Kim Jong Un, successor to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, walked weeping alongside a hearse carrying the body of his father through the snow-covered streets of Pyongyang yesterday, ahead of a memorial service that ends two days of mourning meant to bolster the new leader.
A black limousine carrying a giant portrait of Kim Jong Il, who developed nuclear weapons during his 17-year reign while more than 1 million of his people starved to death, led the motorcade that included the coffin, draped in a red flag. State television showed thousands of soldiers massed in formation as citizens lined the North Korean capital’s wide avenues during the three-hour funeral.
State media have sketched the image of Kim Jong Un solidifying his hold on succession, referring to him as “supreme leader of the revolutionary armed forces” and “great successor” to his late father and grandfather. The stability of North Korea, which has the world’s fourth-largest army and 70 submarines, may depend on the younger Kim’s ability to establish a firm grip on the regime.
“Kim Jong Un walked the hearse himself with his hand on the hood, while surrounded by key elders of the North Korean elite,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “Authorities are trying to indirectly communicate to the people that the transition is stable, that the new leader is stable.”
Red banners that read “Hail Comrade Kim Jong Il!” and “Great Leader Kim Jong Il Is Immortal!” were draped over buildings as citizens dressed in dark, heavy coats to shield against the winter cold filled the sidewalks.
People en route to the ceremony carried white chrysanthemums, said Gunter Unterbeck, a German national who has lived in Pyongyang since 1996. Children without real flowers made them from paper.
The procession followed the same route as the 1994 funeral of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first leader and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, whose beaming portrait was also paraded through the streets at the head of a motorcade. Unlike his father, who was kept behind the scenes during the funeral of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un featured prominently in the ceremony.
The aim was “to make him better known to the North Korean people,” said Baek Seung Joo, a North Korea specialist at the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses. “Average North Koreans do not know much about Kim Jong Un, and by having him take the lead, they were trying to build recognition as well as loyalty toward him.”
Jang Song Thaek, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and Kim Jong Un’s uncle, walked behind his nephew. They were followed by Kim Ki Nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, and Choe Thae Bok, chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly. On the other side of the hearse and dressed in military uniform were Ri Yong Ho, chief of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army, and Kim Yong Chun, vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission.
Watching how people are aligned around Kim Jong Un, who is thought to be 28 or 29 years old, “we can have a clue on the power dynamic in the North Korean leadership,” said Paik Hak Soon, a director of inter-Korean relations at the Seongnam, a South Korea-based Sejong Institute research group.
The TV broadcast showed some mourners wailing uncontrollably while others stood motionless, with somber expressions, as the snow fell. “A national tragedy has happened. How could the sky not cry?” a soldier in uniform told state television.
A notice in yesterday’s newspaper said all social life would stop for three minutes from noon, including trains and cars, said Unterbeck. People were busy cleaning the streets and buildings before the event, he said.
Recognition And Loyalty
Soldiers held back some people who surged toward the roadway as the motorcade approached. Kim Jong Un and his entourage walked alongside the hearse for a short part of its journey, which covered 40 kilometers (25 miles) through the city, according to KCNA.
Russian scientists who maintain the corpse of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow are in North Korea embalming Kim Jong Il, Russian News Service radio reported. Specialists from the Moscow-based Center for Biomedical Technologies also have embalmed Kim Il Sung and other Communist leaders, including the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, the station said on its website.
No government officials from Seoul will pay condolences, according to the Unification Ministry, which oversees policy toward North Korea. Lee Hee Ho, the 89-year-old widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong Eun led a private group of 18 South Koreans on a two-day visit. State media showed them being greeted by Kim Jong Un on Dec. 26.
Concerns that the political outlook in the North could worsen contributed to a slump in consumer confidence in South Korea, which fell to a three-month low in December, according to a survey released Dec. 27. The Kospi slid 3.4 percent on Dec. 19 when Kim Jong Il’s death was announced, then rallied 4 percent the next two trading days.
South Korean civic groups and defectors from the North said yesterday that they had launched balloons that would float across the border to deliver leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Il and his successor. North Korea had previously said that such acts could ignite a war.
Observers around the world scrutinized the images for signs of changes in the regime’s power hierarchy under its new leader.
It is difficult to tell whether a regency-type system will develop, led by Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, who walked behind his nephew in the motorcade, said Dongguk University’s Kim. “For now, it’s evident that the system is being centered around Kim Jong Un,” he said.