No one outside of North Korea, and very few people inside it, know with certainty who was the mother of their leader (insert title here) Kim Jong Un. Kim Il Sung, founder of the nation, kept his second wife out of the public eye. It isn’t even known for sure how many of his acknowledged children were hers, and he had numerous very public affairs. His only surviving child by his first wife, second Leader Kim Jong Il, had an “official” wife, who was the mother of his daughter, but there were three known mistresses, the second of whom was the “official” mother of third Leader, Kim Jong Un. None of the women who were married to or involved with the first two Kims ever made public appearances or took on any duties as a First Lady. Well, now North Korea has a First Lady.
On Wednesday, during the 8 p.m. (local time) news broadcast, North Korean state television showed film of the leader at the opening of the Neung Ra People’s Resort. The newsreader intoned, “As welcome news played, our Marshal Kim Jong Un and his wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju, came to the inauguration.” The newsreader used the word “wife” four times in almost as many minutes.
There has been a flurry of speculation about the young woman who has been accompanying Kim to recent events. She was tentatively identified as a retired popular singer, an identification that has now been made official. State media did not provide any specifics of a where or when for the wedding. Ri Sol Ju is a beautiful young woman, very poised and favoring simple sheaths and jackets, reminiscent of outfits Jackie Kennedy wore during her years at the White House, nowhere the austere Mao-style clothing the dynasty has been known for. Pictures of the Leader and First Lady visiting a kindergarten showed a relaxed couple, sharing laughs and enjoying the children.
Kim Jong Un said at his inauguration that his first priority will be creating a nation where people are fed properly. North Korea has suffered for years from critical food shortages, with stories filtering to the West of parents poisoning their children to spare them the slow death of starvation. In the short time since taking over the country, Kim, who is estimated to be in his late twenties and was educated in Switzerland, has been making small reforms. He has encouraged the opening of foreign restaurants, fired top military personnel, and ordered that women be allowed to wear slacks. The concert where the West first became aware of Mrs. Kim featured American music and pirated Disney characters.
However, also since Kim took office, North Korea has issued the usual bellicose threats against South Korea, boasted of its aerospace prowess just before having yet another incident of “rocket-go-up-rocket-go-down.” But, there have been strange goings on in the most isolated, secretive country on earth.
Ri Sol Ju was already well known to North Koreans because of her recording and performing career. Now, on the pages of what passes for a celebrity magazine, they are seeing her in an array of “Kate Middleton”-type pictures complete with gushing descriptions of her open-toed black pumps. Now, if North Korea and the United Kingdom could just get their diplomatic situation settled, we might get to see the two ladies sharing space in People someday.