Playboy dictator feasted on caviar as his people starved
KIM JONG-IL, the North Korean dictator who died on Saturday aged 69, presided over the systematic impoverishment and starvation of millions of his people, while enjoying the life of a spoiled playboy -- fast cars, fast women, cellars of vintage French wines and a passion for 'Rambo' and 'Daffy Duck' videos.
The son of North Korea's self-styled "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il (known as "Dear Leader") became the first ruler of a Communist state to gain power through inheritance on his father's death in July 1994.
A pudgy, unprepossessing figure with bouffant hair and platform shoes, Kim Jong-il was initially thought to lack the elder Kim's low cunning and populist flair. Many predicted that his tenure would be short-lived.
But he maintained his grip on power through "Juche" -- a philosophy based on an eccentric blend of Stalinist repression, an all-pervasive personality cult, total isolation from the outside world and paranoid hostility towards South Korea and its capitalist allies.
He reduced his country to a destitute fortress-state with a standing army of 1.2 million out of a population of some 20 million.
During his father's lifetime, Kim Jong-il made an art of being invisible in his own country. Yet after his accession, it became clear that he was his father's son -- unpredictable, wily and ruthlessly determined to sustain his power by any means.
"Expect no change from me," he said after the Great Leader died. He was as good as his word.
Of Kim's life before 1994, little is known for certain. After his graduation from Kim Il-sung University, he is said to have trained as a pilot in the former East Germany.
Kim Jong-il's ascent to power began in 1975, when he was reportedly made a member of North Korea's politburo and put in charge of the cultural scene.
In 1978, he ordered the abduction of a South Korean director, Shin Sang-ok, and his wife, an actress. They were brought to Pyongyang, locked up for five years in prisons and re-education camps, then released to "assist" with the development of the North Korean film industry.
They escaped after eight years, and their account of their time in the North represents one of the best sources of information about Kim. On their first meeting, Kim asked the director: "What do you think of my physique? Small as a midget's turd, aren't I?"
Mr Shin reported that Kim Jong-il based his understanding of capitalism on Western films -- favourites being 'James Bond', 'Rambo' and 'Daffy Duck'.
But he was not entirely ignorant. When Mr Shin and his wife escaped from North Korea they carried with them secret recordings of private conversations with Kim, in which he apparently acknowledged that North Korea's brand of Socialism was flawed, that its technology was at a "kindergarten level", that its people lacked motivation because they had no incentives and that anyone in North Korea who said as much would be purged.
Even after he had been publicly anointed as successor, Kim kept a low profile. It was always difficult to distinguish fact from propaganda -- from the South as well as the North.
It does, however, seem likely that he later played a part in the country's nuclear policy. His name appeared on North Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and he was widely credited with masterminding the country's weapons programme.
If so, he played his cards well, demanding trade concessions and diplomatic recognition, and winning time during which the programme could develop.
After his father's elaborate public funeral in 1994, Kim Jong-il dropped out of sight and it was some time before it was clear that he had established his grip on power.
One of Kim Jong-il's first initiatives was to call on the UN for help in feeding North Korea's starving population. This request was seen as a hopeful sign, as international aid on the scale required would inevitably come with strings attached. But it quickly became clear that Kim was no more prepared to expose his country to foreign scrutiny to save his people than his father had been. Much aid did get through, but the bulk appears to have been hijacked to feed the party elite and keep the military on side. It is estimated that two to three million North Koreans succumbed to starvation in Kim's first decade in power -- a tenth of the population.
Escapees spoke of scavenging bands of skeletal orphans gnawing on bark and leaves, and human flesh being sold for meat in the country's depleted markets.
Away from high politics, Kim Jong-il was said to take pleasure in caviar, Hennessy Cognac and his troupe of 2,000 dancing girls, recruited from the country's high schools as teenagers to perform in "pleasure groups" in the dictator's 32-odd villas and palaces -- before being pensioned off at 25.
Each pleasure group was composed of three teams: a "satisfaction team", which performed sexual services; a "happiness team," which provided massage; and a "dancing and singing team". Visitors were treated to choreographed stripteases, though only Kim was allowed to avail of the other services. (© Daily Telegraph, London)