Two of Kim Jong-un’s characteristics distinguish him from the other leaders in this series. First, he seems to embody a form of paleo-authoritarianism - but it is precisely the longevity of this political regime, and its disproportionate importance in contemporary international strategic relations, that challenge and justify his inclusion in this gallery of portraits. Second, he is, in a unique way, the second heir to a regime founded in 1948 - which, even by the standards of the world's many political dynasties, makes him exceptional.
The country is often referred to as the last Stalinist state on the planet. This description is in fact incomplete and so approximate that it almost becomes irrelevant. The regime's political genes certainly do partly come from the era of triumphant communism - but at least just as much as from the Japanese occupation and Korean mythology. It is a sort of monarchy based on divine right (Mount Paektu, the supposed birthplace of Kim Jong-il, is sacred in the history of the peninsula), at the heart of which lies kinship. Kinship of the ruling dynasty of course, but also that of the North Koreans, know to be a "pure breed". And while Stalinism refers to an emancipatory father, the North Korean state wants to embody a protective mother of children too fragile to be exposed to the world. Hence the Juche ideology (self-sufficiency).
Kim Jong-un was (probably) born in 1984. We now a few things about his childhood in Switzerland, even if the exact dates of his stay there remain uncertain. Like his older brother Kim Jong-chul and his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, he benefited from the comfort and quality of the Swiss educational system, and spent two years (1998-2000) at the Liebefeld-Steinhölzli school in Koeniz, south of Bern - under a false identity, of course. He was a quiet young man, well integrated, friendly and sometimes funny, but also impulsive and competitive (he apparently hated losing), who liked basketball and Nike shoes, Emmental cheese, and karaoke. He still to this day has a passion for skiing, Swiss watches, and the famous Chicago Bulls team - player Dennis Rodman, whom he qualifies as a friend, is one of the leader’s very few Western visitors.
His older brother being considered "effeminate" (he is a rock music fan), the young Jong-un was promoted general and vice president of the Central Military Commission, and thus the heir apparent, in 2010. When his father Kim Jong-il died, he became the youngest head of state in the world (around the age of 27).
Yet his reference in the family seems to rather be his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, who ruled for 46 years. North Korean commentators often emphasize Kim Jong-un’s physical resemblance to him, partly because of his strange haircut.
In any case, he also inherited methods of government from his ancestors. In 2013, he had his uncle Jang Song-thaek executed. In 2017, he had his half-brother Kim Jong-nam, who used to frequent casinos and amusement parks abroad a little too often, and was happy to criticize the regime, eliminated with a nerve agent, at Kuala Lumpur Airport. This might be a family tradition: Kim Man-il, his father's younger brother, drowned when he was four years old, and rumor has it he was pushed into the water by his brother...
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