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Much of the activity that goes on in North Korea perplexes the global community. Today, Supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, announced that the North would join the coronavirus vaccine race – despite not having recorded a single case. According to North Korea’s State Commission of Science and Technology, clinical trials for a domestic vaccine are under way.
It surprised experts not because of its outlandishness, but because of the state of the North’s medical centres.
The country’s healthcare system is one of the most dilapidated in the world.
For decades it has relied on assistance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to supply its citizens with vaccines and immunisations.
Added to the confusion is the fact that hours before the announcement, Kim sacked officials building a hospital after they reportedly pressed the public for contributions.
It was the second report linked to the high-profile project.
The Pyongyang General Hospital was ordered to be built by the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party in October.
But during a recent visit to the construction site, Kim fired a group of project managers for failing to allocate a proper budget and supplying equipment and materials from ordinary citizens.
It surprised many that the report was filed given the fact that such events are rarely published.
This stems from a strict regime of censorship in order to preserve the sacred and godly image that the Kim family has pushed for nearly 75 years since the country was founded, in 1948.
What has resulted is a cult of personality.
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The Kim family and its subsequent leaders have been treated less as government figureheads than literal gods.
North Koreans are taught that the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung – Kim Jong-un’s grandfather – was marked by a double rainbow and a bright star.
Sean King, senior vice president at Park Strategies and business advisor to Asia, told Express.co.uk that since the founder’s death, the Kim family has built a near 100 percent ethnically pure cult where no one can leave.
He explained: “It’s a Korean nationalist regime and they believe the folklore that the ancient god Dangun in 3rd millennium BC came down from heaven and spawned the Korean race.”
During his reign, Kim Il-sung insisted that Dangun was not a legend but a real historical person.
The assertion resulted in North Korean archaeologists expected to locate the apparent remains and grave of Dangun.
On this, Mr King said: “Basically, the North are trying to say that the Kim family descend from this ancient ‘god king’, and that the blood of the Korean people flows through them.”
The legends, tied in with staunch nationalism, have resulted in the Kims being treated as deities.
This is reflected in the dictatorial leadership style, as “all power flows through them,” Mr King explained.
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“People say they need the military, I see the military as needing them.
“Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong- Il (Il-sung’s son), their names were written into the constitution.
“The pins that citizens wear, it’s not their flag or even the party – it’s the two Kims, it’s literally all about this family.”
North Korea refutes claims over a cult of personality, instead arguing that it is genuine hero worship.
It also refuses to acknowledge accusations – which many defectors and Western visitors claim – that stiff penalties are dished out to those who criticise the Kims, or do not show respect for the regime.
Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who escaped one of the country’s infamous forced labour camps described how he saw Kim Il-sung as a young man, in his 2001 memoir, “The Aquariums of Pyongyang”.
He wrote: “To my childish eyes and to those of all my friends, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were perfect beings, untarnished by any base human function.
“I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them urinated or defecated.
“Who could imagine such things as gods?”
The cult of personality relies on the passing of power from family member to family member.
Kim Jong-un officially has one child, although it is widely reported that the leader has at least three.
He has one definite heir, although his sister, Kim Yo-jong, has recently risen through the ranks to a position of power.
In May, she branded South Korea “human scum” and is thought to have ordered the destruction of a joint liaison office with the South after non-governmental actors launched 500,000 anti-Kim balloons into the North.
Mr King reasoned that Yo-jong might share an equal footing in power with Kim, and explained: “It does definitely seem to be a tag team right now and Kim Yo-jong has a lot of power with that bloodline.
“The power structure there is absolutely a cult.
“The people are totally cut off, they can’t even watch mainland Chinese or Russian TV.
“Some 99.9 percent of North Koreans will never leave the country, they’ll never watch anything other than North Korean TV.
“It’s an ethnically pure autocratic cult, and until China cuts it loose, North Korea is here to stay.”
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