North Korea has been led by three leaders: Kim Il Sung (1945-1994), Kim Jong Il (1994-2011) and Kim Jong Un (2011-). Technically, the North Korean government is still led by founder Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994 and serves as the country's Eternal President. In practice the supreme leader leads the country and makes all decisions, supported by the Presidium, a smaller group of senior officials. The current leader of North Korea — Kim Jong Un — has been Supreme Leader of North Korea since December 2011. His father Kim Jong Il died shortly before he took power. In pervious years, Kim Jong Il steadily gave Kim Jong Un various titles that made it clear he was the designated successor. The Korean Workers' Party continues to list deceased leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as Eternal President and Eternal General Secretary respectively

Kim Jong Un was officially declared Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army in December 2011 which cemented his control over North Korea. He became the Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea at a party congress in May 2016. Kim holds many titles and offices. Among his highest titles are General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. When he is mentioned in North Korean media and publications, he is most commonly referred to as "Respected Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong-un". [Source: Wikipedia]

North Korea is a classic example of the "rule of man." Overall, political management is highly personalized and is based on loyalty to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The cult of personality, the nepotism of the Kim family, and the strong influence of former anti-Japanese partisan veterans and military leaders are unique features of North Korean politics. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

In true dynastic fashion, Kim Jong Il groomed one of his sons — Kim Jong Un — as his successor. Signs of possible change in the leadership structure and succession scenario — or at least a reduction in Kim’s personality cult — emerged in the summer and fall of 2004, when reports were received that portraits of Kim Jong Il were being removed from public sites. The position of president ceased to exist with the elder Kim’s death in 1994. The premier has been head of government since April 2007

Domination of the Korean Workers' Party in North Korea

North Korea is a Communist state dominated by the Korean Workers' Party. The leader of the party wields unrivaled power. Kim Il Sung, leader of North Korea, from its creation in 1945 to his death 1994, was president of North Korea and general secretary of the Korean Workers' Party. Following his death, his son, Kim Jong Il inherited power. Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1997, and in September 1998, he was recon-firmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission, a position which was then declared "highest office of state."

Traditionally, the highest positions in the North Korea government has been general of secretary of the Workers Party of Korea. But these are now occupied by the deceased leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as Eternal President and Eternal General Secretary respectively. Currently Kim Jong Un’s most important title seems to be Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. The Korean People's Army is technically under the Korean Worker’s Party.

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”: “The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) has dominated the North Korean political system since 1948. As a communist party opposed to free enterprise, it controls the economy with little room for private initiative. The state is the country's only economic actor, its only economic planner, and its sole employer. The suppression of any form of political dissent has not allowed opposition parties to advance an alternative economic model. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

“The constitution, created in 1948 and revised in 1972, 1992, and 1998, calls for a single legislative body called the Supreme People's Assembly, with 687 seats. Though Assembly members are "elected," in fact the KWP supplies a single list of candidates who are elected without opposition. The Assembly members similarly elect the premier, but true executive power lies with the” supreme leader. “There is also a judicial branch whose members are selected by the Supreme People's Assembly.

Executive Branch of North Korea

Executive branch: A) head of government: State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong Un (since December 17, 2011). He functions as the commander-in-chief and chief executive. B) chief of state: Supreme People's Assembly President Choe Ryong Hae (since April 11. 2019). In this largely ceremonial position, he functions as the technical head of state and performs related duties, such as receiving ambassadors' credentials. C) The Cabinet or Naegak is comprised of members appointed by the Supreme People's Assembly except the Minister of People's Armed Forces. "The Cabinet is the administrative and executive body of the highest organ of State power and a general state management organ. The Cabinet consists of the Premier, vice premiers, chairmen of commissions, ministers and some other necessary members." D) Elections and appointments: The chief of state and premier are indirectly elected by the Supreme People's Assembly. The last election was held on March 10, 2019. Kim Jong Un was reelected unopposed. The next election is scheduled for March 2024). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

North Korea is a communist state under the one-man leadership of the chairman of the National Defense Commission — the nation’s “highest administrative authority,” supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). Kim Jong Il was first appointed to the National Defense Commission by his father, President Kim Il Sung, in April 1993, and he was reelected to this position in 1998 and 2003. Despite the consolidation of party, state, and military structures under the leadership of one man, some analysts see these three power centers as rivals for power, with the military in the ascendant. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]

