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Portraits of a dynasty: North Korea's ever-present Kims

Updated : September 25, 2018 12:21 PM IST

One of the first things any traveller to North Korea notices is a huge portrait of Kim Il Sung, pictured in front of an airplane and workers alongside the road as you drive out of Pyongyang International Airport. It's an image that soon becomes very familiar.

Millions of portraits, mosaics and paintings of Kim Il Sung, founder of North Korea, and his son Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un, offer daily reminders to the public of the central role of the Kim dynasty in their nation's story.

Smiling images of the Kims are everywhere you go. Portraits are mandatory not just in public places like train stations, hospitals, schools and factories, but even in private spaces such as the living rooms of apartments.

Portraits must be hung high, so that no one can stand above the leaders, according to government minders who accompany visiting media and tourists.

As the night falls over Pyongyang, giant portraits on various buildings get lit up.

North Korea remains one of the most tightly controlled societies on earth, with most of the country closed to outsiders, but groups of tourists are allowed to visit Pyongyang and a few other sites, providing the impoverished country with one of its few remaining sources of foreign currency.

For those visitors, another reminder of the all-encompassing influence of the Kim family is the lapel badge, bearing the image of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, worn by all North Korean citizens.

The badge is presented to every North Korean when he or she turns 12, and from then on they are required to wear it whenever they leave their home. The badges are considered sacred and are not for sale, say government minders.

"We, all North Koreans, always wear the portrait badge like this. The most important part of a human body is the heart, right?" said An Sol Yong, a music teacher at a teacher training college in Pyongyang, during a government organised visit for foreign reporters. All her students wore the badges pinned to their white shirts.

"Being together with our dear leaders through a badge hung on the closest place from our heart means that our belief that we won't be alive if the great leaders had not existed is kept in all our hearts."

A guide walks past an image of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A guide walks past an image of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A woman guide wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A woman guide wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Senior military officials watch a parade as portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in the background at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Senior military officials watch a parade as portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in the background at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on a train as it leaves a subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on a train as it leaves a subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Traffic moves past the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Traffic moves past the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A soldier wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as he attends a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A soldier wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as he attends a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A state media cameraman films the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A state media cameraman films the portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the main Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A cameraman films a painting of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a government organised trip for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A cameraman films a painting of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a government organised trip for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Overseas North Korean citizens pay their respect in front of paintings of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at a silk factory in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Overseas North Korean citizens pay their respect in front of paintings of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at a silk factory in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on the facade of a government building in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on the facade of a government building in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Residents pass by a painting of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Residents pass by a painting of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in a gymnasium at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in a gymnasium at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A bridegroom wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A bridegroom wears a badge with portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen at a cosmetics factory during a government organised trip for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen at a cosmetics factory during a government organised trip for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen early morning at a memorial park in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen early morning at a memorial park in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on the facade of a government building in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Portraits of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen on the facade of a government building in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Guides walk past an image of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Guides walk past an image of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung at a teachers' training college during a government organised visit for foreign reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Published : September 25, 2018 12:21 PM IST
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