Ri Sol Ju Failing to Impress

Public opinion of Ri Sol Ju is growing
increasingly negative, Daily NK sources inside North Korea have been reporting.
Having entered the public eye as Kim Jong Eun’s wife in July 2012, Ri has since
come under scrutiny for a raft of perceived mistakes,
including dressing in a manner ill-suited to the norms of “socialist” North Korea.

Ri is a common topic in the North
Korean rumor mill, which means that sources from Pyongyang and provincial regions alike have
all heard similar critiques. Most center on the following themes:
“How can a mere entertainer who just sang and danced become the ‘Mother
of Chosun’?”
“She only cares about her makeup and
clothes, what does she care about the Republic?”
“It’s awful to see elderly cadres bowing so deeply to a young woman
like that;” and
“What does she know about the
country’s politics?”

A Pyongyang-based source reported to Daily
NK yesterday, “Criticism of the General’s wife comrade Ri Sol Ju is spreading,
particularly among the young, and the authorities are at pains to stop it.”
According to the source, derogatory terms to describe Ri are now in circulation, accusing her of being “just a cheap performer,” or a pretentious girl putting on the affectations of a foreign style.

“At first people just felt a bit awkward
seeing old cadres bow at the waist to her, but now they say it looks really ugly,”
the source went on. “The Republic is struggling and rations aren’t coming,
so people don’t understand how a woman who appears only to care for her
appearance would be able to guide the nation.”

Furthermore, “People may find it unsightly
to see cadres old enough to have known her father and grandfather bowing, but what
they really hate is seeing her shaking their hands like its nothing and then swan around brazenly laughing like that. When she was first introduced, people could
hardly believe she was going around arm-in-arm with Kim in that way.”

A second source, this one from Hyesan in northerly Yangkang
Province, reported similar views there. “The number of younger people who view comrade
Ri Sol Ju negatively is rising,” she said. “It’s true that some are
quite interested in her fashion decisions, but they agree that the wife of the
Supreme Leader ought not to be dressed like that. There are young people calling
her superficial for not sporting a Suryeong portrait badge and wearing flash accessories

The source continued, “The General (Kim
Jong Il) did not reveal his wife in any official capacity, and people could
sense that she had a hard time. In contrast, they openly criticize Kim Jong
Eun’s wife, saying she is immature, inexperienced, living in the lap of luxury,
and ‘just a drink of water [i.e. dull]’.

“They even say things like, ‘If she is
going to be the Marshal’s wife, she ought to have qualifications befitting the
Mother of the State, but she couldn’t even graduate college.'”

Women are not alone in their criticism of
Ri’s appearance. “Men make sardonic remarks about her hairstyle
and wardrobe, saying that she must have seen a lot of South Chosun TV dramas,”
the source reported.

A third source, this one from Hoeryong in
North Hamkyung Province, cautioned against reading too much into the popularity
of Ri criticism, pointing out that “most people couldn’t care less about Ri Sol
Ju or Kim Jong Eun at all anyway. However, when Ri comes up in conversation the first thing
that comes to mind is ‘street performer’ not ‘Mother of the State.’ I’ve heard
people say that she doesn’t look very dignified at official events, and that she
seems to only pay attention to luxuries like her clothes, shoes, bags and
jewelry, and none to things like her portrait badge.”

Agents from the State Security Department
and the Ministry of People’s Security are tasked with gauging public opinion on the
ground, and are supposed to report negative comments when they hear them. Therefore, although this
may not always happen, news of deteriorating public opinion relating to the
wife of the leader will already be known to the top leadership in Pyongyang.
The question is whether they can counter it effectively.

I heard a Party cadre say he thinks the
Central Party is taking the public’s negative consciousness of the Marshall’s
wife very seriously,” the Hyesan source revealed. “They are probably going to try
and quell that talk, but if Ri continues to appear in public in the same way as
she did last year then public opinion will only get worse.”

“The fact that a singer
could be the wife of the leader of the Republic is deeply off-putting for
people,” she concluded.

Ri Sol Ju was last seen in public at inter-military sporting
events held to commemorate the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s birth on February
16th. It was her first public appearance in 40 days.