December 20, 2011
by Melanie Kirkpatrick
Who is Kim Jong Eun? A year after he was appointed his father's heir, we still know little about him. The regime hasn't even released his age, which is believed to be somewhere in the late 20s. Next year is the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birth, and some observers speculate that there will be an announcement that Baby Kim is 30 years old -- exactly 70 years younger than Kim Il Sung -- as a way of tying the young Kim more closely to the country's founder. Such manipulation of the facts is not uncommon in North Korea. The late Kim Jong Il was said to have been born under a double rainbow on the sacred Mount Paektu when in fact his birthplace was a town in Siberia, where his revolutionary father was working with the Soviet Army.
A bio of Kim Jong Il is often included in "propaganda" material sent into North Korea from the outside. It's in the leaflets dropped by balloons that the wind has carried north from South Korea. It's broadcast on the defector-run radio stations in Seoul that beam several hours of shows a day to the North. The truth about Kim Jong Il's birth is one of the things that amaze North Koreans when they hear it. They recognize instantly that their rulers have been lying to them for years. It is shocking to them to find out the truth.
North Koreans who have fled their country bring out stories about how young Kim Jong Eun is mocked and disliked. Is that baby face for real? Or did he have plastic surgery to make him look like Kim Il Sung? And that's quite a paunch in one so young, especially in a country where millions go to bed hungry at night. He's widely perceived as green and untested. And he has a reputation as a brute.
Even so, North Koreans know how to play the game. The new rage in hair styles for young men in Pyongyang these days is the slickback -- just like Kim Jong Eun's.
Melanie Kirkpatrick is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute. She is the author of Escape From North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad (Encounter, 2012).
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