PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Koreans across the country paused at midday today to silently honor former ruler Kim Jong Il, whose death one year ago swept his untested 20-something son to power.
Kim Jong Un presided over a solemn ceremony to reopen the sprawling granite mausoleum where his father’s embalmed remains will lie in state near those of his grandfather, the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered in the frigid plaza outside the renovated hall where Kim Jong Il’s body was to go on public display later in the day. The square has been turned into a park at Kim Jong Un’s orders and his father’s portrait installed on the building’s facade alongside that of Kim Il Sung.
Kim Jong Il died last Dec. 17 from a heart attack while traveling on his train. His death was famously followed by scenes of North Koreans dramatically wailing in the streets of Pyongyang, and of his pudgy young son leading ranks of uniformed and gray-haired officials through a series of funeral and mourning rites.
The mood in the capital was decidedly more upbeat a year later, with some of the euphoria carrying over from last week’s successful launch of a rocket carrying a satellite named for one of Kim Jong Il’s many titles, Kwangmyongsong, or “Lode Star,” a nickname given to him at birth according to the official lore.
The test, which potentially violates a United Nations ban on North Korean missile activity, underlined Kim Jong Un’s determination to continue carrying out his father’s hard-line policies even if they draw international condemnation.
At a memorial service on Sunday, North Korea’s top leadership not only eulogized Kim Jong Il, but also praised his son. Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea’s parliament, called the launch a “shining victory” and an emblem of the promise that lies ahead with Kim Jong Un in power.
The rocket’s success also fits neatly into the narrative of Kim Jong Il’s death. His pursuit of nuclear weapons and the policy of putting the military ahead of all other national concerns have carried into Kim Jong Un’s reign.