Kim Jong-un seen sans patriotic pin

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Kim Jong-un seen sans patriotic pin

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Left: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is pictured on June 6 without the customary badge featuring Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il at the Pyongyang Biological Technology Research Institute. Right: Kim with the badge on June 2. [Rodong Sinmun]

In a number of recent public outings, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been photographed without the mandatory badge featuring the images of his late father and grandfather, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung.

The young strongman customarily wears the insignia in public, though since the beginning of this month, he has been pictured in state media without it at six of 11 official events, and the absence of the insignia on his chest has led some observers to speculate over his reasons.

North Korean citizens are required to wear these red lapel pins with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il above the heart. It is an evident symbol of respect as well as a concrete way of idolizing the Communist state’s late rulers.

On June 6, Kim’s badge was missing in pictures released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency that showed him inspecting the Pyongyang Biological Technology Research Institute. In another photo released three days later, he wore a short-sleeved white shirt without any adornment as he visited a historic site related to the 1950-53 Korean War.

Similarly on June 13, he wore a white shirt, also without the badge, to visit an anti-aircraft artillery academy.

On Thursday, in a photo session during a conference with reconnaissance military officials, he was spotted in his usual black military outfit without the badge. He also observed an artillery-firing event later that day.

The absence of the badge at more than half of his monthly commitments, many analysts have pointed out, may be indicative of the young leader’s growing confidence and his desire to separate himself from the political legacies of his grandfather and father.

The young Kim came to power four years ago following Kim Jong-il’s death in February 2011.

The move also comes after the execution of his powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek in December 2013 and the nation’s Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol at the end of April.

“It has happened too frequently to have been a case of him forgetting it,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. “It could be analyzed as holding symbolic significance, in that he’s trying to escape from the halo of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il and shift weight over to his own reign.”

Still, others say it could merely be carelessness. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said closer observation was needed to determine if Pyongyang’s leader was trying to ease up on the ideology of his predecessors. “It appears to be a passing phase,” he said.

On the other hand, Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, has been spotted without the badge since late 2012.

The North Korean first lady made her debut appearance with the young leader on July 6, 2012, when she was pictured with the badge.

However, a few weeks later when the two attended the July 25 opening of the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang, she was shown wearing an emerald-green shirt and a short black skirt. Instead of the pin, she wore a flower-shaped brooch.

At subsequent official events, she was often spotted without the badge, which observers said at that time it could be a fashion statement or a reflection of her carefree personality.

BY SARAH KIM, CHANG SE-JEONG [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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