Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il Fund, “Using the Dead to Exploit the Living”

The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. (Picture: Uwe Brodrecht, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leaders who died in 1994 and 2011 respectively, are enshrined in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang.

The cost of preserving their embalmed bodies and maintaining the site comes from forced donations to the Kim Il Sung-Kim-Jong Il Fund under a policy instituted in November 2013.

The core of the donation policy, revealed in recently obtained party documents, was that enterprises, companies, and organizations were to be awarded official certificates if they made local currency donations ranging from KPW 50 million to KPW 500 million.

Those making foreign currency donations would receive a certificate if they give US$5,000 to $50,000. Interestingly, the dollar amounts that earn the donor a certificate are around one tenth the won amounts according to the current exchange rate (US$ 1 = KPW 900).

The mausoleum is a five-story stone complex at the foot of Kumsusan, which is also known as Moranbong (Peony Hill), about 8 kilometers northeast of downtown Pyongyang. The total land area of the site is 3.5 million square meters, with an above-ground construction area of ​​34,100 square meters.

An internal document of the DPRK, obtained by NK Insider, notes that on Nov. 13, 2013, Kim Jong Un instructed officials to award certificates to enterprises, companies, and organizations that donated to the Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il Fund.

An internal document of the DPRK, obtained by NK Insider, notes that on Nov. 13, 2013, Kim Jong Un instructed officials to award certificates to enterprises, companies, and organizations that donated to the Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il Fund.

Construction began in March 1973 and was completed on April 15, 1977, to commemorate Kim Il Sung’s 65th birthday. Until his death in July 1994, the building served as Kim Il Sung’s office and residence. It was known as the Kumsusan Assembly Hall, or the Presidential Palace. Ahead of the first anniversary of his death, it was repurposed as his mausoleum and renamed the Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

On December 17, 2011, following the death of Kim Jong Il, the palace underwent reconstruction once again. The second floor became Kim Il Sung Hall, and the first floor was named Kim Jong Il Hall. On February 16, 2012, which would have been Kim Jong Il’s 70th birthday, the palace was given its current name. 

Since November 26, 2013, it has been operated and managed according to the amended Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kumsusan Palace of the Sun Law. This law defines the palace as the “Best Shrine of Juche” and mandates its preservation for eternity.

While North Korea has numerous sacred sites, they are not maintained for any religious significance. Rather, they serve to venerate Kim Il Sung, who was posthumously elevated to the position of Eternal President, and Kim Jong Il, who was similarly declared the Eternal Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party.

Sacred sites include Mangyongdae, where Kim Il Sung was born, Baekdu Mountain, where Kim Jong Il was alleged to have been born, as well as battlegrounds and places where the leaders did historically significant things. All North Koreans are compelled to visit them in their respective party, youth union, or labor organizations.

However, citizens are not obligated to go to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. Such a visit is considered a privilege and only those selected and recommended by the Party get to make one.

When I went there myself, I remember thinking, “This is truly a sacred place.” The atmosphere was entirely different from battlegrounds and other historical sites. They functioned for educational purposes. But this was different.

Just before entering the building, visitors receive instructions from official guides, at which moment, the excitement vanishes. The instructions conclude with a warning: “Even minor mistakes within the palace can be considered major criminal offenses, so please be especially cautious.”

On my tour, as we passed through the security checkpoint, guides handed out handkerchiefs. At first, I was curious as to why. Looking back now I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I shed many tears. I also sweated a lot throughout the tour, perhaps due to nervousness. I recall the security personnel exchanging the wet handkerchiefs of women visitors for fresh ones.

The Kumsusan Palace truly stands as a masterpiece, evoking awe and instilling absolute trust and reverence towards the greatness of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. It can be regarded as the paramount shrine of supreme leader indoctrination, and it is crafted as an artistic marvel for this purpose.

The bodies of the two Kims appear to be in perfect condition. They look as if they are simply sleeping. 

This is the work of Russia’s Center for Scientific Research and Teaching Methods in Biochemical Technologies which manages the preservation of Soviet founder Valdimir Lenin and the bodies of several other communist leaders. The original embalming in Pyongyang is said to have cost $1 million with the annual treatment that is necessary to preserve the bodies costing an estimated $450,000

This budget plus fees for the maintenance of the palace used to be covered by funds raised from party dues and foreign currency earnings, according to Kim Il Guk, a defector who worked in the accounting department of office No 39 of the party before escaping to South Korea in 2015. 

Following Kim Jong Un’s rise to power in 2013, he said, there was a proposal from the Pyongyang Municipal Party Committee stating, “It is the rightful duty and responsibility of the offspring of the Great Leaders to care for the sacred site of the Sun where their parents rest.” This led to the establishment of the Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il Fund donation system.

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