The position of president ceased to exist with the elder Kim’s death in 1994. The premier (currently Kim Yong-il) is head of government (since April 2007) and is assisted by three vice premiers and a cabinet of 27 ministers, all of whom are appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). A twenty-eighth minister, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces (Kim Il- ch’ol), is not subordinate to the cabinet but answers directly to Kim Jong Il. However, observers believe that Cho Myong-nok, first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, is North Korea’s most powerful military figure. The SPA is a unicameral legislative body with 687 members who are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The president of the SPA Presidium (Kim Yong-nam) is North Korea’s titular head of state. The KWP approves a list of SPA candidates who are elected without opposition, but some seats are held by approved minor parties. The constitution was adopted in 1948, completely revised in December 1972, and revised again in April 1992 and September 1998. **

Politburo of North Korea

The Politburo of the North Korean government — officially the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), formerly the Political Committee (1946–61) — is the highest decision-making body in the Korean Worker’s Party, which governs North Korea. Article 25 of the Party Charter stipulates that "The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee and its Standing Committee organize and direct all party work on behalf of the party Central Committee between plenary meetings. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee shall meet at least once every month." [Source: Wikipedia]

The Politburo is elected by the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. Until April 1956, the Politburo was known as the Political Council. After Kim Il-sung's unitary ruling system was established in the 1960s, the Politburo was transformed from a decision-making body where policies could be discussed into a rubber stamp body. Leading members have disappeared without explanation; the last was Kim Tong-gyu, in 1977. Politburo members under Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lacked a strong power base, and depended on the party leader for their position. Because of this, the Politburo became a loyal servant of the party leader.

The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) of the Workers' Party of Korea was established in 1980. and became the highest WPK body when the Politburo and the Central Committee were not in session but now is largely dead. In early 1981, the Political Bureau had thirty-four members: nineteen regular members and fifteen alternate members. This figure was substantial increase in membership from the Fifth Party Congress, when there were eleven regular members and five alternate members. As of 1992, however, the Political Bureau had only twenty-four members — fourteen regular members and ten alternate members — because a number of the members either had died or had stepped down. The inner circle of powerful leaders within the Political Bureau include the president, premier, vice premiers, and minister of the people's armed forces. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Similar to the Central Committee, the Politburo was dormant during much of Kim Jong-il's rule. Members have typically been family members, relatives, or close loyal associates of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un such as Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-il's sister) and Jang Song-thaek (Kim Kyong-hui's husband), who Kim Jong Un later executed with an anti-aircraft gun for presumably for threatening Kim’s hold in power.

Officially, the Politburo is responsible for conducting its activities as well as deciding on important issues between two Central Committee plenums. Its members include important state and military leaders, as the Premier and the vice-chairmen of the State Affairs Commission. As of 10 January 2021, the Politburo is composed of 19 members and 11 alternate members. Members include 1) General Secretary Kim Jong-un; 2) Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Choe Ryong-hae; and 3) Ri Pyong-chol, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission; 4) Kim Tok-hun, Premier of North Korea; and 5) Pak Jong-chon, Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.

Presidium of North Korea

Presidium (formerly the Standing Committee) is the inner body of The Politburo. It is elected by the Korean Worker’s Party (RWP or WPK) Central Committee and in charge of day-to-day party work. It is usually made up of the supreme leader and four other members. In practice, the Presidium is the highest body in both the party and the country, and its decisions de facto have the force of law.The presidium serves as the inner circle for the supreme leader,, advising on political decisions. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Presidium is official known as the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party of Korea. It was known as the Standing Committee from 1946 to 1961. Historically it has been composed of one to five members. Now it has five members. Technically it was set up to conduct policy discussions and make decisions on major issues when the Politburo is not in session and is supposed to reports to the Politburo, which in turn reports to the larger Central Committee. But in practice the Presidium is supreme these parent bodies and serves acts as the most powerful decision-making body in North Korea. The Politburo and Central Committee are expected to follow the directives of the Presidium. As North Korea is a one-party state, the Presidium's decisions have the de facto force of law. Its role is roughly the same as the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The five members of the Presidium are:1) Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea; 2) Choe Ryong-hae, President of the Presidium; 3) Choe Yong-rim, Premier; 4) Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, Director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army; and 5) Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, Chief of the General Staff).

