In North Korea, there’s no escaping the Kim family.
“Eternal President” Kim Il Sung continues to reign — according to North Korean lore — 21 years after his death. His son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, died in 2011 but lies in state with his father in a mausoleum the size of Buckingham Palace on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
The grandson, “Great Successor” Kim Jong Un, is making sure none of his subjects forget about the family line — by strengthening the personality cult that the family has perpetuated during the past 60 years.
The latest outlet for Kimism is new statues. The regime has been tearing down statues of Kim Il Sung around the country — an act that requires all sorts of hoopla because it’s a treasonous offense to even place a newspaper with a photo of one of the Kims facedown — and replacing them with new statues of Kim Senior and Kim Junior.
“This looks like part of Kim Jong Un’s plan to solidify his hereditary succession, carry on his father’s mantle,” says Curtis Melvin, a North Korea researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the country’s geography extensively using satellite imagery. He has noted the steady replacement of the statues over time.
The f irst statue to go was the one of Kim Il Sung that stood at Mansudae, a hill in the center of Pyongyang that was the required first stop for all delegations visiting Pyongyang. There, visitors were given bouquets of flowers to place at Kim Il Sung’s feet and were expected to bow.
But in 2012, soon after Kim Jong Il’s death, the statue was removed and replaced with two statues, a new one, or at least an extensively remolded one, of Kim Il Sung, and a new one of Kim Jong Il next to him.
But that statue, which showed the second Kim in a light coat, didn’t last long and was soon replaced by a statue of him in a heavier winter coat (like his father’s).
The statues are thought to be about 70 feet tall and appear to be made of bronze.
Since then, the authorities have been methodically going around the country pulling down the statues of Kim Senior and replacing them with new likenesses of him and Kim Junior.
The addition of the statues has been widely noted in the North Korean media.
“The erection of the statues in the province is a noteworthy event in glorifying the revolutionary careers and feats of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency reported when new statues in Phyongsong were unveiled in recent days.
A representative “called on all officials and working people in the province to firmly defend and glorify their idea and exploits forever as befitting descendants of the President and soldiers and disciples of the leader,” it said.
The cost of the statues is unquantifiable — it’s not clear exactly how big they are or what they’re made of — but Adam Cathcart, a North Korea specialist at Leeds University in England, says it would have required a “huge expenditure.”
But the statues are not the extent of it.
“In addition to the statues, there are Kim Il Sung/ Kim Jong Il monuments going up across the country. I have counted 233 of those, and they are still going up,” Melvin says.
At least there’s one sector that North Korea can say is really booming.