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Symbolism and hysteria at Kim Jong-il’s state funeral

Text by Julien PEYRON

Latest update : 2011-12-28

North Korea specialist Juliette Morillot explains the ubiquitous tears and the powerful symbolism of the late Kim Jong-il’s funeral.

The highly choreographed funeral of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il took place on Wednesday, more than ten days after the “dear leader” passed away on December 17 from "a great mental and physical strain,” according to the country's state TV.

State television broadcasted the ceremony from a snow-clad Pyongyang, devoting much of the coverage to the tearful soldiers and civilians who lined the route of the funeral cortege.

While much of the emotion may have seemed exaggerated to foreign viewers, these were not necessarily crocodile tears, according to Juliette Morillot, North Korea expert and journalist for the monthly magazine “La Revue”.

“North Korea is a closed country where state propaganda is all-pervasive,” she told FRANCE 24. “Koreans are culturally highly expressive people. They cry openly and they show their emotions. They are not at all closed when it comes to sentimental outbursts.”

Power hierarchy

Beyond the sights of collective hysteria, the funeral broadcast also offered a glimpse into North Korea’s newly established power hierarchy.

“The cortege was highly choreographed, and each official mourner was in his place around the hearse,” said Morillot.

Centre-stage and dressed in black was Kim Jong-un, the late leader’s third son who has been lauded by state media as the “great successor”.

Date created : 2011-12-28