Is Kim Jong Eun Already the Most Hated Man in North Korea?

More reports from Open News claim that the deification of Kim Jong-Eun is causing a backlash of discontent among the North Korean people:

The source explained that “The punishment for attacking the government within North Korea is execution, so instead there have been outbreaks of criticism through graffiti across train stations, apartment walls, market places, and public buildings”¦according to others the graffiti expresses very strong discontent with Kim Jeong-Eun’s appointment as successor.

The last time there were multiple reports of anti-regime graffiti and leafleting was during the Great Famine. Since then, as people learned to survive through markets, a tense truce took hold between the people and the state. That tense truce may be breaking down.

The security forces have responded with dragnets, interrogations, and the mass collection of writing samples, which will probably just alienate the population more. That is how the regime tends to alienate the population in most insurgencies. Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that the people who actually painted the slogans are traveling merchants who have long since left the vicinity.

At an art school, someone has found a practical use for the musings of Kim Jong Il:

On October 18, a source of Yanggangdo reported that “around the middle of October, parts of the book “˜Brightening the Times of the Principal Agent’ was found inmmersed in feces in the female staff restroom of Hyesan Art School, Yanggangdo. The National Security Agency and Censorship Commission has been mobilized in an effort to find the perpetrator. The book’ contained an image of Kim Jeong-il on the cover and it is therefore assumed that the act, of depositing the picture within the feces, was deliberate. In the North it is restricted by law to use any paper, with Kim Jeong-il’s picture printed on, instead of tissues. []

This report claims that those brought in to participate in the big parade looted food and televisions from homes in the area where they were practicing:

Lastly, according to the source, “the dissatisfaction of the citizens is aimed at Kim Jeong-Eun. Now they have had to suffer burglary on top of a serious food shortage and the grave need for social support. They are blaming Kim Jeong-Eun for everything criticizing “even Kim Jeong-Eun, the (expletive) son, is tormenting us.

You know, my fingers get cramps from even asking the question: aren’t North Koreans being a little unfair to Kim Jong-Eun? Personally, I’ve never believed that Jong-Eun was being elevated to a position where he could direct national policy in North Korea, though this AFP report, attributed to North Korean Intellectuals’ Solidarity, suggests that he’s just been given free reign to purge “old generation” apparatchiks:

“About 15 heavyweight officials, many of them military, are being investigated for turning a blind eye to people fleeing the country and being involved in smuggling activities,” the spokesman told AFP. [….]

The crackdown, which would be expanded into a nationwide campaign, was a “politically-motivated purge” aimed at replacing longstanding military members with younger officials more loyal to Jong-Un, said the spokesman.

“This is a purge for generational change… senior officials are trembling with fear because they don’t know where heads are going to roll,” he said.

Well, maybe.

To begin with, I always question anyone’s basis to attribute motives to particular personalities in a place as opaque as Pyongyang. There are plenty of other, more plausible possibilities here. For one thing, I suspect that corruption in the northern border area really is so severe and so perilous to the regime’s survival that any rational psychopath would order a purge there. It’s possible that Kim Jong-Eun is either leading local purges or being held up as their architect, though I’d guess some older member of the royal family is pulling his strings. It’s even possible that Kim Jong Il really believes that he can really elevate Jong-Eun to a position of real power before he’s finally rolled off to the meat locker, but it’s hard to imagine that Jong-Eun would hold any real power for long. I’m not surprised to see him being given his little sandboxes to play in — a military unit here, a purge there, and maybe another series of hundred-day battles. But the right to play in the sandbox doesn’t mean you own the deed to the back yard.

And there’s this: it is a very dangerous thing when “senior” North Korean officials, including people with guns, are “trembling with fear” of you. Or so we can hope.

The weight of the evidence suggests that Jong-Eun is being deified for the domestic audience. The most likely reason for this is to create an illusion of continuity between Kim Il Sung and those who will really wield the power (apparently, the junta that’s seizing control in North Korea thinks this is a good illusion to create). But if Jong-Eun’s true role is as a propaganda prop, then his usefulness to the new junta isn’t apparent. It has only taken Kim Jong-Eun a year to make himself loathed at every level of North Korean society. That is an ironic thing if you doubt, as I do, that he has ever made a decision of any real consequence on his own.


