Our Dear Leader

“In Mrs Song’s home, as in every other, a framed portrait of Kim Il-Sung hung on an otherwise bare wall. People were not permitted to put anything else on that wall, not even pictures of their blood relatives. Kim Il-Sung was all the family you needed – at least until the 1980s, when portraits of Kim Jong-Il, named secretary of the Workers’ Party, were hung alongside those of his father. Later came a third portrait, of the father and son together. The North Korean newspapers liked to run “human interest stories” about heroic citizens who lost their lives rescuing the portraits from fire or flood. The Workers’ Party distributed the portraits free of charge along with a white cloth to be stored in a box beneath them. It could be used only to clean the portraits. This was especially important during the rainy season, when specks of mold would creep under the glass frame. About once a month, inspectors from the Public Standards Police would drop by to check on the cleanliness of the portraits.”

Nothing To Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick