong-un, describing him as a sublime person of high morality, ardent love for the fatherland and people, and complete scientific theory. It also said the new leader's father Kim Jong-il previously introduced his son Jong-un as the "genius of the geniuses" and the "general of Mount Paektu."

   On the KCNA's Web site, a special news section on the successful rocket launch is in the center.

   Meanwhile, leader Kim Jong-un sent a bunch of candy to every young child in the poverty-stricken country to celebrate his birthday, the North's state-run media reported on Jan. 7.

   The North's Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported that Kim sent the sweets to elementary school and kindergarten students as well as day care centers. The station said this showed Kim's "paternal love" for the younger generation, in the latest in a series of moves to portray him as a people-oriented figure, cut from the same cloth as his grandfather Kim Il-sung.

   The tradition of doling out candy began in the early 1980s under Kim Il-sung and was picked up by Kim Jong-il following the former's 1994 death. It was the first time Kim Jong-un carried out the tradition. The candy was packaged in 1 kilogram bundles.

   It added that because of the onset of cold weather affecting shipping routes to some remote islands in the Yellow Sea, Kim ordered the presents be airlifted, which delighted kids and adults alike.

   Each present, usually wrapped in a vinyl bag, contained about a kilogram worth of candy, crackers, caramels and gum, and was delivered two or three days ahead of the birthday.

   The broadcasting station said children and their parents praised Kim's love for his people and proclaimed him to be a hero who can open a new era for the country.

   Related to the handing out of candy to children under 10, North Korean watchers in Seoul said it is part of a broader political campaign by the socialist country's leadership to win favor from youngsters and their parents. Such a step can strengthen the young leader's relatively weak grip on power, experts speculated.

   "At present Kim Jong-un's birthday has not been declared a national holiday like that of his father and grandfather, but there seems to be a move to gradually highlight it to the public," said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

   He said the latest event is designed to build up loyalty among youngsters who will lead the country in the future.

   The Swiss-educated leader has stressed the younger generation as shoring up youth support is seen as important to the regime's survival.

   The socialist regime has been striving to form a personality cult for the young leader following the death of his father. Starting immediately after the funeral, Kim Jong-un has since been engaged in robust outside activities, visiting not only military units but also industrial sites, schools, cultural festivals and even amusement parks.

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

   Military officials have repeatedly pledged loyalty to their new leader as the country's state propaganda media have lauded him as "the outstanding leader" and "another great sun."