Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

N. Korea's Kim Buttresses Cult after Decades of Strict Maintenance of an Elaborate Personality Cult, North Korea's `Great Leader' Is Revising His Own Myths

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

N. Korea's Kim Buttresses Cult after Decades of Strict Maintenance of an Elaborate Personality Cult, North Korea's `Great Leader' Is Revising His Own Myths

Article excerpt

NOT far by foot from a giant bronze statue of Kim Il Sung in this capital, close to Kim Il Sung Square and Kim Il Sung Stadium, nearby to a Napoleonic "Arch of Triumph" dedicated to Kim, but a long walk from Kim Il Sung University and Kim's revered birthplace, a visitor can find the state bookstore.

Not surprisingly, the store carries an autobiography, "Kim Il Sung," published in April. (All stores in North Korea are state-run and all have photos of the "Great Leader" on the wall.)

"I have never considered my life to be extraordinary," writes Kim with humility, in the first of his multi-volume "reminiscences" being published this year to mark his 80th birthday.

Normally, such a work might be seen as just another cultish icon, much like the many Kim lapel buttons, Kim murals, operas about Kim, or a commemorative birthday coin made of silver issued this year with the leader's face.

But the autobiography has caught the eye of many North Korea watchers.

"He's worried that his own history might be changed," says Masao Okonogi, a Korea specialist at Keio University in Tokyo. "He's trying to be more realistic."

While the books overwhelmingly follow the official North Korean line on Kim's life, they make a few, rare confessions and deviations from past propaganda.

* For instance, Kim admits that he neglected his mother.

"I did nothing special for my mother after I embarked on the revolution," he writes.

(Kim claims that he began his anti-Japanese activities by age 20, having allegedly mastered the works of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin at age 14.)

* Kim also defends Kim Ok Gyun, a pro-Japanese Korean leader of the 19th century, a move that may help him win much-needed aid and recognition from Japan.

* And Kim concedes that he spoke a foreign tongue (Chinese) almost better than his own, and gives far more credit to Chinese Communists for aiding Korean guerrillas, depicting them as mentors.

The fact that the "heroic" and "immortal" Kim admits such things to his own people is the political equivalent of throwing ink on a white shirt.

The small blemishes stand out simply by stark contrast to the near-godlike legend and rhetoric of independence that Kim has bred a whole generation of North Koreans to believe.

Fiction or not, the official past of Kim Il Sung is everyone's present in North Korea. Few people can receive outside information that has not been filtered by the state. TV sets, for instance, have only one channel, the official one.

"These books are his last record," Dr. Okonogi says. "He is trying to be both more defensive and more frank. …

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