On December 19, 2011, North Korean State Television announced that the country's leader Kim Jong-il had died on December 17 at 8:30AM local time, while on a train trip. Initial reports claimed he had died as a result of 'a great mental and physical strain', although KCNA later reported a massive heart attack to be the cause of death.
Kim Jong-il spent 20 years preparing for his succession to power. According to reports, it had actually been his uncle, Kim Yong-chu, his father’s younger brother, who had been the original presumptive heir to Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was eventually able to side-line his uncle and win the confidence of his father particularly through his efforts to expand the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung.
Kim Jong Il was born on 16 February 1941 in Khabarovsk, USSR, the eldest son of Kim Il Sung and his first wife, Kim Jong Suk. The year of his birth was subsequently changed to 1942 to make a more convenient 30-year age difference between himself and his father, and the place of his birth was altered to become a secret camp on Mt. Paektu in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province.
According to one North Korean account, "General Kim Jong Il is a rare great man of Baekdu type who was born at Mt.Baekdu, the sacred mountain of our nation, and made an unusual growth amidst the special revolutionary education of his parents, brilliant commanders of Baekdu, as well as the practical training of the revolutionary struggle. He personifies the revolutionary spirit, trait and nature of Mt.Baekdu. The revolutionary spirit of Mt.Baekdu personified by him is the spirit of independence associated with the soul of Baekdu, the spirit of gun inheriting the linage of Baekdu, the indefatigable revolutionary spirit replete with the mettle of Baekdu and the optimistic spirit consistent with cheerfulness of Baekdu. The revolutionary trait of Mt.Baekdu possessed by him is pluck and courage of Baekdu-style giant, ever-victorious sagacity of the brilliant commander of Baekdu, broad-mindedness befitting a heroic man, organizing ability of leading millions of people, indefatigable attacking spirit, strong ability of execution."
North Korean sources reported that Kim Jong Il started work at the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on 19 June 1964, at the age of 23 [22 by DPRK accounting]. The accuracy of this chronology cannot be independently confirmed, but it conveniently placed the start of his party work at almost exactly 30 years prior to the death of Kim Il Sung in July 1994.
The junior Kim started out as a guidance officer in the party's cultural and propaganda departments, owing to his playful nature, and this stint was followed by creation of his own clique and involvement in personnel reshuffling in the Organization and Guidance Department. His involvement in purging Kim Il-sung's guerrilla cronies and those who were not personal friends of his father was his way of proving his loyalty to the elder Kim.
Kim Il Sung began gradually preparing Kim Jong Il as heir apparent since 1971. In 1972 that the intensity of the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung surpassed those of Mao Zedong or Joseph Stalin. DPRK citizens began to wear badges with his picture in addition to hanging his portrait on their walls. Kim Jong-il had been serving in the Party’s powerful propaganda and organization departments until he organized the Fifth Party Congress in 1970 which proclaimed Juche as the monolithic ideology of the DPRK and further enhanced his father’s cult of personality thereby setting in motion the process for his succession. Around this time, Kim Jong-il introduced Kimilsungism, a concept linked to Juche. Kim Il-sung’s cult of personality became an important instrument of Kim Jong-il’s consolidation of his own succession, as his father was the main source of his legitimacy to rule the nation.
Between 1971 and 1980, Kim Jong Il was given positions of increasing importance in the Korean Workers Party [KWP] hierarchy. The junior Kim wrested the post of party organization secretary from his uncle in September 1973, and solidified his status as heir by virtue of his entry to the politburo in February of the following year.
Some North Korean sources report that Kim Jong Il was designated as the successor of the revolutionary cause of Juche in February 1974. It was at that time that he advanced the program of imbuing the whole society with the Juche idea.
The Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea appointed Kim Jong-il as the Party’s Secretary for Organization and Guidance. This put him in control of the appointment process and system of inspections. He used this position to build his power base, sending inspection teams to every party and government organization down to the local level. Thus he was able to establish a dedicated reporting system to monitor all information and to link important officials to his patronage network. With the 1972 Constitution, Kim Jong-il reorganized the state administration and further expanded the state security apparatus. At this time, a new State Security Department was set up that reported directly to Kim Jong-il and supported the succession process.
Once the Central Committee elected Kim Jong-il to membership of the Politburo and endorsed his selection as Kim Il-sung’s heir in 1974, he deepened the ideological basis of the Suryong system. Kim Jong-il announced the “Ten Principles in Establishing Party’s Monolithic Ideological System" which called for “unconditional obedience" and “all our loyalty" to Kim Il-sung. Moreover, article 10.1 of the Ten Principles declares that “(t)he entire party and society will adhere strictly to the one-ideology system, and establish the one and only leadership of the Central Party so as to complete in shining glory revolutionary achievements of the Great Leader." The “Central Party" was understood to mean Kim Jong-il.
Beginning in the fall of 1975, North Koreans used the term party center to refer to Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il was 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. 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.
At the Sixth Congress of the KWP in 1980, he was selected as a member of the Central Committee, a full member of the politburo, and a member of the military committee. It was at this congress that Kim Jong Il became the formal successor to his father. Since the Sixth Party Congress, Kim Jong Il's succession was 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.