In the 1990s and maybe today too several central organizations were subordinate to the Political Bureau Presidium. One of the most important executive organs was the Secretariat of the Central Committee, led by General Secretary Kim Il Sung and eleven other secretaries as of mid-1992. Each secretary was in charge of one or more departmental party functions. Other key bodies included the Central Military Commission headed by Kim Il Sung; the Central Auditing Committee, the fiscal watchdog of the party; and the Central Inspection Committee, which enforces party discipline and acts as a trial and appeals board for disciplinary cases. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Kim Il Sung as Leader

Ian Sansom wrote in The Guardian: “After seizing power in 1948, Kim styled himself as a kind of North Korean Stalin. According to the Guinness Book of Records he presided over the world's most decisive election: in October 1962 his Workers Party of Korea won with a 100 percent turn-out and a 100 percent vote. Kim Il Sung remains North Korea's official president even though he's been dead since 1994.

But that wasn’t all. According to Bradley K Martin, he presented himself not only as North Korea's great leader and liberator, but also as the country's "leading novelist, philosopher, historian, educator, designer, literary critic, architect, industrial management specialist, general, table tennis trainer ... and agriculture experimenter." Juche, his emphatic philosophy, which promoted self-reliance, guided by a great leader. "Man is the master of everything and decides everything," declared Kim, which can be interpreted as him being the master of everything and deciding everything. [Source: Ian Sansom, The Guardian, April 30, 2011]

Kim Il Sung was named premier after North Korea was formally established in 1948. After a constitutional change in 1972, became president, a position he held until his death in 1994. According to “Governments of the World”: During his time in power, Kim Il Sung oversaw an immense amount of change in North Korea, much of which has turned out to have profoundly negative consequences. In particular, Kim attempted to construct a "self-reliant" communist system with uniquely Korean characteristics. This effort is epitomized in the concept of juche, which, according to the DPRK Constitution, is "a revolutionary ideology with a people-centered view of the world that aims to realize the independence of the masses, the guiding principle of its actions" (Handbook 1996, p. 11). [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: He held every important post in the country, including General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, its one party, and President of the country. And when he died, no one had yet really figured out his game: whether he was using the threat of an atomic weapon to get economic aid for his bankrupt country, or whether he was wielding it as a suicide pill to save his regime from absorption by the South.”


Kim Il Sung’s Power and Influence in North Korea

Kim Il Sung was ruthless and cunning in consolidating power. On several occasions he blamed potential rivals for failures and then purged them. The mid- and late-1950s was characterized by a series of purges in which people accused of having even the slightest hint of “anti-Party, counter-revolutionary” disloyally” risked being executed or sent to a North Korean gulag with their families. Most of those who were sent did not return. .

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker: “After the Korean War ended in the ruin of his country, Kim Il Sung, to deflect the blame, had tens of thousands of people purged, sending many to prison or hard-labor camps. Christians and Buddhists who had not already fled to the South were persecuted in large numbers, and many were killed. To cleanse his own ranks of possible rivals, Kim had many of his most intimate and loyal associates arrested and tortured. As Jasper Becker notes in “Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea” (Oxford; US$28), four hundred and fifty thousand out of six hundred thousand Party members were investigated and punished for “violating Party rules.” The Great Leader's policy, to be memorized by prison guards, was that anyone who opposed, or could conceivably be opposed to, Kim's absolute rule would be singled out for “eradication.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, August 22, 2005]

“By the time Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, took over from his father as the absolute ruler of North Korea, the country was a slave society, where only the most trusted caste of people were allowed to live in sullen obedience in Pyongyang, while vast numbers of potential class enemies were worked to death in mines and hard-labor camps. After Kim Il Sung's death, in 1994, the regime suspended executions for a month, and throughout the following year it committed relatively few killings. Since this was at the height of a famine, largely brought on by disastrous agricultural policies, hundreds of thousands were already dying from hunger. Then word spread that Kim Jong Il wished to “hear the sound of gunshots again.” Starving people were shot for stealing a couple of eggs.

A senior analyst at the Rand Corporation told Time, "If Kim Il Sung said white is black, he could make it stick. No one now has that sort of authority." Kim once told the people of North Korea that frog liver extract was good of his health. Soldiers from the People's Army collected 5,000 frogs and sent them to the presidential palace.

