Kim Jong-un’s new pin symbolizes his noble personality cult

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At a recent meeting with the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced a promising harvest and a new defense treaty with Russia. However, what attracted the most attention was the introduction of a new accessory: breast pins with the image of Kim Jong-un, as shown in photos by state media.

The Kim family, in power in North Korea since 1948, has long been revered as a godlike figure. Portraits of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, adorn every home and office, and citizens are required to wear pins depicting these leaders. Kim Jong Un’s new pin marks a significant elevation in his personal cult, previously reserved only for his grandfather and father. Now, North Koreans have three images to choose from for their pins.

“This is part of Kim Jong-un’s efforts to assert his image as an independent leader,” noted Kim Inae, deputy spokeswoman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

The pin tradition began in 1970 with Kim Il-sung’s pin, followed by Kim Jong-il’s in 1992. Despite their iconic status, the pins have lost some of their appeal among ordinary North Koreans, especially after the famine of the 1990s. Known as “slavery pins” by defectors, they are often smuggled into China and sold as cheap souvenirs.

Kim Jong Un’s new pin is seen as an attempt to unify North Korea around his leadership amid economic hardship and outside cultural influences such as K-pop. After coming to power in 2011, Kim established a totalitarian regime through a “reign of terror,” eliminating any threats to his authority. However, his economic hardship and failure to lift international sanctions have made it difficult to deliver on promises of prosperity.

Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has conducted numerous nuclear tests and developed long-range missiles, including a recent ballistic missile test. Despite his military advances, Kim’s power rests largely on strengthening his personality cult and isolating North Koreans from outside information.

Seeking to reinvent his family legacy, Kim Jong Un has portrayed himself as a dynamic leader, distancing himself from the shadows of his ancestors. This year, he abandoned the goal of reunification with South Korea, declaring Seoul an enemy. State propaganda has increasingly praised Kim Jong Un as the “Sun” of the Korean people and has widely distributed portraits of him.

Analysts believe the new pin signals Kim Jong-un’s growing confidence in his leadership. “This makes it official that he is now on the same level as his ancestors, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il,” said Yang Moo-jin, president of Seoul’s North Korean Studies University.

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