American journalist reveals fresh details about Kim Jong-un's childhood

A new biography about North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has revealed fresh details of a privileged childhood that paved the path to his rule as the world’s youngest leader.
June 17, 2019 | 15:41

According to The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong Un, by Washington Post journalist Anna Fifield, Kim’s early years were spent in luxury compounds with 15-foot iron gates in the capital Pyongyang, and at the family beach home in the coastal city of Wonsan.

He wanted for nothing, with the regime’s then leader Kim Jong-il, his late father, ensuring that he had Super Mario video games, pinball machines and more gadgets than any European toy store. Movies like Ben Hur, Dracula and James Bond were shown in private soundproof cinemas.

The young Kim was obsessed with model planes and ships, but he also had a real vehicle and a real gun – a car his father had modified so that he could drive it at age seven and a Colt .45 pistol that he wore on his hip when he was eleven.

Even as a young child he was being groomed for leadership. “The boy grew up thinking he was special,” notes the author.

American journalist reveals fresh details about Kim Jong-un's childhood

Kim Jong-un was taught by his mother at home when he was young. Photo: Mainichi Daily News

His eighth birthday was spent not in the company of other children but dressed in a black suit and bow tie as deferential high-level officials offered him bouquets of flowers.

It was perhaps Kim’s strong personality that won his father’s favour over older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, a rebellious playboy later exiled to Macau, and Kim Jong Chol, a second older brother who was closer in age but introverted and creative.

Kim was just 12 when he was packed off to school in Bern, Switzerland in 1996, sporting a “pudding bowl haircut” and wearing brand-name tracksuits and Nike shoes.

He was given the fake name “Pak Un” and he and Yong Chol initially lived with their maternal aunt, Ko Yong Suk, and her husband, Ri Gang, who pretended to be their parents before they defected to the US two years later.

American journalist reveals fresh details about Kim Jong-un's childhood

Kim Jong-un as a teenager CREDIT: POLARIS/EYEVINE

Kim had limited academic abilities and a quick temper, according to his former classmates.

Basketball was an obsession, and when he took to the court in his authentic Chicago Bulls shirt with Michael Jordan’s number – 23 - his competitive side came out.

Family photo albums show a young Kim traveling around the world, swimming in French Riviera, dining in Italy and enjoyed Euro Disney in Paris.

At home in the calm suburb of Liebefeld, his aunt tried to create a normal family environment. “Their friends would come over, and I would make them snacks. It was a very normal childhood with birthday parties and gifts and Swiss kids coming over to play,” she told the author.

However, far from making the future leader more open-minded, his formative teenage years in Switzerland, Ms Fifield surmises that it “taught him that if he were to live in the outside world, he would have been entirely unremarkable. A nobody,” she explains in a Politico article.

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