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “During his rule North Koreans were urged to devote at least two hours a day, and four on Saturdays, to "Kim study," memorizing his sayings. His birthday was, for decades, the nation's greatest holiday, celebrated with "mass games" in which North Korean youth performed remarkable gymnastic feats. It is a country of operas like "My Happy Country with a Great Leader," whose lyrics include: O, Generalissimo, Kim Il Sung, Our fatherly leader! The people are unfailingly loyal to you! Our party is the best in the world! Socialism is the best in the world! Let's defend Socialism, Under the unfurled red banner! [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

President and Vice Presidents in the Kim Il Sung Era

The president is the head of state and the head of government in his capacity as chairman of the Central People's Committee (CPC). The president is elected every four years by the SPA. The title "president" (chusk) was adopted in the 1972 constitution. Before 1972 an approximate equivalent of the presidency was the chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the SPA. The constitution has no provisions for removing, recalling, or impeaching the president, or for limiting the number of terms of service. On May 24, 1990, the SPA unanimously reelected Kim Il Sung to a fifth presidential term. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Presidential powers are stated only in generalities. The chief executive convenes and guides the State Administration Council as occasion demands. Under the 1972 constitution, he was also the supreme commander of the armed forces and chairman of the National Defense Commission — although Kim Il Sung appointed his son to the former position in December 1991 and to the latter position in April 1993. The constitution states that two vice presidents "assist" the president, but it does not elaborate a mode of succession. As of July 1992, Pak Sng-ch'l (elected in 1977) and Yi Chong-k (elected in 1984) were vice presidents of North Korea.*

The president's prior assent is required for all laws, decrees, decisions, and directives. The president's edicts command the force of law more authoritatively than any other legislation. The president promulgates the laws and ordinances of the SPA; the decisions of the Standing Committee of the SPA; and the laws, ordinances, and decisions of the CPC. The president also grants pardons, ratifiers or abrogates treaties, and receives foreign envoys or requests their recall. No one serves in top government posts without the president's recommendation. Even the judiciary and the procurators are accountable to Kim Il Sung.*

Family Rule in North Korea

Kim Il Sung's eldest son Kim Jong Il, born February 16, 1942, is a secretary of the KWP Central Committee Secretariat and chairman of the National Defense Commission. On December 24, 1991, Kim Jong Il succeeded his father as commander of the Korean People's Army. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

In addition, as of mid-1993, Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae, was a member of the KWP Central Committee, a member of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, a deputy to the assembly, and chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women's Union Central Committee. Kim Il Sung's daughter, Kim Kyong-hui, was a member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and his son-in-law, Chang Songtaek , was premier and a candidate member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the SPA. *

Kang Song-san, Kim Il Sung's cousin by marriage, was premier and a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, deputy to the SPA, and member of the state Central People's Committee (CPC). The late Ho Tam, who died in 1991, was Kim Il Sung's brother-in-law, a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee, deputy to the SPA, and chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.*

Cult of Personality of Kim Il Sung

Another salient feature of the country's political system is glorification of Kim Il Sung's authority and cult of personality. Kim uses the party and the government to consolidate his power. He is addressed by many honorary titles: the "great leader," the son of the nation, national hero, liberator, and the fatherly leader. According to the party, there can be no greater honor or duty than being loyal to him "absolutely and unconditionally." Kim's executive power is not checked by any constitutional provision. The party's principal concern is to ensure strict popular compliance with the policies of Kim Il Sung and the party; such compliance implants an appearance of institutional imprimatur on Kim's highly personalized and absolute rule. Politics as a function of competition for power by aspiring groups and promotion of the interests of special groups is not germane to the North Korean setting. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Personalism centers on Kim Il Sung, but he has been gradually preparing Kim Jong Il as heir apparent since 1971. Between 1971 and 1980, Kim Jong Il was given positions of increasing importance in the KWP hierarchy. Since the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong Il's succession has been consolidated with his phased assumption of control over the civil administration, followed by his designation as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in December 1991.*

Emulating techniques used by Mao and Stalin and taking them to new extremes, Kim developed a personality cult that elevated him to near-divine status. Kim Il Sung is still referred to today as "Great Leader," "His Excellency," "Respected and Beloved Leader", "the Greatest Genius the World has ever Known," “the Clairvoyant,” “Korea’s Sun,” and ‘The Perfect Brain” who even had the power to change the weather. There is hardly a song or work of literature or art that does not allude to the ideology of "the Great Leader." North Korea is refereed to at home as Kim Il Sung nation.

