Rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is suffering from dementia are spreading quickly across the isolated country. Reports say the leader is increasingly incoherent during his so-called on-the-spot guidance trips.
When Kim watched the 1960s propaganda play "Sanwoolim (Echo)" during an inspection of a military base in Kangwon Province recently, he reportedly described it as "a masterpiece that is bound to lead the revolution in the future." Party cadres were dumbfounded to hear him praise the old show as if he had never seen it before.
Kim also reportedly had playwrights and stage actors come to Pyongyang. Having been eclipsed by film and TV for a long time, they are said to be more than grateful for the leader's sudden interest.
Kim then ordered the national theatre, which was built only two years ago, to be renovated because it is "too old and small."
Another indication that his grip is slipping was the establishment and subsequent disbandment of the Unhasu (Galaxy) Orchestra. Set up by Kim in October 2009 in celebration of the 64th anniversary of North Korea's Workers Party and to further the image of his son and heir Jong-un, the troupe turned up all events attended by the two Kims.
Orchestra members appeared to imitate Western pop stars with skimpy clothing and provocative dance moves. Kim then ordered two apartment buildings near Pyongyang Station to be built for them, and instructed officials to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity and hot water -- making it the only apartment complex in Pyongyang to enjoy such unheard-of privileges.
That priority meant some high-ranking party cadres could not get electricity and hot water in their own apartments, leading to whispers among them that the Dear Leader seems to be out of his mind. Since June, at any rate, the troupe has disappeared from public view.