(SEOUL, South Korea) — As the world watches and wonders whether six decades of Kim family deification in North Korea can continue under new leader Kim Jong Un, speculation is mounting about who the son really is as details of his secretive past are patched together.
Little is known about the young Kim, the heir apparent of a nation possessing nuclear power and the world’s fourth-largest military. His name, age, marital status and educational background remain sketchy and no one from the outside world has even heard his voice.
“His personality is known to be cruel and brutal. When firing the old officials, he does it very easily, very quickly,” said Ha Taekeung, president of Open Radio for North Korea, an interest group based in Seoul. Young but charismatic, Kim likes to speak more than listen at meetings, he said.
Kim is fond of China politically, but not culturally because of their low living standards. “It’s because he is more prone to Westernized lifestyle” from being raised “in a luxurious environment in North Korea and in Switzerland,” Ha said.
Kim Jong Un’s birth year was suddenly changed from 1983 to 1982 last year, making him either 27 or 28. From 1998 to 2001, when he reportedly attended a school in Switzerland, he was known as Pak Un. But his real name had turned out to be Kim Jung Oon, according to South Korean intelligence, with the last character of his first name Oon meaning “cloud.” It was later changed to Kim Jong Un, with a different character that means “lighting up.”
Analysts have said this was a calculated move to justify the succession so as to make it appear that he was destined to “lighten up’” his father and grandfather’s legacy instead of “clouding” it.
The world got a first glimpse of Kim Jong Un when his photo was published in state media on Sept. 30, 2010. Many South Koreans were stunned because of his striking resemblance to North Korea’s late-founder Kim ll Sung. That resemblance is exactly why he was “daddy’s favorite” from early on, according to Kenji Fujimoto, who wrote a best-selling memoir about the Kim family after serving as their chef for 13 years.
South Korean media has been writing about Kim Jong Un with what little they can gather. Chosun Ilbo, one of the largest newspapers, chose five keywords regarding Kim Jong Un: Swiss-educated, competitive, military academy, rookie complex and Kim Il Sung impersonation.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Camille Verdier, Steve Visser and Margot Haddad, CNN
Marisa Russell, CNN
Euan McKirdy and Marilia Brocchetto, CNN