“Comrad Kim Il Sung is worshipped by the Korean people, not only as the liberator of the Korean nation, but also as the genuine father and teacher who provided them with all rights and benefits which are indistinguishable to independent beings” –Pyongyang Review
The cult of Kim permeates North Korea.
From the moment we arrived at the Pyongyang airport and were greeted with a large smiling mosaic of Kim Il Sung on the outside of the terminal, there was hardly a moment when the face of either the leader or his son were not staring down on us in one form or another. “The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung will always be with us!” is the most popular of political slogans in the North, and perhaps the most accurate as well.
Kim Il Sung was North Korea’s first leader following the defeat of the Japanese in World War II. He was trained under the Red Army and handpicked by the Soviets to take control of their newest colony. And he did not disappoint. The new leader quickly whipped the North Koreans into a communist stronghold that actually outpaced South Korea with rebuilding and economic growth in the immediate years following the war.
In the process, Kim established himself as an omnipotent, iron-fisted ruler who tolerated no dissent, exiled opponents and naysayers to concentration camps, and cut off the population from international contact. A pervasive secret police force bolstered by an invasive network of personal informants further ensured that everyone toed the party line.
Like all communist leaders worth their salt, Kim patterned himself as the nation’s messiah. Through a carefully orchestrated combination of nonstop propaganda, brainwashing, and continuous re-education, North Korea has emerged as the world’s largest cult and Kim Il Sung as its glorified leader.
Kim is integrated into all aspects of life: children sing praises to him at school and workers honor him with shrines at their factories. Kim’s portrait is also hanging in every classroom, train station, public square and on the front of every official building. As if that’s not enough, every single North Korean adult is also required to wear a pin of his likeness on their lapel. “Korean people revere him as their father,” Pyongyang Review says, “and deem it their duty and their loftiest moral obligation to hold him, the man who fed and led them, high and loyal.”
Since Kim’s death in 1994, his son, Kim Jong Il, has assumed the throne and is now featured prominently in state propaganda standing beside the Great Leader (who has posthumously been promoted to Eternal President) or gloriously leading the nation forward on his own. In what is undoubtedly the only choice North Koreans have had in deciding a leader, they can now pick between their pins of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to decide which leader they will affix to their lapel.
There is simply no escaping the Kims when traveling through North Korea. The above gallery is just a small selection of the never ending flood of statues, mosaics, photographs, and other Kim iconography we encountered during our five days embedded in the world’s largest cult.
Yesterday: The Mass Games
Tomorrow: Worshipping at the Altar of Kim