On August 14, 2016, North Korea opened the “Fifth International Festival in Praise of the Great Persons of Mt. Paektu,” a celebration of the cult of personality surrounding the country’s leadership. Kim Ki Nam, Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party and “honorable chairman of the International Preparatory Committee” for the event, joined delegates from the respective friendship associations of Nigeria, Japan, Russia, Denmark, and other countries. Chairman of the Australia-DPRK Friendship Association and “co-chairman of the Oceania Regional Preparatory Committee for Gathering 2017” Neil Fitzgerald read out the “2017 Mt. Paektu Declaration” at the meeting, which appeared in the Rodong Sinmun the following day.
According to the declaration, Kim Jong Un has been quietly named one of the “Three Generals of Mount Paektu.” Prior to this development, the “Three Generals” were Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Suk (mother of Kim Jong Il,1917-1949), but last summer’s event appears to have replaced Kim Jong Suk with current leader Kim Jong Un. There are four points in the declaration that allude to this change.
First, the event carried a different title in addition to the one mentioned above: “The Mt. Paektu Meeting for the Greeting Sun.” The sun has been a common symbol of the North’s leaders over the years. Kim Il Sung was called the “Sun of Juche,” Kim Jong Il the “Sun of Songun,” and now Kim Jong Un is called the “Sun of the Earth.” The first two “important announcements” in the event’s declaration also referenced the sun:
1. “The Great Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are the sun of humankind alive in the era of independence.”
2. “Respected Kim Jong Un is the great sun of the 21st century who is leading the global cause of independence to brilliant victory.”
The declaration also closed with, “Long live General Kim Jong Un, the sun of the 21st century.”
Second, Kim Jong Suk’s name was not mentioned anywhere in the declaration, nor was any reference made to her. But before last summer’s Paektu event, her name was always associated with the ‘3 Generals’ title. Her son Kim Jong Il named her the “Female General of Mt. Paektu” in 1998, and she became the “Third General” in 2005. Her status was also emphasized in propaganda in 2008, around the same time Kim Jong Un began to appear.
She was also variously referred to as the “Mother of the Revolution,” the “Mother of Joseon” the “Mother of Songun,” and other titles in an effort to propagandize her as a role-model for females across the nation. In this way, the figure of Kim Jong Suk was promoted in a similar fashion to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The adulation of Kim Jong Suk could be frequently seen in Chosun Woman, the primary magazine for women in the country (first published in 1946). A monthly glorification column began appearing in 1998 entitled, “Let us follow the example of Kim Jong Suk – hero of the anti-Japanese revolutionary forces.”
However, after Kim Jong Un came to power in 2012, the column disappeared and was replaced with another entitled, “The Extraordinary Heaven-sent (Man).” At the same time, she continued to be mentioned in another column titled, “The Infinitely Respected Three Generals of Mt. Paektu.” This publication shows that she held the title of one of the ‘generals’ up until the August 2017 summit.
Third, the declaration delineates the order of the “Three Generals” in the same way as it has in the past, but this time quite clearly replaces Kim Jong Suk with Kim Jong Un. With the sentence, “Today, we welcome progressive people possessing the virtues of happiness and glory under the great revolutionary spirit and leadership of the Great Persons of Mt. Paektu, along with another Great Person,” the declaration only mentions Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, but again omits Kim Jong Suk. And the other “Great Person” refers to none other than Kim Jong Un.
Finally, the declaration connects Kim Jong Un directly to the concept of the “Great Mount Paektu Nation.” The declaration reads, “The Great Mount Paektu” nation is the banner of victory dynamically accelerating global independence with the might of justice and truth.” In an earlier sentence, it also uses the ‘Great Paektusan Nation’ wording to describe the nation which “guardian His Excellency Kim Jong Un” is protecting, clearly connecting him directly to the “Mount Paektu” title. North Korea officially declared itself the “Great Mount Paektu Nation” in 2014, and so Kim Jong Un’s ascendancy to the position of “Third General” was perhaps inevitable.
But why was there not a more overt announcement of his ascendancy?
It may be clear from the declaration that Kim Jong Un became the “Third General” on August 14, 2017, but the regime has not made any official announcement. With 2017 appearing to be the peak of Kim Jong Un idolization efforts, why would the regime not announce his ascendancy outright? Since Kim Jong Un’s word is ostensibly the highest in the land, he should expect nothing but cooperation if he were to make such an announcement. There are two potential reasons why this may not be the case.
The first may relate to a shift in ruling style between Kim Jong Il and his son. In his promotion of “Songun (military-first) Politics,” Kim Jong Il used Kim Jong Suk as a major medium for spreading his message, making her the central hero of the ideology. She was referred to as the “Mother of Songun,” and elevated to the “Third General” in 2005 to help reinforce her image. By replacing her position as “Third General,” Kim Jong Un has signaled a slight departure from his father’s ruling style, which could potentially become an issue for him.
The second relates to how deeply the North Korean people came to understand Kim Jong Suk’s status as the “Third General.” First called the “Female General” in 1998 and then the “Third General” next to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in 2005, her status was heavily promoted in propaganda. There was subsequently a nationwide propaganda movement in 2008 centered around the concept of the Three Generals, further ingraining this idea in the minds of the people. She continued to hold the title in various publications after Kim Jong Un came to power. It would thus be no small matter to the public for Kim Jong Un to suddenly change such a well-known aspect of national lore.
Consequently, the North Korean authorities have yet to make a more official announcement of Kim Jong Un’s ascension to the “Third General,” and the South Korean media have also yet to recognize the change. But it is likely that we will see some such announcement in the future.
*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.