The BBC reports this morning that pictures of North Korea’s personality-cult leader seem to be disappearing from their prominent displays around Pyongyang:
Some portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il have reportedly been taken down in Pyongyang, news agencies quoted diplomats as saying on Tuesday. The portraits were removed from some public buildings, the diplomats said. …
An unnamed diplomat told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass that at receptions hosted by the North Korean foreign ministry, guests had recently only seen pictures of Kim Jong-il’s father, Kim Il-sung, and a mark on the wall where a portrait of the North Korean leader used to hang.
“Only a light rectangular spot on the yellow whitewashed wall and a nail have remained in the place where the second portrait used to be,” the diplomat said.
The French news agency AFP quoted a diplomat as saying that one place where pictures of Mr Kim had certainly disappeared from was the Grand People’s Cultural Palace.
The BBC speculates that Kim may have ordered the removal of the portraits in an attempt to reduce the country’s focus on him, although in the past Kim has certainly promoted the personality cult purposefully. Others wonder if the change means that something has happened to Kim and Pyongyang might be keeping it quiet. The removals aren’t happenstance; an unnamed diplomat told the Russian news service Itar-Tass that orders had been given to take the portraits down.
The Soviets used to keep their transitions secret until the last moment, usually attributing a premier’s absence from official duties to a cold. When the Soviets lost a few premiers within a couple of years in the 1980s, people joked that the Russian cold was apparently fatal. This unusual activity in Pyongyang looks suspiciously like the Russian cold has migrated to the Korean Peninsula.