Glimpse of North Korea: Travels in the Empire of Kim Jong Un

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Chang Song Taek, Kim's 66-year-old uncle, was also noticeably near his side. Chang, the husband of Kim Jong Il's sister, is thought to be the second-most important individual in the young leader's entourage.

Kim, for his part, realized in the first few weeks how important it is to give the impression of being in touch with the people. Unlike his father Kim Jong Il, the junior Kim, who is only 29 -- or even younger, according to some sources -- is not just seeking to build relationships with the military. The government television station repeatedly shows him in the company of farm workers, students and children, who he allows to hug and embrace him. The message is clear: The new ruler is not shy when it comes to interacting with his people.

Kim Jong Un also broke another taboo at the parade. His father had never spoken directly to his fellow North Koreans, but instead chose to have his thoughts expressed in the form of slogans and pieces of proverbial wisdom. In contrast, his son was now speaking directly and personally to his subjects. The roughly 20-minute speech was monotonous and emotionless, but at least Kim was talking. North Koreans had never even heard the sound of his father's voice.

Still, Kim Jong Un had nothing new to say. There was only one theme to his address: "Stay the course!"

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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