Kim Jong-un portrait appears on classroom walls in rebuilt party school

Kim Jong-un’s photo joins those of his father and grandfather in a classroom at the newly rebuilt Central School of the Workers’ Party of Korea (Image: KCNA)

When Kim Jong-un participated in the opening ceremony of the new Central School of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the event was conducted on a far grander scale and was more extensively reported by the media than we would have expected.

Those in attendance included Kim Tok-hun, Jo Yong-won and Choe Ryong-hae of the presidium of the party’s politburo, along with central committee secretaries Ri Il-hwan, Kim Jae-ryong and Pak Thae-song. Also present were officials from the central committee, provincial, city, and county party secretaries, cabinet members, representatives from ministries and central institutions, officials from each provincial party committee, faculty members of the school, staff from party cadre training institutions at various levels, and key party officials from central and local units.

What was the reason for such a lavish event? 

The answer can be found in a photograph of Kim sitting in a classroom in the school with party leaders jotting notes as he speaks. As with all schools in North Korea, portraits of his father and grandfather adorn the wall above the blackboard, but now Kim’s own photo has joined them, giving him equal status.

To understand why he chose the party school to make this point, we need to understand its significance.

The Central School of the North Korean Workers’ Party, as it was called then, was established on June 1, 1946, by Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, to train cadres. This was an essential task in the early days of the country’s founding, when few officials had experience.

In April 1972, to commemorate the first dictator’s 60th birthday, his son Kim Jong-il renamed it the Kim Il-sung Advanced Party School. This change was typical of the posture of Kim Jong-il, who through his own later rule, always promoted his father above himself.

In contrast, Kim Jong-un has changed the school’s name and hung his own portrait alongside those of his grandfather and father. Also, significantly, portraits of Marx and Lenin, which disappeared from North Korea in 1992, have reappeared and hung on the exterior wall opposite those of the three Kims.

By doing this, Jong-un is positioning himself not merely as the successor of his grandfather and father but as a leader of a socialist society implementing the ideas and theories of Marx and Lenin, on par with Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

“It is possible this is an expression of Kim Jong-un’s lingering resentment towards his grandfather,” said a defector currently pursuing a Ph.D. in North Korean studies. As the son of his father’s mistress, Kim Jong-un was never formally presented to Kim Il-sung by Kim Jong-il. 

Kim has already ordered that his grandfather’s birthday, previously celebrated as the Day of the Sun, be downgraded to the April 15th Holiday. This suggests that Kim sees it as his time to become the “sun.”

The rebuilding of the school followed a corruption scandal. It was widely known that to enter, a candidate generally needed strong connections or significant financial resources.

One defector who arrived in the South last year tells the story of the father of a school friend who was the party chairman for the Taedonggang District Flower Production Office in Pyongyang. 

“My friend’s father went to the school for reeducation in 2017 on the recommendation of the district party,” he said. “Graduates usually get promoted to higher positions, but there is lobbying involved.” The man got his job after bribes amounting to $1,200.

Corruption in party assignments peaked in 2019 with a major purge of faculty. A large number, including the headmaster, Ko Ki-chol, was expelled from the party and reassigned to manual labor jobs. High-ranking officials like Organizational Guidance Department head Ri Man-gon and Agricultural Department head Pak Thae-dok were also purged.

In a rare public disclosure, Kim Jong-un dissolved the school’s party committee at an expanded Politburo meeting in February 2020. The school was renamed in 2021 and was rebuilt and expanded on its new site designated by Kim.

The school has doubled the number of programs and now offers the following courses:

  • 6-month course for incumbent cadres
  • 6-month course for military officers
  • 6-month course for female party cadres
  • 1-year special course for incumbent cadres
  • 2-year special course
  • 2-year Party Construction Department course
  • 2-year researcher (faculty) course
  • 2-year researcher (political propaganda officers) course
  • 2-year Party Construction major course
  • 2-year military political officers course
  • 3-year researcher course
  • 4-year Party Construction Department course

At the inauguration this month, Kim exhibited unusual behavior, according to a source from Hyesan city in a phone interview. .

“It is customary in our country for people to maintain a dignified posture in group photos at official events or in public,” he said. “However, in these photos, he is standing with his legs unusually wide apart. He probably tried hard to appear more distinctive than others. Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung never posed like that.”

It also seems that some unfortunate staff member made a mistake. Kim Jong-un gave his speech in his capacity as the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. However, the podium identified him as the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission. He holds that position as well, but it was not relevant on that occasion.

“It won’t be long before he pushes aside the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il ideology, and promotes his own thought,” said the defector doing the Ph.D.

The source in Hyesan says rumors are circulating that there will soon be a flood of portraits of Kim Jong-un for people to hang on walls everywhere.

Just as the presence of portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in every household signified the completion of their regimes, so it is expected to soon be with Kim Jong-un’s portrait.

Zane Han

Leave a Reply