The Washington Post

Kim Jong Eun: North Korea’s new Dear Leader

North Korea lost its Dear Leader Sunday, after a state television tearfully announced the death of Kim Jong Il. The country will now turn to its Young General, the nickname for Kim Jong Eun, the youngest son of the mercurial and enigmatic North Korean dictator.

Kim Jong Eun is pictured with his late father, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. (REUTERS)

Kim Jong Eun has trailed behind his famous father, slowly being groomed as successor, despite signs that the country was not fully unified behind him.

Less than one year ago, The Post’s Chico Harlan wrote of Kim Jong Eun:

He has been the object of far less official attention in the country he’s soon likely to rule. The state newspaper does not sing his praises. His face does not yet appear on stamps, pins, book covers or buildings. And during staged public appearances, his father, current leader Kim Jong Il, does the talking while Kim Jong Eun stays in the background.

Kim Jong Eun, son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (not pictured) visits Mokran Video Co. in Pyongyang. (REUTERS)

The baby-faced man found himself as the heir apparent after Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008. Many questioned if the young man could engender the same loyalty as his father and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. “With Kim Il Sung, 60 percent really loved him — truly honored him like a leader. ... With Kim Jong Il, maybe that fell to 40 percent. But with Kim Jong Eun, it’s zero percent. People don’t admire a single thing about him,” Cui Yingjiu, a retired professor of Korean literature at China’s Peking University and a former classmate of Kim Jong Il’s told Harlan in January.

During the past year, though, Kim Jong Eun grew in prominence and in favor with his countrymen. Reuters reported his slicked-back, high-sided haircut is a fashion hit in Pyongyang where young men are lining up for a similar cut. Kim supposedly looks like his late grandfather, a similarity the North Korea propaganda machine has played up.

North Korea tightly controls the information it releases, and little is known about the plump young man now in his late 20s. The Post's Andrew Higgins reports:

“He studied for a time in Switzerland at a German-speaking high school in Liebefeld, a suburb of the Swiss capital Bern. Former classmates remember a shy but determined boy obsessed with American basketball and expensive sports shoes. They say he spoke passable German and made some local friends but was monitored closely by staff from the North Korean embassy in Bern.

“He vanished in the middle of the school year in 2000, apparently to return to Pyongyang, and had not been seen in public since until he emerged at his father’s heir apparent last year. A campaign of hagiographic propaganda hailed him as the “dear young general” but it is unclear how much support he has within the armed forces or the ruling party, both of which are dominated by far older men. His mother, Kim Jong Il’s third wife, was a former dancer who died in 2004.”

North Korea, already battling serious food shortages and a shaky economy, may not be ready for Kim Jong Eun as the new leader. The New York Times Nick Kristof wrote on Twitter, “The last transition in North Korea was a dangerous time, as Kim Jong Il tried to show his mettle. We should be wary this time, too.”

Read more about North Korea:

- The life and times of Kim Jong-il

- Kim leaves behind an antiquated country

- North Koreans mourn Kim’s death

- More headlines from around the world


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