Kim Jong-un: Why North Korea’s bizarre ‘time travel’ claim may prove change is coming

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Kim Jong-un’s absence from the public eye continues to be speculated over after his second lengthy disappearance in the last few months. The ‘Supreme Leader of North Korea’ was last seen in public on May 1 at a fertiliser plant opening ceremony in Sunchon, 30 miles north of the capital Pyongyang. Many have claimed the footage could have been faked, that a “body double” may have been used or that the clips were taken months ago. Theories first emerged that the hermit state’s leader had died last month after “botched” heart surgery to fit a stent. In Kim Jong-un’s absence his sister Kim Yo-jong has made a number of public statements, which is an unprecedented move for North Korean dictators. This isn’t the first breakaway from tradition during his nine-year reign, with the leader conceding failed missile launches and being more open to the outside world. This week a North Korea newspaper stated that time travel, known as ‘chukjibeop’, was not “realistic” and that the Kim family could not possess that power – as some previously believed. That revelation from within the highly secretive state could signify a large scale change happening under Kim Jong-un’s rule where the nation’s first family distance themselves from the mythological beliefs that they are gods. 

A number of doubts surrounded Kim Jong-un’s rise to power in 2011, many feared that at the age of 25 he was “too young”, not strong enough and wouldn’t uphold the proud nation’s beliefs.

Soon the leader proved himself to be as ruthless and brutal as his father Kim Jong-il, after reports emerged that he had executed 300 dissidents within the first five years of his reign.

But as the North Korean dictator has continued to become more comfortable, a series of dramatic changes have been observed in the way he runs the state in comparison to his predecessors.

This includes claims that he may be the “most benevolent” leader to rule the hermit state, according to Chris Mikul, who penned the 2019 book ‘My Favourite Dictators’.

Unlike North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, the current dictator has dispelled many of the myths peddled by propaganda and exposed cracks in the nation’s notorious “hall of mirrors” approach to information.

When the state was founded in 1948, its leader was considered to be God and the saviour of the nation – it was even claimed that he could turn “pine cones into bullets” and “grains of sand into rice”.

But under Kim Jong-un’s rule, lies and cover-ups are less frequent, including his uncharacteristic decision to admit a missile test had failed in 2017. 

Mr Mikul theorised that while there have been changes in the nation’s approach to truth and their attempts to deceive the public and the wider world – they are still a long way from being transparent. 

With the current coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 334,000 and infected more than 5.2 million, North Korea maintains the unlikely claim that they have no cases whatsoever.

Mr Mikul told “They may have an outbreak in North Korea but are not telling everyone, this is a thing they probably wouldn’t tell the wider world. 

“If they did have cases Kim Jong-un’s father and grandfather would have covered it up in the same way as they denied famine in the country.

“That said, while Kim Jong-un is a little more liberal with the truth, he doesn’t try to cover up everything.”

A major shift has been shaping up in North Korea under the new leader’s rule, with him allowing women to wear trousers in public and even featuring Disney characters at a public concert.

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Mr Mikul said: “There are a lot of signs that he is a more benevolent character than father and grandfather and has concern for the welfare of people.

“The use of Disney costumes would never have happened under Kim Jong-il, it’s just another reason why he is different – despite this he is still a brutal dictator.”

It’s believed that Kim Jong-un may have a greater appreciation of irony about the lies that have maintained the nation and in rare instances has exhibited humorous self-deprecation. 

His father Kim Jong-il once did the same, when making a joke to a South Korean actress who he had kidnapped to star in North Korea films. 

The now-deceased leader quipped: “Well, Madame Choe, what do you think of my physique? Small as a m*****’s turd, aren’t I?”

Mr Mikul told “Kim Jong-un made a similar joke about him being short and fat before too.

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“They are opening up a little and revealing cracks into their own psyches by doing things like that.

“It’s not enough to jeopardise their power but there are little moments where they can seem to be human rather than monsters.

“It’s not something that is a usual trait with dictators, as most are impervious to self deprecation or inflection.”

Mr Mikul attributes the leader’s slightly more progressive views and self awareness to spending large periods of time outside of North Korea.

He told “I think the reason Kim Jong-un is so different is because he was schooled outside North Korea. 

“Whereas Kim Jong-il barely left the state but essentially became exposed to Western culture though being a film buff.

“Kim Jong-un spent a lot of years being educated in Switzerland where he became Westernised, which was showed by his love for video games and basketball.

“So you can see why there is a big difference between him and the other leaders.” 

This could all signal a greater transition for the state in years to come, spurred on by Kim Jong-un moving away from the myths that his family are actual gods or at the very least descended from them. 

Mr Mikul believes the current ruler must appreciate the truth behind many of the lies of the Kim dynasty – in which their reign has become an “edifice” that was “built upon them being gods and saviours of the country”.

He fears for the future of North Korea and their citizens, once the regime “eventually collapses” – which he claims “will happen one day”.

Mr Mikul told “I don’t think it will end any time soon but when it does fall it could be disastrous. 

“The country will suddenly open up, allowing the populace to be exposed to the truth and they will realise that they have been living in a ‘Wizard of Oz’ situation.

“I think it will be a nightmare for a lot of people, there could be a lot of suicides because of the devastation from finally seeing reality for the first time.”

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