When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il followed his father Kim Il-sung to Moscow in 1959 at the age of 17, the elder Kim recommended that his son study in the Soviet capital. But Kim Jong-il apparently turned down his father's suggestion and said the North too had excellent universities like Kim Il-sung University. Or so North Korean textbooks claim, teaching that the younger Kim already realized that he had to learn about his own country in order to become its next leader and using the incident to boost the personality cult. But experts believe the younger Kim turned down the offer because his Russian was poor.
Kim Jong-il sang the praises of North Korea's "juche" ideology of self reliance but secretly sent all three of his sons -- Jong-nam, Jong-chol and Jong-un -- to boarding schools in Switzerland. Some say Kim realized the limitations of his North Korean education, while others believe Kim had a hard time creating a personality cult around himself as he succeeded because so many people in the North knew him from school. Kim's children used fake names in Switzerland and pretended to be children of diplomats. That is why some news media mistook a photo of a South Korean diplomat's son for a picture of Kim Jong-un.
Unlike their father, who dislikes traveling abroad, Kim Jong-il's sons frequently go abroad. The eldest son Jong-nam has been living in virtual exile in expensive hotels abroad and frequenting casinos. His second son Jong-chol was spotted in Singapore in February wearing an earring and attending an Eric Clapton concert with a girlfriend. Kim's third son Jong-un, who has been tapped to succeed him, is the only one who has stayed put in North Korea since he came back from Switzerland.
Kim Han-sol, the son of Jong-nam and Kim Jong-il's oldest grandson, recently posted several photos of himself on Facebook. They show him with his foreign girlfriend at the School of Nations international school in Macau. In some of them he has bleached-blond hair. He looks no different than other children from affluent families of the same age. Han-sol even left a message on the Facebook page of the international school in Bosnia-Herzegovina he is scheduled to enter, saying "a North Korean person" will soon be joining.
Han-sol conducted a survey of his Facebook friends asking them if they support Communism or Democracy and said he favors the latter. Perhaps it was his naivety, but it would have been proper for him to have asked whether they preferred Democracy or Totalitarianism, or Capitalism or Communism. North Korea is in the process of a third dynastic succession of power, which is unheard of around the world, yet calls itself the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea." Perhaps the blond grandson of Kim Jong-il thinks of his grandfather's country as a democracy.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Jeong Woo-sang