At 11AM yesterday morning, Kim Jong Eun gathered 100,000 or more Pyongyang civilians and soldiers in Kim Il Sung Square for a massive commemoration of the life of Kim Jong Il. However, in reality the event itself was more meaningful as a proclamation of the presence of a new leader of the North Korean people.
As such, the focus was less on memorializing the departed than about firmly establishing and demanding loyalty to both the dictatorship of Kim Jong Eun and the revolution. If Kim Jong Eun walking alongside the hearse carrying his deceased father during Wednesday's funeral cortège while shedding visible tears was intended to portray a son filled with 'filial respect', a highly valued emotion in traditional parts of East Asia, then yesterday was intended to show the people of North Korea and the world that the regime will go on, come what may.
It was Kim who stepped first onto the podium, followed by regime heavyweights Kim Yong Nam, Jang Sung Taek, Lee Young Ho and more. Once again, Kim was stamping the seal of the supreme leader in the people's minds.
In his comments, Supreme People's Assembly Standing Committee Chairman Kim Yong Nam demanded, "Carry forth comrade Kim Jong Eun as both the leader of the Party and the Supreme Commander of the military," adding for emphasis, "Completing the succession was Kim Jong Il's greatest achievement." It was not a eulogy, it was a call to arms.
Party secretary Kim Gi Nam spoke similarly, calling for loyalty by looking to the lineage of the new leader, pointing out, "We must accept and carry forth respected comrade Kim Jong Eun highly as the core of the leadership, and develop the strength of the Party of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il."
But Kim himself did not speak, something which did not come as a surprise. At a similar event upon the death of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il did not make a speech, either. As such, it may be that North Korea is planning to utilize the 'man of mystery' strategy in the process of Kim Jong Eun's idolization, just as Kim Jong Il did.
Kim, lest we should forget, managed to make just one public statement in fully 37 years of rule. To those who are looking for a more open and approachable North Korean regime to emerge, it was a bad way to begin.I'm firmly in favor of optimism, and in complete agreement with the diplomatic wait-and-see tactics that the allied Six-Party Talks protagonists appear to have adopted, but only the willfully blind would say that what we've seen since December 19th has been encouraging.
Simply, we would be wise to hope that a period of regime consolidation is seen in Pyongyang as a built-in and necessary part of an already existing program of modest change that the new broom has in store for an expectant world. That is what passes for optimism at this particular moment in time.