North Korea’s state media has ushered in the Lunar New Year with a deluge of propaganda videos fawning over Kim Jong Un, including a 110-minute documentary that shows off his horse-riding skills but ignores the leader’s recent spate of missile launches.
In January alone, North Korea held seven sanction-busting missile launches, but the government’s state media would rather you concentrate on Kim’s equestrian skills and how majestic he looks on horseback.
The new film, titled The Great Year of Victory, 2021, was added to the Pyongyang Broadcast Service YouTube channel the week of Feb. 1, alongside a group other videos, including one that shows Kim enjoying a concert with his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
The slew of videos and the tactic to release them around Lunar New Year could be an attempt to highlight Kim’s vim and vigour, Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute, told AFP.
“The horse-riding scenes, in particular, seem to have been produced to show off his health at home and abroad.”
The documentary is intercut with plenty of artillery footage, and the narrator makes coded reference to North Korea’s “worst difficulties” in 2021.
Some of the footage shows Kim slowly descending a set of makeshift stairs, noticeably slimmer than we’ve seen him in quite some time, while the narrator describes how his “body has been completely withered away” by hard work.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP that this is a ploy to “humanize” Kim.
“They are trying to paint him as a leader who very much loves his people and, as a result, is often overworked and gets tired,” Yang said.
And, of course, there is no shortage of footage attempting to sell a fun and jovial side of life in North Korea, including parades, packed concert halls, and crowds of adoring Kim fans.
According to The Associated Press, the white horse that appears in the video is a well-known propaganda symbol for the Kim family and has been used often in their seven decades of rule.
State media often shows members of the Kim family, including the late Kim Jong Il, riding white horses.
The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung, who according to the North’s official narrative rode a white horse while fighting Japanese colonial rulers.
Late last year, North Korea urged its 1.2 million troops to unite behind their leader and defend him with their lives, as the country celebrated the 10th anniversary of Kim’s ascension to supreme commander of the military.
Some experts say Kim has been grappling with the toughest moment of his 10-year rule due to the coronavirus pandemic, food scarcity, U.N. sanctions and his own mismanagement.
Despite the present difficulties, few outside analysts question Kim’s grip on power. Kim’s supreme commander post at the Korean People’s Army was the first top job he was given after his father Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011. The current leader holds a slew of other high-profile positions such as general secretary of the Workers’ Party and chairman of the State Affairs Commission.