It’s a process described as “not a pretty sight” that involves the extraction of all the blood from a corpse. However, if late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is to be embalmed, then Russia has expertise stretching back to the embalming of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.
The authorities in Pyongyang have not revealed their intentions over the future of the corpse of Kim, but his father and predecessor — Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994 — was embalmed by Russian specialists and currently lies in a mausoleum.
“It’s not a pretty sight,” Russian specialist Pavel Fomenko, who traveled to North Korea as a member of the Russian team that helped embalm Kim Il-sung, said of the procedure.
“Usually between three to six people are present — in rare cases seven. First, all the internal organs are extracted, the veins are dissolved and the blood taken from the tissues,” he told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily in a rare interview this week. “The body is placed is a glass bath filled with the embalming solution, then closed and covered with a white sheet. The precise conditions of the temperature and humidity are maintained in the room.”
“Gradually, the water in the cells of the body is replaced by the solution. The embalming process lasts around six months,” Fomenko said.
Despite the fall of the Soviet Union two decades ago, Lenin’s embalmed corpse still lies in the specially built mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.
Its condition is maintained by the Laboratory of the Mausoleum of V.I. Lenin, which was set up in 1939 although now, bizarrely, it is known as the Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.
Its expertise was also used to embalm the body of Joseph Stalin, although his body was later buried beside the Kremlin walls in 1961 when the wartime dictator’s -murderous legacy was revealed.
Other leaders embalmed in a similar way included Bulgarian Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov 1949, Czechoslovak president Klement Gottwald, Vietnam leader Ho Chi Minh, Angolan president Agostinho Neto and Gyuana president Forbes Burnham.
Fomenko said he had spoken to Kim Jong-il during the process of his father’s embalming and he struck him as a “healthy, energetic man” who was happy to “chat about any topic.”
“I remember that when Kim Il-sung died, there were reports that he had been buried. But at the same time they were asking us to prepare our products and some days later we took off for Pyongyang,” Fomenko said.
He said the Russians would be ready to help with the embalming of Kim Jong-il, even if it was just for consultations.
Russian specialists from the Lenin mausoleum laboratory had visited North Korea several times to renew the embalming of Kim Il-sung, a process that takes about a month, he said.
The embalming is not a final process and the body requires frequent treatment if it is to remain intact for decades on end.
Lenin’s body is placed in a glass sarcophagus that protects it from micro-biological attacks. It is examined twice a week by Russian specialists, reportedly on Mondays and Fridays.
Fomenko, 78, said US$1 million had been spent by the North Korean government on the embalming of Kim Il-sung and he did not expect that money would pose any problem this time either.
According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, among the corpses embalmed by Russian specialists, only those of Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il-sung are still conserved in their original state.