Kim Jong Un Quietly Moves To Displace His Father’s Legacy

In recent months, North Korea’s flagship newspaper has run a new series detailing the heroic acts of historical people. 

The profiles included a construction minister, a head of the State Planning Committee, a former comrade of Kim Jung Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, an official of fisheries, a chemist, an academician, and a first Health Minister.

The latest installment in Kim Jong Un’s Rodong Sinmun series follows in this vein. All of the series’ subjects had jobs related to the economy, and none of them were advocates for major policy changes. For instance, Jong Jung Thaek is lauded for effectively implementing the Party’s economic strategy and is considered a key architect of the Kimilsungist economy. Chemist Ri Sung Gi, who was not engaged in politics or attempts to reform the communist economic system but who invented a novel synthetic fabric, receives plaudits.

There are notable omissions who campaigned for even minor changes to the country’s system of economic incentives. This demonstrates that, early in his administration, Kim Jong Un gave up on his plans to transform the economy in favor of stressing ideological purity and commitment to the party above providing better incentives to stimulate labor. 

The selection of topics for the Rodong Sinmun series is indicative of Kim Jong Un’s attempts to discredit his father, Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung had many revolutionary allies, but not everyone agreed with his choice of son Kim Jong Il as his successor. When Kim Jong Il came to power, he made it a point to punish individuals who hadn’t supported him by minimizing their roles in official policy discussions.

The latest Rodong Sinmun series included a section regarding Choe Yong Jin, proving that the blacklisting of him has been revoked. Kim Jong Un’s endeavor to discredit his father’s accomplishments is likely an effort to distance himself from his father and establish his own legitimacy. The new show on historical figures reflects the values of a government led by one man and gives us insight into his character and goals.