As thousands of gymnasts and acrobats leapt and somersaulted through the air during Mass Games at Pyongyang’s May First stadium this October, I asked my guide who had created the spectacular show. “Our Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, is a genius in all spheres,” she told me.
Praise in North Korea for Kim Jong-il, who died on Saturday, was as instinctive as breathing. Children’s songs proclaimed his glory and signs and billboards throughout Asia’s dark star urged North Koreans to faithfully follow his teachings.
North Korean state media reported on Kim Jong-il with an outrageous loyalty, from his “eleven holes-in-one” during the opening of the country’s first golf course in 1994 to the news programs that conveyed his every utterance (indirectly, of course. North Koreans almost never heard the Dear Leader’s voice).
But even the glorification of Kim Jong-il faded in comparison with the near religious devotion to his late father, Kim Il-sung, as I saw during my week-long visit to the country this autumn.
Kim Il-sung, who was made eternal president after his death in 1994, remains the head of state of what is – in effect - the modern world’s only necrocracy. The eternal president rules the country from his mausoleum - monstrous in size and magnificence - on the outskirts of the capital, Pyongyang.
The path through the mausoleum to an audience with the world’s sole embalmed national leader winds up and down through countless escalators, along polished hallways, past a Kim Il-sung statue and finally through a wind machine that cleanses the living of impurities. Only then are visitors granted the right to gaze on the eternal president ruminating on policy in his glass sarcophagus. Bowing here is not an option.
It's not clear at the moment if Kim Jong-il will share his father’s grand resting place. But in life he was no equal and had to be satisfied with the posts of head of the ruling Worker’s Party and chief commander of the army. Of course, he could also boast of over a dozen less precise and extremely poetic titles, such as "Guiding Star of the 21st Century” and “Peerless Leader.”
But none of these could match the quasi-mystical honorific title granted to his father: “The Eternal Sun of Mankind.”
Although North Korea is an atheist state, Kim Il-sung fulfills essentially the same functions as god – with the added bonus of ample evidence of his existence. There are Eternal Life monuments all over the country and his “immortality” is clearly stated in North Korea’s constitution.
While massive portraits of both Kims are a ubiquitous sight as you drive around Pyongyang and past villages and towns on all but deserted highways in North Korea, there are no statues of Kim Jong-il. There are plenty though of Kim Il-sung – many of them erected during his lifetime. Indeed, grieving residents of Pyongyang flocked on Monday to a statue of the eternal president to wail and beat their fists against the ground.
But though footage of weeping North Koreans mourning Kim Jong-il’s passing is oddly impressive, it doesn’t come close to the scenes of utter mass hysteria that greeted the snuffing out of the “Eternal Sun” in 1994.
Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted a source in the capital as saying that the situation was generally “calm” after Kim Jong-il’s demise. “People are seen going about their business as usual, and traffic is flowing normally,” the agency said.
Still, the Associated Press said that staff at the Koryo hotel, where I stayed when I visited Pyongyang, burst into tears upon hearing the news of Kim Jong-il’s death.
It remains to be seen if Kim Jong-il will now – as logic would dictate – be named eternal army chief and party head and head his father’s cabinet of the departed.
Such a move would, of course, leave very few posts for the young man who is now expected to pick up the reins from his grandfather and father - Kim Jong-il’s twenty-something son - “The Great Successor” - Kim Jong-un.
And, with two ghosts looking over his shoulder as he bids to consolidate power, that’s one problem he really doesn’t need right now.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.