North Korean Cult of Personality

A pervasive system of idolization centered around the Kim family, deeply ingrained in North Korean society and politics.

The North Korean cult of personality is a complex system of idolization and myth-making surrounding the Kim family, particularly Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. This phenomenon is deeply ingrained in North Korean society and politics.

Origins and Development

The cult of personality in North Korea has its roots in Stalinist practices, which Kim Il Sung imported to Korea with the help of the Red Army. This system of idolization underwent significant intensification under Kim Il Sung’s rule. Initially criticized by the Soviets for his Stalinist tendencies and burgeoning cult of personality, Kim Il Sung gradually shaped North Korea into a one-man autocracy.

Characteristics of the Cult

  • Kim Il Sung’s Idolization: Kim Il Sung is portrayed as a heroic liberator and nation-builder. He received numerous esteemed titles and awards, many self-bestowed, and was venerated in all major publications. His image was carefully managed, and schools were required to have a room set aside for lectures specifically about him.
  • Control over Personal Depiction: The North Korean regime controlled the depiction of its leaders meticulously. Kim Il Sung’s image was to be treated with utmost respect, and his name was always to be written in one line.
  • Deification of Leaders: The leaders of North Korea were, and are, viewed almost as divine figures. Children were taught that they were fed, clothed, and nurtured by the grace of the Chairman. There were even beliefs that the leaders did not perform basic human functions.
  • Cult Extension to Kim’s Family: The cult of personality extends beyond Kim Il Sung to include his son, Kim Jong Il, and his grandson, Kim Jong Un. Their images are prominently displayed throughout the country and are central to North Korean propaganda.
  • Juche Ideology: As Kim Il Sung’s personality cult grew, the doctrine of Juche, or self-reliance, began to displace Marxism–Leninism as the state ideology.

International Relations and Perceptions

Despite the international criticism and isolation, the North Korean leadership, particularly Kim Il Sung, refused to accept denunciations of Stalinism. Kim Il Sung maintained a stance of independence, asserting that North Korea implemented the purest form of Marxism, rejecting both Soviet and Chinese influences.

The Cult’s Impact on Society

The cult of personality affects nearly all aspects of life in North Korea. It is a critical tool for the regime to maintain power, control public perception, and justify its policies. It is deeply entrenched in the institutions, education, and daily life of North Koreans.