As the last fortress of 20th-century totalitarianism, Pyongyang has seen many extravagant firework displays, but nothing as spectacular as the one that illuminated the heavens this spring.
“It was the most beautiful thing I have seen,” said Kim Sun Hee, an artist who has spent the past few months attempting to capture the moment. “The colours were wonderful — the fireworks on the bridge looked like waterfalls of fire.”
But nothing in the display was more remarkable than the identity of the man responsible — the youngest son of the “Dear Leader”. There was no formal announcement but among the Pyongyang elite word has spread that the display was the work of one referred whisperingly to as the “Young General”.
A year ago only a handful of North Koreans had heard of him; now his name is common knowledge: Kim Jong Un, 26, is apparently being groomed to succeed Kim Jong Il in the only hereditary communist dictatorship in history.
North Korea likes to present itself as an unchanging place, a socialist workers’ paradise where the conundrums of good governance have been solved by the supernatural brilliance of Mr Kim and his late father and founder of the country, the “Great Leader”, Kim Il Sung.
However, it is a place of tension and anticipation. Fed on propaganda and lies, North Koreans are usually the last to learn what is happening behind the scenes in their country — but these days, in Pyongyang at least, even they can sense that change is in the air.
Since the fireworks in April the debut of the young Mr Kim appears to have been put on hold after his father’s recovery from a suspected stroke last year.
Even if its leader has won a temporary reprieve, North Korea remains what it has been for 15 years — an anachronism, bankrupt economically, politically and intellectually that, according to conventional theories, should have collapsed years ago under the weight of its own contradictions…
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