Attempting to forge a new image for himself and his country, North Korea's youthful supreme leader Kim Jong Un is allowing women to wear pants, platform shoes and earrings, making more mobile phones available, endorsing previously banned foods like pizza, French fries and hamburgers — and he's giving kids free trips to zoos and amusement parks.
The 20-something leader's focus has been on the younger generation. Following in the footsteps of his late grandfather, the country's founder Kim Il Sung, he has announcing plans to create a "children's heaven nation."
"It's all part of his image making to imitate a warm, fatherly impression like his grandfather," said Dong Yong-Sueng, North Korea specialist at Samsung Economic Research Institute.
Kim Jong Un, who officially assumed the title of supreme leader on Dec. 28 last year following the state funeral of his father Kim Jong Il, wants to establish an image that harkens back to what some North Koreans nostalgically remember as better times in the 1970s under his grandfather, a time when the country was economically backed by the Soviet Union with sufficient food to feed the nation.
Kim Jong Un's father, who had ruled since1994, was seen as a strong but cold leader.
The image of the supreme leader has significance in a tightly controlled society where people often refer to their leaders as the father of the nation with "everlasting love," as well as other fanciful names like the sun, universe, eternal general, or dear leader.
Kim Jong Un has publicly sought to embrace the youthful energy of the country.
"The powerful and prosperous Korea of the future in which you will be the masters, will be a most powerful country where every home will be full of laughter and everybody lives in harmony," he announced to a crowd of 20,000 children invited to Pyongyang at a ceremony marking the 66th anniversary of the Korean Children's Union earlier this month. The union is a state-run organization for nine to 14-year-olds.
The invited children, handpicked by party officials, were given opportunities to visit zoos, amusement parks, and attend concerts. Crowds of enthusiastic kids were seen pledging allegiance, shouting, and crying at the sight of their new leader, who wore the children's symbolic red scarf.
Kim, educated in Switzerland during his early teens, has initiated numerous policy changes to allow people more freedom and entertainment in their daily lives. North Korean state TV last month showed an image of Kim in a straw hat with a huge smile paying a visit to Mangyongdae Amusement Park and pointing at its roller coaster.
The park had recently imported new rides from France. Kim, the report said, ordered the managers to keep the rides up and running at all times and to upgrade its electronic video game arcades for citizens, especially children. Kim was also seen browsing through the park's fast food restaurant that sells hamburgers and French fries.
In the past, such delights were considered too western and were banned. But now they're endorsed by the party. "These facilities are eternal gifts to the people by our great leader," state TV reported.