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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Many women were linked to Kim Jong Il, but few had any influence

 
The late North Korean leader reportedly took countless lovers, but most were relegated to background status. The few women whose intimacy with the strongman endured included his longtime partner, Ko Young Hee, mother of his handpicked successor, Kim Jong Un.

In 1967, Kim Young-soon was a dancer in Pyongyang, North Korea, when her best friend visited with crazy news.
"I'm going to live in the 5th House," announced Sung Hye Rim, then a noted North Korean actress, Kim recalled. She was referring to the residence of Kim Jong Il, the crown prince of the Hermit Kingdom, leader in waiting behind his powerful father, Kim Il Sung. To Kim Young-soon, the sudden romance seemed like some perverse fairy tale with little chance of a happy ending.


Worse, the actress was already married.
"I said, 'What about your husband?' But she didn't answer," Kim, a Seoul resident who defected from North Korea a decade ago, said in a recent interview. "So I didn't question her any more."

But there were four women whose intimacy with the strongman endured. In all, they bore Kim at least six children.
That intimacy rarely translated to any real influence with the dictator. Although a high-profile woman has taken center stage in the Kim succession narrative, for the most part, the four lovers endured a life behind the scenes, prisoners in a gilded cage.
Sung was the first of a series of women linked to Kim, who died Dec. 17 of a heart attack at 69. Voracious in his appetite for fine cigars, cognac and young women, Kim reportedly took countless lovers, especially after he assumed control of the regime after his father's death in 1994. 


"The women of the palace didn't really have a serious role," said Michael Breen, author of the book "Kim Jong Il: North Korea's Dear Leader." "They might have had pillow-talk influence — you know, 'I don't like this person' or 'I really like that one' — but their roles were predominantly domestic and romantic."

In the Kim dynasty, however, there were notable exceptions. Kim Jong Suk, the first wife of Kim Il Sung, had been a young revolutionary who helped fight the Japanese invaders. The mother of Kim Jong Il, she was idolized as the nation's "Female General" before her death during childbirth in 1949.

And there was Kim Jong Il's longtime partner, Ko Young Hee, mother of Kim Jong Un, the late dictator's youngest son, whom he handpicked to succeed him as the regime's third-generation leader. Some believe that Ko was the love of Kim Jong Il's life, who influenced his decision-making.

 "She was the one Kim loved most," Jang Sung-min, author of the book "War and Peace: Where Is North Korea Headed After Kim Jong Il?" said of Ko, who died in Paris in 2004 while being treated for breast cancer.
Once, after Kim had sentenced his brother-in-law, Jang Sung Taek, to house arrest, Ko talked the strongman into granting his relatively early release, Jang asserted. "She told Kim: 'Set him free. You need his talent,'" the author said.

Those words proved prophetic: Jang Sung Taek and his wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the only sister of Kim Jong Il, have become guardians of new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his fragile assumption of power. 

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