Kim Il Sung encouraged his cult of personality from the start. As it grew Kim became an embodiment of the North Korean state itself and achieved godlike status. The Grand People’s Study House contains more than 13,000 volumes of Kim’s collected works. At nursery schools still today children bow before Kim’s portrait and say “Thank You Great Father” after receiving snacks. Stalinism, Western militarism, Japanese imperial-era Emperor worship. and Confucianism are believed to been guides in the development of Kim’s style of authoritarianism.


Kim Jong Il as the Leader of North Korea

Kim Jong Il was the leader of North Korea from the time of the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 to his own death in 2011. Kim Jong Il never took over presidency. His father remained president even after his death. Instead, his main titles and leadership claims were as chairman of the National Defense Commission, which controls the military, and general secretary of the Worker’s Party, the only real political party in North Korea.

Among the many names accorded Kim Jong-il were Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Glorious General Who Descended from Heaven, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Sun of the Communist Future, and Bright Sun of the 21st Century. On special occasions he was called the Highest Incarnation of Revolutionary Comradely Love, or Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander. On his 63rd birthday in February 2005. Rodong Shinmun, the official paper of the Korean Workers' party, trumpeted him as “An illustrious commander, endowed with outstanding commandership art and matchless courage and pluck.”

Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) in October 1997; a year later, he was reconfirmed as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest office of state in North Korea. At public events, when he showed up, Kim sat or stood silently, occasionally clapping. His only recorded public utterance — 'Glory to the heroic soldiers of the people's army!' — was made into a microphone during a 1992 military parade.

After his father's death Kim Jong Il was given the name of 'the Great Successor" not "Great Leader" used by father. Kim Jong Il's hereditary claims to power fly in the face of Marxist ideology. The North Korean Dictionary of Political Terminologies described hereditary rule as “a reactionary custom of exploitative societies,” “originally a product of slave societies,” “later adopted by feudal lords as a meas to perpetuate dictatorial rule.”

Kim Jong Il has managed to stay in power despite prediction by many that he would be overthrown or lose power. He reportedly insisted that all soldiers be disarmed before he visits a military unit despite propaganda claim his first clothes were “a battle-smoke-scented guerilla uniform...He experienced two revolution wars before his teens...He enjoys a nap in a running car or firing range rather than in a quiet office room.”

See Separate Article KIM JONG IL AS THE LEADER OF NORTH KOREA Under History

Kim Jong Il’s Ascension to Power

According to “Governments of the World”: Kim Il Sung, according to most observers, began preparing his son to succeed him as early as 1971. Over two decades, the younger Kim was given positions of increasing importance and authority, culminating with his designation as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in December 1991. When Kim Jong Il finally assumed formal control of North Korea, it marked the first dynastic succession ever in a communist regime. It should be noted, however, that Kim Jong Il's accession was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, it took three years after his father's death until he assumed complete control [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006].

Beginning in the fall of 1975, North Koreans used the term party center to refer to Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il is reported to have concentrated a great deal of effort on the performing arts, and many artists began to use the term when referring to Kim in articles in K lloja. However, for a few years after its initial introduction the term was used only infrequently because Kim Il Sung's efforts to promote his son met some resistance. Many of Kim Jong Il's opponents have been purged by Kim Il Sung, however, and neither Kim faces any active opposition any longer. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Kim Il Sung was awarded the rank of generalissimo (taewnsu) on April 13, 1992. On April 20, 1992, Kim Jong Il, as supreme commander of the armed forces, was given the title marshal (wnsu) of the DPRK. Kim Il Sung was the president and chairman of the National Defense Commission with command and control of the armed forces until Kim Jong Il assumed the latter position in April 1993. O Chin-u also became a marshal.*

There were many scenarios for leadership succession. Some of the prospects are based on a common postulation that Kim Il Sung's succession scheme will take at least a few years because of the decades-long preparation of a succession plan. South Korean scholar Yang Sung-Chul labels this "positive skepticism" and calls short-term failure, such as a coup d'état or a revolution, "negative skepticism." "Negative skepticism" is not to be dismissed, however, because of Kim Jong Il's weaknesses — his lack of charisma, poor international recognition, and unknown governing skills — as well as the sagging domestic economy and external factors such as inter-Korean, Japan-DPRK, and United States-DPRK relations.*

