In the Name of the Father, Son, and Grandson: Succession Patterns and the Kim Dynasty

Topics: Kim Jong-il, North Korea, Kim Il-sung Pages: 48 (10390 words) Published: June 3, 2014
In the Name of the Father,
Son, and Grandson:
Succession Patterns
and the Kim Dynasty

Virginie Grzelczyk
Nottingham Trent University

The Journal of Northeast Asian History
Volume 9 Number 2 (Winter 2012), 33-68
Copyright © 2012 by the Northeast Asian History Foundation. All Rights Reserved. No portion of the contents may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the Northeast Asian History Foundation.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Grandson:
Succession Patterns and the Kim Dynasty
This paper seeks to understand North Korea’s Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un’s hereditary transition by proposing a comparative analysis of several dictatorship families. The paper utilizes totalitarian successions in Nicaragua with García and Debayle, in Haiti with the Duvalier family, in Syria with the al-Assads, in Azerbaijan with the Aliyevs, in Congo with the Kabilas in order to draw parallels and difference with the North Korea. Eventually, North Korea’s control over information and its management of myths are highlighted as factors that have enabled the country’s hereditary transition, though new patterns of domestic governance might lead to a different political environment over the Korean peninsula.

Keywords: hereditary successions, political families, dictatorship, North Korea, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un

In the Name of the Father,
Son, and Grandson:
Succession Patterns
and the Kim Dynasty
Virginie Grzelczyk
Nottingham Trent University


In the summer of 2008, several media outlets started to worry about the growing lack of new footage of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, who had come to power in 1994 upon his father’s death. Kim Jong Il had suffered from a stroke which led him to more visible efforts to organize his political succession, allegedly promoting his third son Kim Jong Un to four-star general status and reshuffling his personal entourage to consolidate his son’s position within the elite. This grooming period was cut rather short by Kim Jong Il’s surprisingly peaceful passing in December 2011. The Dear Leader’s death now leaves twenty-something Kim Jong Un as the new commander of the impoverished country, thus


The author would like to acknowledge the support of the Korea Foundation Global E-School Korean Studies Conference organized at Central European University, September 6-8, 2012 in assisting with the publication of this article. The author would also like to thank panel members and reviewers for their input when the paper was initially presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, Iilinois, United States, April 22-25, 2010, and at the Personality Cults of Modern Dictators Conference, Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, United Kingdom, October 22-23, 2010.



continuing the Kim’s family reign yet again.
The concept of hereditary dictatorship is far from being an isolated phenomenon in politics, and throughout history, the world has witnessed several families holding onto power through undemocratic means. Hereditary dictatorships are therefore different from monarchies which codify successions and regulate them by law, as well as from political families which focus on politicians’ power and influence through elections rather than utilizing family members’ past or present hold on power to impose one family member as a successor. But while most hereditary dictatorships have managed to transfer power from one generation onto the next, a transfer to a third generation was yet to be seen until North Korea achieved such a transfer following Kim Jong Il’s death. Does this make North Korea unique, thus supporting the idea that the country’s peculiar history and specific government structure make it an exception, and therefore a force to be reckoned with in the world? This paper reframes the North Korean case within the larger

context of dictatorial families and...

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