As the third generation of the Kim dynasty prepares to take over power in North Korea, defectors from the reclusive country say the opinion of North Koreans about the family is getting worse with each passing generation. Many see Kim Il-sung as a father figure who enjoyed widespread respect, but his son Kim Jong-il is seen as a dictator and tyrant and his grandson Kim Jong-un as a nobody without experience.
Many defectors say North Koreans have only good feelings about Kim Il-sung, due to his endearing, fatherly image as well as the relatively better economic situation under his leadership. "Kim Il-sung was called the 'benevolent father of the people' and many shed genuine tears of sadness when he died," one defector said. "The older generation, whose lives became more difficult under Kim Jong-il, used to say things were better under the Kim Il-sung."
Experiencing widespread starvation and economic hardship after Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, "people realized that the heyday of communism had passed and yearned for the bygone days of Kim Il-sung," he added.
In contrast, Kim Jong-il is feared and distrusted. One defector who used to be a high-ranking Workers Party official, said, "Kim Il-sung's office had a placid atmosphere, but stepping into Kim Jong-il's office sent a chill down your spine." He said high-ranking officials and the North Korean people “tremble in fear of Kim Jong-il."
According to defectors, North Koreans voice their dissatisfaction by calling senior officials "thieves" or "villains." Elderly people in North Korea who lived through the Japanese occupation say even under Japanese rule, trains ran on time and food rations were distributed smoothly. They say Kim Jong-il is worse than the Japanese because millions have starved to death and the economy has collapsed.
As for Kim Jong-un, defectors say North Koreans feel neither respect nor fear. They view him as a child. One defector who fled the North early this year and gave his name as Song said, "The regime says Kim Jong-un has inherited the 'revolutionary achievements' and traditions from his grandfather, but the public has no illusions about him." Song added, "People are simply speechless at Kim Jong-il's greed in placing his young son on the throne."
A senior defector said, "Kim Jong-il grew up to become a tyrant and Kim Jong-un is also a scoundrel who relies on his father's power to do whatever he wants. The distrust North Koreans feel toward Kim Jong-il will turn into animosity toward Jong-un, who is said to be just like his father."