North Korea said yesterday it had awarded its highest title to late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on the eve of his 70th birthday, the latest move to burnish his legacy as his son consolidates power.
The announcement that Kim Jong-il had been posthumously appointed “Generalissimo” came a day after a statue of the former leader was unveiled in Pyongyang, showing him on horseback alongside his father and national founder Kim Il-sung.
The North also promoted 23 senior military officers on the orders of Kim Jong-il’s young son and successor Kim Jong-un, who has been declared supreme commander of the 1.2 million-strong military as well as national leader.
A Korean-language report by the official news agency praised Kim Jong-il’s record in elevating the North into “a nuclear state” that could also produce and launch satellites — a reference to its controversial missile program.
The agency’s English-language report did not mention the nuclear achievements. North Korean and US officials will meet in Beijing next week for talks aimed at reviving six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations.
The English report praised Kim, who died on Dec. 17 of a heart attack aged 69, for turning the North into a military power with his Songun (“military-first”) policy and for leading “the stand-off with imperialism and the US to victory.”
The North has declared Kim Jong-il’s birthday of Feb. 16 “The Day of the Shining Star.” Commemorative stamps and coins have been produced and Pyongyang is staging a festival of -Kimjongilia, a hybrid red begonia.
An inscription 120m wide has been carved on a rockface in the southwestern province of South Pyongan to mark the occasion.
A total of 132 people have been awarded a new medal, the Order of Kim Jong-il, for services in building a “thriving socialist nation” and for increasing defense capabilities.
Efforts to intensify the personality cult around the Kim dynasty, which has ruled North Korea since its founding in 1948, signal that Kim Jong-un is firmly in power, Paik Hak-soon of South Korea’s Sejong Institute think-tank said.
“It clearly illustrates that [Kim] Jong-un’s status is being further justified and the North’s elite is determined to maintain him in power, largely to protect their vested interest in the system,” Paik said.
Pyongyang also announced a promotion to vice marshal for Kim Jong-gak, seen as one of the key figures helping the inexperienced Kim Jong-un tighten his grip on the military. He was one of the seven top officials who accompanied Kim Jong-un in walking besides his father’s hearse during the funeral procession on Dec. 28.
“Kim Jong-gak has previously been overseeing the military’s organization, its ideological direction and the link with the [ruling] party,” Paik said.
His promotion clearly signaled that the party was trying to strengthen its control over the military, which became more powerful under the Songun policy, the analyst said.
Kim Jong-il’s title of “generalissimo” is the same as that bestowed in 1992 on his father, who died of a heart attack in 1994.