Kim Jong Il's appointment as commander of the Korean People's Army suggests that the succession issue finally has been solved because the military was once considered Kim's weak point; he already has full control of the state and the economic administration. Kim Jong Il also manages political affairs and KWP businesses as a primary authority and handles symbolic roles such as meeting with foreign leaders and appearing at national celebrations.*

In addition, Kim Jong Il plays a prominent role in the KWP propaganda machine — mass media, literature, and art. Many literary and art works — including films, operas, and dramas — are produced under the revolutionary tradition of the KWP and Kim's guidance. Kim uses popular culture to broaden his public image and gain popular support.*

Kim Jong Il has tried to expedite economic growth and productivity using the Three Revolution Team Movement and the Three Revolution Red Flag Movement. Both movements are designed to inspire the broad masses into actively participating in the Three Revolutions. At the Fifth Party Congress, Kim Il Sung emphasized the necessity of pressing ahead more vigorously with the three revolutions to consolidate the socialist system. In response, Kim Jong Il developed the follow-up slogan, "Let us meet the requirements of the juche in ideology, technology and culture." Most units forged ahead with "ideological education" to teach the party members and other workers to become revolutionaries of the juche idea. In many spheres of the national economy, productivity also is expected to increase as a result of the technology emphasis of the campaigns. In addition, the "cultural revolution" addresses promoting literacy and cultural identity.*

Kim Jong Il’s Inner Circle

The U.S. military has suggested the entire country of North Korea was run under Kim Jong Il by around a dozen people: a handful of relatives and a group of "Young Turk" military officers. The inner circle is reminiscent of an imperial court found in feudal China or Korea. The military was controlled by a "Gang of Five' of military leaders in their fifties and around the same age as Kim Jong Il. Some key figures were reportedly "hidden" in low profile positions. Kang-sok-ju, the man who negotiated the nuclear with the United States, for example ran the North Korea's foreign affairs from the position of First Vice Foreign Minister.

Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at Sejong Institute in South Korea, told Associated Press that Kim's circle of advisers likely includes military and ruling Workers' Party officials and top officials at the North's five top government organs — the National Defense Commission, the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee, the Korean Workers' Party Central Military Commission, the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet. [Source: Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press, September 17, 2008]

The Dear Leaders sister Kim Kyoung Hui, sometimes called the “First Lady,” was director of the Economic Policy Inspection Department. Her husband, the Dear Leader's brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, was at least for while was reportedly Kim Jong Il's most trusted advisor. His brother controlled the military units that protected Pyongyang. Kim Jong Il cousin, Kim Jong-u — the son of Kim Il Sung's sister — was in charge of North Korea's important ministry of economic affairs.

Jang Song-thaek was a powerful figure in both the administration of Kim Jong Il and that of his son and leader Kim Jong-un. A technocrat trained in the former Soviet Union, Jang married Kim Jong Il’s younger sister in 1972 and then slowly rose through the ranks of the North's ruling Workers' Party. He was seen as an economic reformer and was considered to be among Kim’s closest aides until he fell from grace and was ousted in 2004 because, it is believed, he had built up so much power he threatened Kim Jong Il’s position.

Jang was rehabilitated in 2006 was reinstated in Kim Jong Il’s inner circl with a powerful ministry position in 2007 and appointed to the all-powerful National Defense Commission in April 2009. "In a system like North Korea, there is nobody else to trust but one's own flesh and blood," Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, told Associated Press. "Jang is expected to play a decisive role in strengthening Kim's rule and as a guardian of Kim's successor." After Kim Jong Il died, he was also viewed as a threat by Kim Jong-un, who ended up ordering Jang to be blown to smithereens with an anti-aircarft gun. Kim Jong-un reportedly bragged to U.S. President Donald Trump that he kept Jang’s head.

Kim Jong Il and His Staff and Their Gifts

Kim Jong Il reportedly consulted with his key advisors on major issues. A South Korea commentator told the Los Angeles Times, “Kim and those around him are rational” but “that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re reasonable.”

Kim Jong Il's most trusted followers, the Loyal Warriors, drove in vehicles with license plates that begin with 2-16, a reference to his February 16th birthday. Those held in highest esteem were given Mercedes Benzes with Dear Leaders's birthday license plates. In 1998, Kim Jong Il reportedly ordered 200 Class S Mercedes at US$100,000 a piece. The US$20 million price tag was equal to a fifth of the aid promised by the United Nations that year.

