Young general comes out as mother's
boy By Kosuke Takahashi
TOKYO - In a risky gamble, Pyongyang is
resting its hopes for the survival of the Kim
regime on one woman - a dead one at that.
Struggling to cement his dynastic credentials,
young North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun has
launched a mass deification campaign for his
mother and the first lady of late leader Kim
Jong-il, Ko Young-hee, who is believed to have
died in 2004.
Since May, Young-hee has
been praised as the "Respected Mother", the "Great
Mother" and "The Mother of The Great Military
First Korea", as can been seen in a film and photographs obtained by Asia Times Online this
month from Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK),
a Japan-based citizens' group supporting
ordinary North Koreans.
The idolization of Young-hee connects a
missing link in the blood-heir's succession over
three generations from the country's founding
father Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and to Kim
Young-hee poses with her husband for a propaganda
Experts say the deification
campaign is part of accelerated North Korean
efforts to mythologize and legitimize its
revolutionary tradition. Pyongyang's official
accounts claim this originated in the sacred Mt
Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula
and the birthplace, in propaganda accounts, of Kim
Jong-il. (Soviet records show that he was actually
born in a village in Russia's Far East.)
The video of Ko does not mention an
inconvenient truth - Young-hee was born in Japan -
the brutal colonial ruler of Korea from 1910-1945.
She was born in the famous Koreatown, Tsuruhashi,
in Osaka, in 1952. Her father, Ko Kyung-taek, made
Imperial Japanese Army soldiers' uniforms in a
sewing factory during World War II.
Korea needs to cover up the fact that Ko Young-hee
was born and raised in Osaka," said RENK spokesman
Lee Young-hwa, adding that her family moved to
North Korea only in the early 1960s as part of a
The video and photographs stress that
Ko Young-hee had a strong relationship with the
vision The rare 85 minutes of video footage
and 93 photographs of Ko Young-hee for the first
time reveal her vivid appearance and voice. In the
video and photos, she accompanies Kim Jong-il to
military camps, factories and farms. She is seen
riding a white horse, following her husband on
another white horse.
She inspects a
barrage of rocket-propelled grenades with Kim
Jong-il, with both wearing the same vintage
Courreges sunglasses that became trademark apparel
for her husband. They murmured words into each
other's ears and smiled. The video shows a very
happily married couple.
This image of Ko Young-hee was likely inspired
by the Korean song General on a Galloping White
In one scene, she visits a
barrack and expresses concern about soldiers'
daily lives. She tastes a soldier's home-made
donut, then teaches them how to cook a
potato-based donut. In the following days, she
sends them sugar and cooking oils.
movie aims to conjure an image of the "Mother of
The Great Military First Korea", which is the
video's title. The movie uses emotional female
narration and a rousing musical score in the
classic North Korean style of propaganda.
She is also seen holding a gun, suggesting
a strong wife who always protects her husband.
This was echoed scenes of Kim Jong-suk, or Kim
Il-sung's first wife and Kim Jong-il's mother, who
was a guerilla and communist politician. The
images also showed Ko met many dignitaries abroad,
stressing her precious role as the first lady.
Ko Young-hee pictured
with an unknown foreigner.
attempts to establish Ko's authority also stress
the Kim dynasty's heroic family lineage, which
stretches back to Jong-eun's grandfather's
partisan guerilla activities against Japan in the
After Ko's family moving back to
North Korea in the early 1960s, she worked as a
dancer for the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe in
Pyongyang, where she met Kim Jong-il. She is
believed to have died in Paris due to breast
cancer in 2004, which the video also does not
pictured with a young Kim Jong-eun.
sanctifying the late Ko, Kim Jong-eun is trying to
underscore his authority as the North's new
leader. The efforts also come as the "young
general" has been repeatedly seen with a woman who
is believed to Hyon Song-wol, a former singer in a
popular group called Bochonbo Electronic Music
However, making it tricky for
propagandists there are no photos or scenes of
Jong-eun with his parents. RENK's Lee points out
that this was because Kim Jong-eun was studying in
Switzerland from 1996 to 2002 when the video was
made. In contrast, North Korea has shown many
photos of Kim Jong-il with his parents, Kim
Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk.
truth It is widely known among Japanese
experts on North Korea that Ko Young-hee's father
moved from Cheju Island to Japan in 1929. He
worked for Hirota Hokojo, a needlework factory
under the control of the Imperial Army of Japan.
This means Jong-eun's grandfather was a
collaborator with the Japanese imperialists. This
can never be revealed by Pyongyang as it might
shock the population.
Young-hee's younger sister, Ko Young-suk, and her
family defected to the United Sates in 1998 in the
middle of the nation's "great famine", in which
millions of people died of starvation. This makes
Kim Jong-eun's aunt a national traitor. According
to the South Korean media, Kim Jong-eun himself
has given orders to execute any defectors by a
firing squad and their families expelled to
Sanctifying Young-hee may
provide indirect support for her son, but it is a
risky ploy. Information on her birth and family
may trickle out to the isolationist country,
damaging his legitimacy as national leader. Ko
Young-hee's background continues to be one of Kim
Jong-eun's - as well as North Korea's -
dangerously weak spots.
Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese
journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also
writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo
correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke
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