May 21, 2020 12:00
North Korea founder Kim Il-sung's luster is fading as his grandson Jong-un tries to modernize the crackpot country by fits and starts.
This April, Kim Jon-un for the first time since he took power missed annual obsequies at the founder's pickled corpse, and on Wednesday state media debunked one of the more bizarre myths about his grandfather, that he could "shrink distances" by sheer force of will.
As part of the personality cult, some bright spark in the propaganda department in the 1950s invented the notion of "distance-shrinking magic" that has since been formulaically attributed to the Great Leader in school textbooks and the like.
But on Wednesday the official Rodong Sinmun daily in a rare admission said, "Actually it is impossible for a person to appear and disappear and travel by folding space."
To save face, it added that the fairy tale had been a metaphor all along. The magic "is not the supernatural skill of a magician but a realistic strategy created through the joint efforts of the people," it said.
North Korean lore also has it that Kim Il-sung was able to make hand grenades out of pine cones and create rice from sand, as well as crossing a river on a dry leaf.
As recently as 1996 a propaganda song attributed the same ability to then-leader Kim Jong-il. But the more outlandish aspects of the personality cult have been eroded since Kim Jong-un came to power.
In a letter in March last year Kim junior startled observers by saying that deifying the revolutionary achievements and appearance of the nation founder "causes the truth to be hidden."
One researcher at a state-run think tank here said, "Since tasting defeat due to the collapse of the Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in February last year, Kim Jong-un, who was educated in the West, appears to be portraying himself as an ordinary head of state who is doing his best rather than a supernatural and omnipotent leader."
Others say the fairy tales will simply no longer wash since North Koreans have had sufficient exposure to outside information. Cho Han-bum, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said, "The perceptions of the North Koreans have changed because there are 6 million mobile phones in use there, so the method of propaganda seems to have changed too."
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