Kim Jong Il surrounded himself with sycophants. He gave out his used gray or blue uniforms as gifts to friends and aids as well as Rolex watches with his name engraved on the casing to influence subordinates and rivals. Low level party loyalists received gift baskets with canned food, ginseng, liquor and cookies on Kim Jong Il’s birthday. Fujimoto, the sushi chef, said, “Kim Jong Il gave me so much. He gave me a new home, let me serve his family and brought me together with my North Korean wife. But I know he will never forgive me for my betrayal. Sometimes I do wish I could go back, but that would be rather complicated now.”

Kim Jong Il’s Cult of Personality

The Cult of Personality built up around Kim Jong Il — like it was for his father, Kim Il Sung — was grandiose, extensive, pervasive and enduring. Propaganda writers at the Academy of Social Science heralded Kim Jong Il as the "the greatest of great men produced by heaven," and touted him as the world's greatest leader, thinker, scientist, politician, guerilla leader, and songwriter. Kim Jong Il was said to have had supernatural powers. Uniformed schoolchildren even today praise him with a song that goes: "Without you, we don't exist."

Among the many names accorded Kim Jong-il were Guiding Star of the 21st Century, Glorious General Who Descended from Heaven, Shining Star of Paektu Mountain, Sun of the Communist Future, and Bright Sun of the 21st Century. On special occasions he was called the Highest Incarnation of Revolutionary Comradely Love, or Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander. On his 63rd birthday in February 2005. Rodong Shinmun, the official paper of the Korean Workers' party, trumpeted him as “An illustrious commander, endowed with outstanding commandership art and matchless courage and pluck.”

The accolades used to describe Kim Jong Il — “the morning star” and “central brain” — are notch down from those used to describe his father. Still has been credited with composing the six greatest operas known to mankind, and being "a great maker of witty remarks" which "have equipped the people with the most scientific and revolutionary outlook." In addition to flying fighters jets he “accomplished a feat unmatched in the annals of professional golf”: shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played.

During parades soldiers chant “May Kim Jong Il live 10,000 years.” Children receive gifts on his birthday. Rocks on cliffs are carved with slogans that praise him and his family. Some have credited him with altering time and space. Hwang Jang-yop, the high ranking official who scripted the personality cult propaganda and later defected to South Korea, said, the Dear Leader's "self admiration has gone so far that he realy believes he is a genius."

According to an article “on a Web site run by North Korea”: 1) Kim surprised a group of North Korean officials attending a meeting in 2002 by recalling all their phone numbers “with lightning speed.” 2) On a day Kim visited a cemetery, he looked around at the tombs and he remembered the achievements, characteristics, tastes and bereaved family members for hundreds of the dead by a quick glance at the names on tombstones. [Source: Chelsea Peretti, Huffington Post]

See Separate Article KIM JONG IL’S CULT OF PERSONALITY Under History

Secret Tunnels for Kim Jong-il

A secret network of tunnels stretching for scores of kilometers were built under Pyongyang to allow Kim Jong-il to escape in case of emergency, a defector said. AFP reported: “The tunnels were built almost 1,000 feet below ground, said Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking defector to cross the border into South Korea. The tunnels connect with underground railway networks and were built both as escape routes and as shelter for the reclusive Mr Kim, his family and top officials, Mr Hwang said. [Source: AFP, December 8, 2009]

He said leaders could escape to China by travelling through one tunnel linked to the port of Nampo, 25 miles south-west of Pyongyang, Mr Hwang said in an interview posted on Monday on the website of Seoul-based Free North Korea Radio. Mr Hwang, former secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party who defected in 1997, said Mr Kim and his family have an exclusive bunker linked by the tunnels to strategic points such as Suncheon and Yeongwon. The North has a major uranium mine in Suncheon, 25 miles north of Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s unification ministry.

Kim Il-sung, Mr Kim’s father, was reportedly staying at his villa in Yeongwon, 30 miles north-east of Pyongyang, when he died in 1994. Along with 150-yard-deep subway lines, which could be used as a wartime shelter for citizens, Pyongyang has “many other underground facilities and tunnels”, Mr Hwang said. South’s Korea Institute for Defense Analysis says the North has some 8,000 underground military facilities.”

