It is not a peaceful resting place, but, when you are president
for eternity in a nation waging a seemingly endless revolution,
death was never going to be easy.
Eleven years after his fatal heart attack, the
embalmed body of former North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung lies
under a spotlight in an enormous glass-enclosed tomb at his
presidential palace on the outskirts of the capital, Pyongyang.
Wearing an immaculately pressed black suit,
thick white make up, red lipstick and with the national flag
wrapped around him up to his shoulders, Kim receives hundreds of
mourners each day.
The visitors walk silently around the coffin
while soft revolutionary music floats out of invisible speakers,
with many stopping to dutifully break down in tears before
walking away sniffling and wiping their noses.
"He died more than 10 years ago, but each day
the emotion gets stronger," a government official explains as he
walks out of the palace, which was converted into a memorial for
Kim at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Kim created one of the world’s great Communist
personality cults for himself during his totally dominant rule
of North Korea, which began with the nation’s founding in 1948
and continued to his death on July 8, 1994.
During his reign, statues of Kim were installed
around the country, his photos were placed in every public
building and enormous monuments were built in Pyongyang such as
the 170-metre (557-feet) Juche Tower, which extolls his
ideological blend of self-reliance and Marxism-Leninism.
He eventually became known by all North Koreans
as the "Great Leader", and his death triggered unprecedented
scenes of mass grief with hundreds of thousands of people
gathering in Pyongyang for his funeral.
Three years of national mourning followed, after
which Kim was enshrined in the constitution as "president for
eternity", with daily control of the nation in the safe hands of
his son, Kim Jong-Il.
The younger Kim has ensured the personality cult
of his father remains as strong as ever.
Badges of a smiling Kim the elder continue to be
worn by North Koreans on their left lapel, symbolically close to
their hearts, while bold, colourful banners and posters are
ubiquitous around the nation.
"Kim Il-Sung, the respected father of the
nation, will be immortal in the hearts of the people," reads a
typical slogan under an image of a rosy-cheeked, smiling Kim
that is painted on a wall in the southern town of Kaesong.
In the main entrance room to the mausoleum, a
brilliant, white statue of Kim at least three metres high
welcomes visitors, with the back wall bathed in soft,
sunrise-like lights that rise from peachy-orange to a welcoming
The room that visitors walk into immediately
after paying their respects to the "Great Leader" displays
hundreds of medals given to Kim from various governments.
Among the awards are the 1956 "Order of Freedom
First Class" from the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania and
the 1978 "Grand Cross of National Order of a Thousand Hills"
from the Republic of Rwanda.
The former East German government honoured him
with the "Karl Marx Order" in 1982 and the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia gave him the "Great Star" in 1977.
A major reason for the nation worshipping Kim,
government officials tell foreigners, is his extraordinary
leading role in overthrowing the "Japanese imperialists" who
occupied North Korea from 1910 to 1945.
"President Kim Il-Sung left home at 14 and was
determined not to return to Korea until it was independent," the
guide at his Mangyongdae birthplace in Pyongyang states.
Official North Korean history records Kim as
returning to Pyongyang in 1945 after years of guerrilla warfare
to liberate the nation, although there is no mention of the
Western world’s version that he was installed by the Soviets.
Kim was also the strongman who stood up to the
United States, stopped the capitalists from taking over North
Korea with "victory" in the 1950-53 Korean War, and set the
nation on a path to eventual reunification with the pro-US South
"The US was much superior, technically and
numerically, but we defeated the US forces with the tactical and
strategic superiority of our Great Leader, Kim Il-Sung," a guide
at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum says.
Reunification with South Korea under a Pyongyang
regime is the ultimate goal of Kim’s revolutionary success.
But, with huge divisions remaining between the
two Koreas, the United States still with troops in the South,
and the North more isolated internationally than ever, Kim
clearly still has a lot of work to do.