Had he not died on a train in Pyongyang last December, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s late Supreme Leader, would have turned 70 on Feb. 16. That’s the ofﬁcial story, anyway. In reality, Kim, whom the BBC once described as “a vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling hypochondriac,” was already 70 when he died. According to Soviet records, he was born in 1941 in Siberia; the date and location of his birth were changed to better ﬁt the ofﬁcial story after he was named his father’s successor in 1980. Fake Kim—the one created by the histrionic mythmakers of the North Korean state—was born in a log cabin on Mt. Paektu in 1942. (It wouldn’t do to have the future Dear Leader born on foreign soil, after all.) The weather was unusually warm that day, according to North Korea’s ofﬁcial website, as “if the heaven was blessing [his] birth.”
Seventy years after that fake birthday, North Koreans were once again prodded together to mourn Kim’s real death. Crowds reportedly rushed the central square in Pyongyang on Feb. 16. Thousands laid red “kimjongilia” begonias beneath a portrait of the late dictator while a massive military parade took place nearby. In the lead-up to the anniversary— which has been renamed “Day of the Shining Star”—commemorative coins and stamps were released and bronze statues of Kim and his father, Kim Il Sung, unveiled. Slogans attributed to Kim were carved into mountainsides while the man himself was posthumously promoted to “generalissimo,” a rank previously only held by his father.
The photo at right was taken at a memorial concert in Pyongyang. (The image projected above the orchestra is from a video recorded during the earlier, ofﬁcial, mourning period.) At least one new song was composed for the anniversary, but the concert on Feb. 16 ended with a rendition of Footsteps, an ode to Kim’s son and heir, Kim Jong Un.