Kim Jong-il’s Public Appearances

Kim Jong Il often skipped major events and when he did appear he generally didn’t say anything. In 1998, he appeared a rally for the 50th anniversary of North Korea's nation but did not give a speech. One of his general announced though the North Korean army "will devotedly defend he headquarters of Kim Jong Il in the spirit of human bombs and suicide bombing." Kim seemed to be more comfortable visiting factories and military facilities.

On his appearances in 2007, Hankyoreh reported: “During the first half of this year, Kim Jong-il made less than half as many public appearances as he did during the same period last year. Analysis of North Korean media reports, released on July 3 by South Korean news agency Yonhap, indicate that as of the end of June of this year, Kim made a total of 29 appearances, 45 percent of the 64 public appearances he made last year. He has been seen far less frequently than his 39 appearances in 2005, 44 appearances in 2004 and 51 appearances in 2003. [Source: Hankyoreh, July 5, 2007]

The main cause of the decline in the number public appearances made by the reclusive leader was a decrease in the number of military activities that were made public. This year, public appearances made on military-related business account for 45 percent of Kim’s aggregate appearances; during the first half of 2006 he had 45 public engagements related to the military. Publicized dates with the military have usually accounted for 60 to 70 percent of Kim’s activities, as reported by North Korea’s state media outlets.

“Kim appeared in the media just twice in May of this year, leading some observers to suspect he had health problems. Kim appeared in public twice in February as well, and six times each in March, April and June. A Japanese weekly, Shukan Gendai, reported in June that Kim had had an operation in May, after having had a heart attack. This was followed by a report from Britian’s Daily Telegraph that he was not in good shape and that he had difficulty walking more than 30 yards without resting. These reports came after a team of German doctors had flown to Pyonyang for eight days in May. But a spokesman for the German team reportedly said that they had only treated three laborers, a nurse and a scientist. Some North Korea experts reportedly said that he had the flu and problems with his knee.

“A total of 40 officials accompanied Kim on public outings during the first half of 2007, with Workers’ Party central committee secretary Kim Ki Nam appearing with Kim more than anyone else in 11 appearances together. Chang Song-taek, Kim’s brother-in-law and someone who has played an important role in Pyongyang’s government, has not been seen in public this year at all, after having appeared with Kim 8 times in 2006.”

Kim Jong Il Inspection of a KPA Tank Unit and Cosmetic Factory

During a typical visit to a newly built power plant, North Korean media said Kim Jong Il "warmly encouraged the workers (who have been) working miracles and innovations every day from the outset of the new year in hearty response to the call of the WPK". On a visit to cosmetics and machine factories in Sinuiju, North Korea, the BBC reported: State news agency KCNA said Mr Kim had offered workers praise and guidance at the cosmetics and machine factories. Mr Kim praised the "high quality" of the toilet soap, toothpaste, cream and lotion produced at the cosmetics factory, and the "persevering and tireless efforts" of the workers, KCNA reported.” Photos showed “him standing outside a building at the cosmetics factory, while others showed him near an orange bulldozer at the engineering plant. [Source: BBC, November 25, 2008]

On a visit by Kim Jong Il to a Sub-Unit of KPA Tank Division, KNCA, the North Korean news service, reported: General Secretary Kim Jong Il inspected a sub-unit of the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the KPA honored with the title of O Jung Hup-led Seventh Regiment. He congratulated the service personnel for having performed laudable feats after commencing the fulfilment of their combat duties for this year with fresh confidence and hope. After acquainting himself with the unit's performance of duty, he went round an education room, a bedroom, a mess hall, a non-staple food store, a wash-cum-bath house and entertainment and educational and supply service facilities to pay deep attention to their service and living. [Source: KCNA, January 5, 2010]

“He showed profound loving care for them, learning about every aspect of their life ranging from the use of entertainment and educational means and the bedroom's temperature to the supply of water to the wash-cum-bath house and varieties of non-staple food. Noting that it is an important work for boosting their combat capability to provide the soldiers with good conditions for their living, he underlined the need for the commanding officers to pay deep attention to the supply service at all times.

“Then he mounted the forward observation post to watch tanks in training. After seeing the training of brave tank men, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that all tank men have grown to be a-match-for-a hundred fighters fully prepared politically and ideologically and in military technique to beat back any formidable enemy's invasion at one blow. He set forth important tasks which would serve as guidelines for boosting the unit's combat capability in every way.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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