North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s 34th birthday on Monday is expected without the fanfare of a leader known for his cult of personality and audacious public celebrations of missile launches.
The dictator’s birthday has been a surprisingly low-key affair since he came to power in 2011, and was not included in the state’s official 2018 calendar, despite the country’s claimed successes in 2017 with 16 missiles tests and a 6th nuclear test giving him an excuse for self-promotion.
This year’s omission possibly lies in the backlash over tough economic sanctions, reported the Daily NK news site, citing a source from South Pyongan province.
“International sanctions, especially those instituted after the 6th nuclear test in September, have caused a lot of hardship for workers, with many losing their jobs as a result of the gradual slowing of coal exports. So public opinion of Kim Jong-un has dropped to a new low,” said the source.
“As the government pushes propaganda about its nuclear and missile development while even the more successful merchants are losing jobs and going hungry this year, people would only ridicule Kim Jong-un if they saw his birthday had been made a holiday.”
But the lack of pomp around his birthday is perhaps in keeping with efforts orchestrated by his sister Kim Yo-jong to mould his image as a benevolent leader.
It contrasts sharply with the nationwide celebration on February 16 of his late father Kim Jong-il, known as the Day of the Shining Star, and of his grandfather Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15, the Day of the Sun.
Even Kim’s age is a mystery and has never been officially acknowledged. The age of 34 was confirmed by his aunt Ko Yong Suk in an interview with the Washington Post, when she recalled changing his nappies as a baby.
She also recounted how on his eighth birthday he was given a general’s uniform decorated by stars and venerated by North Korea’s top brass.
As an adult, the closest Kim came to a public birthday celebration was reportedly in 2014 when American basketball star Dennis Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to him after a match in Pyongyang, but his singing was apparently drowned out by applause from the audience.