“The heart of Great Leader Kim Il Sung has just stopped pounding,” said a North Korean announcement at 12 p.m. on July 9, 1994. He was reported to have died around 2:00 a.m. the previous day. It came as a great shock to North Korean residents who believed the eternity of their leader. A North Korean defector recalled the moment his son told the news that Kim was dead and he slapped his son for talking a bullshit.
It was officially announced that Kim Il Sung died of cardiac infarction and heart shock while preparing for a first summit talk with then South Korean President Kim Young-sam. He had reportedly finished his speech script in case he would visit Korea in return for Kim Young-sam’s trip to Pyongyang. The first sentence of his script was: “Kim Il Sung of Mt. Baekdu has come.” The script was publicly displayed at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
However, some speculated that the death of Kim might have been a result of his power struggle against Kim Jong Il, one of his sons. It was rumored that the North Korean founding father was shocked to death as being opposed an inter-Korean summit talk by Kim Jong Un who attempted to hold tight control of the country. Suspicion only increased when North Korea did not allow foreign delegations to visit the nation to pay condolences to the one the North claimed had been admired as the world’s beloved leader.
After the founding father’s death, the North Korean famine hit the country. Two million to three million North Korean residents were estimated to have died of hunger during the time. Although natural disasters such as once-in-100-year flood was one of the main reasons behind the severe famine, many analysts pointed out that the Kim dynasty hit its limits. That is why North Korean people today lament that they would manage to have something to eat under the Kim Il Sung era.
It may explain why his grandson Kim Jong Un tries to copy his grandfather in terms of looks and gesture. The North Korean media depicted in August last year that Kim Jong Un was wearing a short-sleeved undershirt not with a Mao jacket on when he made a field visit. Likewise, North Korean documentary films often show Kim Il Sung in the same attire on his field inspection. Kim Jong Un reminds North Korean residents of his grandson by clapping with two hands glancing off each other or wearing a short-sided hairstyle. Although Kim Il Sung is the main culprit behind the Korean War and the division of the two Koreas after taking control of the country with the help of the Soviet Union, many North Koreans still admire him thanks to the North’s successful idolization strategies.
After Kim Jong Un took power, he attended the central memorial event only once on the 20th anniversary of his grandfather’s death in 2014. Considering that the North holds events of larger scale in anniversary years, whose unit digit is 0 or 5, it is likely that Kim Jong Un will appear at the event this year – the 25th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death. It may take the magical aura of his grandfather for him to restore his image, which has been damaged since the rupture of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, and go back to the negotiating table with Washington.