Kim Ki-nam, North Korean propaganda chief who shaped dynasty’s personality cult, dies aged 94

Kim Ki-nam was known as ‘the North Korean Goebbels’ in the South due to his role as head of propaganda department

The Guardian/May 8, 2024

Kim Ki-nam, the propaganda chief who served all three generations of North Korean leaders and cemented their political legitimacy, has died, official media have said.

Kim Ki-nam died on Tuesday aged 94 from multiple organ failure, official KCNA news agency reported.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, visited the funeral hall on Wednesday to pay tribute “with bitter grief over the loss of a veteran revolutionary who had remained boundlessly loyal” to the country until the very end, it said.

The agency said Kim Jong-un would lead the state funeral committee for Kim Ki-nam, who will be buried on Thursday.

Kim Ki-nam is credited with masterminding the cult of the Kim family dynasty. State media described him as “a veteran of our party and the revolution, a prestigious theoretician and a prominent political activist”.

The ruling Kim family are revered in the North as the “Paektu bloodline”, named after the country’s highest mountain and supposed birthplace of the late leader Kim Jong-il.

In the 1970s, Kim Ki-nam was in charge of Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, KCNA said. He became head of the North’s propaganda department in 1985, according to South Korean government data. He retired in 2017 and Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, took over.

Kim Ki-nam’s role as the country’s chief propagandist earned him notoriety in the South, where media nicknamed him the North Korean Goebbels, after Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

“It is safe to say that the propaganda and agitation strategies of the Kim dynasty all came from Kim Ki-nam’s mind,” Ahn Chan-il, a defector turned researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

He was one of the very few North Korean officials to have visited the South, leading a funeral delegation in 2009 after the death of president Kim Dae-jung who opened an era of reconciliation with Pyongyang with his Sunshine Policy.

Kim Ki-nam exerted tremendous influence on policy and personnel and was a key architect of the ruling Workers’ party’s political foundation, according to North Korea expert Michael Madden at the Stimson Center.

He was particularly close to Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, and was believed to be his “drinking buddy,” Madden said citing sources.

He was one of the seven senior officials who joined Kim Jong-un in accompanying Kim Jong-il’s hearse.

With Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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