16:41 GMT +314 December 2019
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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, front left, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju, front right, inspects the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang

    Love in Cold War Climate: Personal Lives of North Korean Leaders

    © AP Photo / Korean Central News Agency
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    North Korea is for many of us a mysterious country, with leaders having absolute control over the domestic lives of its residents and sending scary messages to the West regarding its shady missile program. However, it turns out that even strong men have their weaknesses when one examines their personal lives.

    This week, North Korean first lady Ri Sol-Ju was first seen in public since December 2014 as she took part in the event commemorating the birthday anniversary of the country's founding leader, Kim Il-Sung. The couple made a very positive impression, with Ri Sol-Ju holding the arm of her smiling husband and both looking very happy together.

    Despite the widespread image of ‘strong men’, North Korean leaders do not seem to be devoid of simple human joys.  If we take a look at their personal lives, we will see that tough rulers are more similar to ordinary people than we thought, having serious relationships and small love affairs, caring for their families and falling in love against their parents’ wishes.

    Kim Il-Sung (in office: 1948-1994)

    The country’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung met his first wife Kim Jong-Suk in the late 1930s, when both took part in an anti-Japan movement in Manchuria. The young girl, whom many of her contemporaries remembered as a very kind and gentle person, hard-working and dedicated to her family, did not have any formal education as she was born in a family of farm-workers.

    When Japan started to gain the upper hand in the battle, the young couple fled to the USSR and started their family life there. Their marriage was never official, though the couple had three common children: two sons and one daughter. The eldest of them – Kim Jong-Il later became the leader of North Korea.

    Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Suk, Kim Jong Il
    © AP Photo / Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service
    Kim Jong Il (L) with his parent, Kim Jong Suk (R) and leader Kim Il Sung

    Soon after the couple had returned to North Korea, Kim Jong-Suk died during childbirth in 1949. She was nominated as a hero of partisan battle.

    In the early 1950s, the country’s leader married for the second time. His new wife Kim Sun-Ae was an administrative worker in his office and bore him four children. However, Kim Il-Sung was not in favor of appearing with his new wife in public. She was never mentioned in the media for 15 years, with people learning about her existence only in 1965.

    Kim Song-Ae, second wife of North Korean president Kim II Sung, married in 1952 in an undated photo.
    © AP Photo /
    Kim Song-Ae, second wife of North Korean president Kim II Sung

    Kim Jong-Il (in office: 1994-2011)

    Song Hye Rim sitting on a park bench in Moscow during the 1970s
    © Photo : https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/
    Song Hye-rim

    Kim Jong-Il, the eldest son of the country’s first leader Kim Il-Sung, was well-known for his charismatic nature and, therefore, very popular among women in the elite circles. He had a lot of hobbies such as horse riding and biking, which were very rare in North Korea at that time.  His good sense of humor and charm linked him to numerous love affairs, which he, however, tried to conceal from the public. The number of his fiancées and children has remained unknown until recently.

    The country’s leader had also three serious relationships – two of them with prominent North Korean actresses. The first was Song Hye-rim, a movie star and sex-symbol of that time. When the young people met, Song Hye-rim was already married. She divorced her husband and moved to Kim Jong-Il’s residence, but their relationship failed because of his father’s disapproval.

    Ko Yong Hui (Ko Yo’ng-hu’i) was Kim Jong Il’s 4th wife (consort) and mother of his three youngest children, including current DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong Un.
    © Photo : https://nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.com/
    Ko Yong-hui

    The former country’s leader did not like the fact that Song Hye-rim was a divorcee and originally came from a South-Korean family. As a result, the couple separated and Song Hye-rim, who suffered serious neurological disorders, went abroad for treatment. She died in Moscow in 2002.

    Kim Jong-Il’s second fiancée then wife, Ko Yong-hui, was a dancer. The couple had three common children, including the latter leader of the country Kim Jong-Un. After Ko Yong-hui died from cancer in 2004, the middle-aged Kim Jong-Il started a new relationship with a woman who worked as his secretary and was 20 years younger than him.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il
    © AP Photo / Choongang Monthly Magazine
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (L) with son Kim Jong Nam (R), former wife's sister Sung Hye Rang and her children Lee Nam Ok and Lee Il Nam behind tnem.

    Kim Jong-Un (in office: since 2011)

    Kim Jong-Un did not like the behavior of his father and the way he treated women. Maybe that is why the young leader decided to be an exemplary family man.

    One can always see him accompanied by his pretty and very charming young wife, Ri Sol-Ju.

    In contrast to his grandfather and father, Kim Jong-un does not hide his spouse from the public. The couple is frequently seen together, whether in meetings of North Korea’s General Staff, or soccer matches.

    In early 2012, Ri Sol-Ju and Kim Jong-un celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter. The North Korean leader looks very happy and is an example of how a person can combine hard-power in politics with a successful family life.

    Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju
    © AP Photo / Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, File
    Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju


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