  1. Does america have its own silent “military first” policy? Just as a comment on america, why are the people seemingly shouting, “ban earmarks! Cut spending on my community! But never cut defense spending!”

    [The comment is not only completely off-topic, it’s pretty stupid on several levels. Take a close look at the comment policy. Last warning. – Joshua]

  2. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Jong-un is a pretty effective target for people’s anger. After dear shorty kicks the bucket, they’ll be so mad at him that he’ll be replaced through some sort of election at the Loser in Chief main office in Pyeongyang.

  3. “Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that the people who actually painted the slogans are traveling merchants who have long since left the vicinity.”
    Traveling merchants? Who would be considered traveling merchants?

  4. Don’t want to second-guess Joshua, but it is almost certainly less risky for one of the people hauling Chinese-made goods between public markets throughout the country (i.e. a traveling merchant!) to daub a slogan on a wall than for a local resident who would struggle to hide their identity from the ubiquitous local People’s Unit busybody.

  5. Have we seen any pictures of official items with Kim Jong-un’s likeness on them? Badges? Pictures? Newspaper photos from North Korea where he himself (or just he and his father) is the focus of the picture? I ask because, again not to sound like a broken record, the KCNA and its partner mouthpieces do not bear out the existence of a massive campaign to promote Kim Jong-un as some glorious heir to the throne. Not at all.

    If Daily NK’s sources are correct and there is such graffiti, is it possible that the campaign to erode the image of Kim Jong-un is being influenced from the outside? Perhaps people being instructed (even paid) to play El Barto here and there around the provinces? I’m not suggesting this would be a bad thing at all, just that this would be a logical way to square these reports with the evidence on the other side. I wonder also if Daily NK’s sources are not inadvertently telling their debriefers what they want to hear and are thus overstating this case.

    Color me skeptical.

  6. “but it is almost certainly less risky for one of the people hauling Chinese-made goods between public markets throughout the country (i.e. a traveling merchant!) “

    Color me dense, and sorry to show my ignorance, but these traveling merchants…are also North Koreans? Or are they foreigners? I guess I just have this image in my head of most NK people not having the means to go anywhere.

  7. Point of order, Kushibo: Open Radio, not Daily NK. Skepticism is permitted, but we must crush incorrect referencing~!

    Theresa: Absolutely North Koreans, though a lot have some Chinese heritage since it helps them get in and out. Regardless, if you start to read more on North Korea’s marketization, you will find that there is a somewhat vibrant market system in the country fuelled by goods from China and elsewhere coming in across the northern border and leaking out of Kaesong. There are a great many traders on various scales moving these goods around.

    If you want the big picture, you could start with stuff by Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute, otherwise there are many smaller market stories to be found on sites like Daily NK.

  8. chris wrote:

    Point of order, Kushibo: Open Radio, not Daily NK. Skepticism is permitted, but we must crush incorrect referencing~!

    To-MAY-toh, Po-TAH-toh. 😉

    Seriously, though. That was a tad sloppy on my part, though the point still stands.

  9. Wasn’t there some research based on interviews with DPRK refugees suggesting that even KJI, unlike his father, doesn’t enjoy all that much unfeigned respect among DPRK citizens?

  10. Whatever happens in North korea seems quite obvious .Stupidity will rein and nothing else .That is why China feeds it and makes sure it wont loose its monopoly as the only market for its crappy goods .I feel sorry for the North Korean people .South Korea also unfortunatly has a reterded half brother half Chinese half North Korean and its up to the South Koreans to accept it .Unification wont happen as the Chinese Government will be embarrassed to have a democratic South Korea at its borders doing well and Im sure The Chinese people wil demand a change in their own Government when they see a prosperous unified Korea ..This reason alone is why Korea is still divided .Its China

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