North Korea has unveiled a statue of leader Kim Jong-il, probably the first in the communist country. "It is our highest privilege and good fortune to be able to unveil a bronze statue of our comrade commander for the first time in our country," Gen. Kim Jong-gak, a vice director of the People's Army's General Political Bureau, was quoted as saying by an army newsletter that also carried a picture of the statue.
The streets of Pyongyang are riddled with statues of former leader Kim Il-sung, but this is the first representing Kim Jong-il. "There were occasional accounts of sightings of Kim Jong-il statues, but this is the first photograph of a full-body statue of him made by the state," a Unification Ministry official said.
"There have been instances when loyal officials insisted on erecting a statue of Kim Jong-il, but Kim always declined," a senior defector who escaped from the North last year said. "He also initially rejected a proposal back in the 1980s to hang portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il side by side, which led to confusion among the public over which picture to hang on their walls."
The leader apparently has good reason to oppose the construction of statues depicting him. "The emergence of statues of a leader signifies the end of his reign," a South Korean intelligence official said. Statues of Kim Il-sung began to appear at the end of his reign and the start of Kim Jong-il's leadership.
The bronze statue may be a project by his son Jong-un, who is widely expected to inherit the North Korean throne. Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, said Kim junior appears to be consolidating his succession by canonizing his father just as Kim Jong-il justified his rise to power through a personality cult of Kim Il-sung.