At a plenary session of the North Korean Worker's Party congress on December 24, 1991, Kim Il Sung announced that Kim Jong Il would replace him as supreme commander of the North Korean People's Army. 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.
Kim Jong Il's appointment as commander of the Korean People's Army suggested that the succession issue finally had been solved because the military was once considered Kim's weak point; he already had full control of the state and the economic administration. Kim Jong Il also managed political affairs and KWP businesses as a primary authority and handled symbolic roles such as meeting with foreign leaders and appearing at national celebrations. In addition, Kim Jong Il played a prominent role in the KWP propaganda machine -- mass media, literature, and art. Many literary and art works--including films, operas, and dramas -- were produced under the revolutionary tradition of the KWP and Kim's guidance. Kim used popular culture to broaden his public image and gain popular support.
Following the death of Kim Il Sung on 08 July 1994, Kim Jong Il inherited supreme power. After the funeral, at which the designated heir, Kim Jong Il, appeared but did not speak, he did not appear again in public for many months. When asked why, he said simply that he was still grieving for his father, an unusual admission for a head of state. Observers of the scene wondered why he had not moved more quickly to assume the mantel of leadership. While there may well have been overriding political considerations involving the need to consolidate his own political position, there was a sense that he, too, was almost paralyzed by grief over his father’s death and sensitive to the country’s need for time and space to absorb the loss. His state of mind over his father’s death is often cited as a major reason for his slowness in responding to the natural disasters that befell North Korea in the mid-1990s.
Kim Jong Il succeeded to power as the son of Kim Il Sung in the tradition of the Choson monarchy. There had never been this kind of dynastic succession in a communist regime before. Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1997, and in September 1998, the Supreme People's Assembly reconfirmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position as the "highest office of state."
Graduates of the first class of the Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute, established in 1947, supported Kim Jong Il's power base. Many of these graduates occupied key positions in government and the military. For example, O Guk-nyol and General Paek Hak-nim -- the latter, the minister of public security -- were members of the Central Military Commission, KWP Central Committee, and the SPA; Kim Hwan, the former minister of chemical industry and a vice premier as of mid-1993, was a member of both the KWP Central Committee and the SPA; and Kim Yong-sun, a candidate member of the Politburo, was the director of the International Affairs Department, KWP Central Committee.
Kim Jong-il micro-managed every detail of government business. Kim Jong-il created a system of summarizing an account of events from all over North Korea into a daily report format during consolidation of his power within the party. Even county or municipal parties were to report directly to the party center if the event was deemed significant enough to warrant its attention.
Kim Jong-il's impatience and extemporaneous behavior contrasted markedly with Kim Il-sung's magnanimity and charisma. The elder Kim was mindful of advice from others, while Kim Jong-il was arrogant and self-centered in policy decision. In addition, the junior Kim did not take kindly to criticism or opinions different from his own. Kim Jong-il's personality was characterized by suspicion, and was extremely emotional in his expression of his likes and dislikes, which bordered on double personality.
Many of the stories about Kim Jong Il's eccentricities and decadent life-style were exaggerated, possibly circulated by South Korean intelligence to disredit the Northern regime. Kim Jong Il was a movie fanatic, and was said to hav a collection of over 20,000 films. In 1978, in order to advance the North Korean film industry, he ordered North Korean agents to abduct the famous South Korean movie director Shin Sang Ok and his ex-wife, actress Che Eun Hui, and kept them for eight years while making them produce propaganda films. During that time, the two became very well acquainted with Kim Jong Il, and after escaping in 1986, they wrote a book exposing his decadent lifestyle.
The concentration and maintenance of political power in the hands of one man over a period of decades defined the political system in North Korea. Kim Jong Il was born into this system and was in a sense a prisoner of it himself. He could not reform the system without undermining his own legitimacy. The only rational option for him was to uphold the system. Economic and political reforms would let loose a tidal wave of resentment against the police state, and would aggravate rather than improve the economic situation.
Radio Free Asia reported 27 August 2013 that Kim Jong-il's widow appeared to have fallen victim to a purge by the new regime. Kim Ok and her father Kim Hyo, a senior official in the Workers Party's Finance and Accounting Department, "has recently been dismissed from all their posts," RFA quoted an informed source as saying. "They may have fallen victim to a political purge." The defector-run radio station speculated that young leader Kim Jong-un had purged his stepmother to tighten his own grip on power. "Rumors are circulating in the North that the regime has forced all the old guard from the Kim Jong-il era to retire," another source said. "Kim Ok may be part of that move."
Right after he took power, Kim Jong-un purged the powerful military elite from the Kim Jong-il era, getting rid of army chief Ri Yong-ho and first deputy director of the State Security Department U Dong-chuk. There were also rumors that Kim Ok attempted suicide twice in early 2012, right after Kim Jong-il died. In July 2013 she defied doubters by accompanying Kim Jong-un on a tour of a new amusement park in Pyongyang, but since then she had disappeared from public view.
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