News / Asia

North Korea Bids A Snowy, Dramatic Farewell to Kim Jong Il

Kurt Achin

Snowy streets and wails of grief dominated the live broadcast from North Korea state television Wednesday, as the reclusive state bid farewell to its absolute leader, Kim Jong Il. International media were barred from the event.

The reason for reported delays in the start of Wednesday's funeral procession was immediately apparent in images broadcast by North Korea's official television network:  streets in the capital, Pyongyang, were coated in snow.

A gigantic portrait of leader Kim Jong Il mounted on a black limousine sedan led the slow drive.  Just behind it, a car carried an enormous wreath from his son and successor, Kim Jong Un.

The third car in line was the hearse itself, with the coffin apparently bearing Kim Jong Il's body rested on the roof of the vehicle on top of a bed of flowers.  The younger Kim walked on the street alongside the vehicle for at least a portion of the procession.

Special Report - North Korea: Looking Inside

Melodrama rose as the vehicle made their way through billowing clouds of snow along the city route.

In 5,000 years of history, asks a North Korean anchor voicing over the procession, can anybody tell us when we have suffered such emotional pain?

Scott Atran, Professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan. Atran, says the dramatic displays of mourning are not unique to North Korea. He spoke with VOA's Ira Mellman.

Thousands of wailing, weeping North Korean soldiers and civilians contorted their faces in dramatic anguish as official television cameras went in for close ups.

In many ways, Wednesday's procession was a bad-weather replay of a similar choreographed event 17 years earlier:  the funeral of Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung.

The elder Kim, who died in 1994, still holds the title "Eternal President." He is revered as a divine figure in North Korea's education and propaganda systems, and researchers say his persona is the single most potent source of political legitimacy in the North's unique form of government.

Related - China's Ambassador Attends Kim Funeral

Ryoo Kihl-jae is a dean at Seoul's Kyungnam Graduate School of North Korean Studies. He says the choice of officials walking along with Kim Jong Un in the procession sends a signal about the transition of power.

He says most of them were Kim Jong Il's key advisors.  Ryoo says that shows a continuity not just along the family lines of father to son, but along political lines of one regime to another.

Kim Jong Il's death leaves a young man in his late 20s in charge of the nuclear armed country.  Experts say his next six to 12 months will be a careful balancing act between courting the support of the hardline military, and exploring the economic reforms the impoverished country so desperately needs.

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