New NK badge elevates power of late Kim
By Kim Young-jin
A new badge spotted in North Korea featuring late leader Kim Jong-il alongside his father Kim Il-sung is garnering attention as it appears to hoist the son to a similar level as the worshipped country founder.
Websites following movements in the North have recently posted photographs of the new badges that show the rulers smiling broadly against a red flag. Some state news anchors have also been spotted with the new design.
Badges of the leaders are ubiquitous as the Stalinist state derives its power through a personality cult around the ruling Kim family. But the new badge raised some eyebrows coming as it did following Kim’s December death and as the regime shifts power to his own son Kim Jong-un.
“The badge signifies the necessity of Kim Jong-un to depend on both his grandfather and father for political legitimacy,” Park Young-ho of the Korea Institute of National Unification (KINU) said. “And it shows that Kim Jong-il is almost equal to his father.”
North Korea Economy Watch, a blog on the North, said badges were distributed to delegates at a ruling Workers’ Party conference in April and that the delegates then redistributed some of them. It said the badges are still quite rare.
While there are said to be many different badges circulated among the populace, the most popular remains a smiling image of Kim Il-sung that was unveiled at his funeral. The Daily NK reported that a “pair badge” of the two Kim’s was coveted in the 1980s but that Kim Jong-il halted their production in deference to his father.
The regime has also erected statues in Pyongyang of Kim Jong-il next to his father which seem to represent his equal stature. In April, it elevated Kim Jong-il to Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party and Eternal Chairman of the National Defense Commission similar to his father, who is Eternal President.
North watcher Ruediger Frank, of the University of Vienna, reckoned that the two Kims were merging as icons.
“Enshrining the two leaders could provide a lasting ideological basis for a new North Korea forever with a worldlier, if not collective leadership,” he said in an essay.
KINU’s Park did not agree that a collective leadership was being signaled, stressing instead the importance of the hereditary succession to maintain a grip on power.
The first Kim Il-sung badges reportedly went into production in the early 1970s. Badges of Kim Jong-il, in which he did not smile, went out in 1992, but were worn by party cadres until 2000 on his orders.