Kim Jong-un’s new pin symbolizes his lofty personality cult

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In a recent meeting with the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced a promising harvest and a new defense treaty with Russia. However, what stood out most was the introduction of a new accessory: chest pins bearing Kim Jong-un’s image, as shown in state media photos.

The Kim family, ruling North Korea since 1948, has long been revered as godlike figures. Portraits of Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his father, Kim Jong-il, adorn every home and office, and citizens are required to wear pins featuring these leaders. Kim Jong-un’s new pin marks a significant elevation in his personal cult, previously reserved only for his grandfather and father. Now, North Koreans have three images to choose from for their pins.

“This is part of Kim Jong-un’s efforts to establish his independent image as a leader,” remarked Kim Inae, deputy spokeswoman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

The tradition of pins began in 1970 with Kim Il-sung’s, followed by Kim Jong-il’s in 1992. Despite their iconic status, these pins have lost some appeal among ordinary North Koreans, especially after the 1990s famine. Known as “slavery pins” by defectors, they are often smuggled into China and sold as cheap souvenirs.

Kim Jong-un’s new pin is seen as an attempt to unify North Korea around his leadership amidst economic hardships and external cultural influences like K-pop. After ascending to power in 2011, Kim established a totalitarian regime through a “reign of terror,” eliminating any threats to his authority. However, his economic struggles and inability to lift international sanctions have made it challenging to fulfill promises of prosperity.

Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has conducted multiple nuclear tests and developed long-range missiles, including a recent ballistic missile test. Despite military advances, Kim’s power relies heavily on strengthening his personality cult and isolating North Koreans from outside information.

Seeking to reinvent his family’s legacy, Kim Jong-un has portrayed himself as a dynamic leader, distancing himself from his ancestors’ shadows. This year, he abandoned the goal of reunification with South Korea, declaring Seoul an enemy. State propaganda has increasingly praised Kim Jong-un as “the Sun” of the Korean people and distributed his portraits widely.

Analysts believe the new pin indicates Kim Jong-un’s growing confidence in his leadership. “This makes it official that he is now on the same level as his ancestors, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il,” said Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

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