As the nation is officially atheist, what’s the explanation for this puzzling order from the Communist Party that the entire nation will pray on Dec. 29 for the late Kim Jong-il?

“The North said it would place Kim’s body in the Kumsusan memorial palace in Pyongyang,” reported Time magazine, “and would hold a national mourning period until Dec. 29, when “all the people in the nation will spend three minutes in silent prayer.”

Who will they pray to?

The Times of India ran an Associated Press story citing the ordered three minutes of prayer, noting that all entertainment would be banned during the mourning period and that the country would accept no “foreign delegations hoping to express condolences.” 

London’s Daily Telegraph interpreted the order to pray for three minutes – and the day on which it will occur — differently: “There will be 12 days of mourning and, on December 28, a state funeral will see cannons fired across the country and three minutes of silence. ”

For outsiders to be baffled by North Korea is nothing new. The late dictator was a puzzle, noted the Telegraph:

Mocked in the West for his monochrome zipped suits, his bouffant plume and his short, portly stature, Kim Jong-il was described in his

own country as a uniquely brave soldier, the “Generalissimo” who succeeded in repelling American and South Korean aggression for decades.

Born “Yuri Irsenovich Kim” in Russia, where his father was organizing a guerrilla campaign against Korea, the younger Kim did not step foot into Korea until after the end of the Second World War.

But according to North Korean legend, he was born on the peak of Mount Baekdu, the sacred volcano which is central to Korea’s creation myth.

A double rainbow appeared at his birth, and a new star shone in the firmament.

Other myths suggest that Kim shot a 38-under-par round at the inauguration of Pyongyang’s first golf course in 1994, including eleven holes in one. He also invented the hamburger, or, as the North Koreans call it, the Gogigyeopbbang, or ‘double bread with meat.’ And he was able to skip going to the bathroom; one government website briefly claimed that he had no need to urinate or defecate.

The same propaganda machine is already molding Kim Jong-un, his 29-year-old successor, into a version of his grandfather, always showing him in a Mao suit, with his hair swept back and a grave expression on his face. While the myths about the Kim family appear ludicrous to the West, they sustain a population who many predicted

would have balked at their totalitarian rule decades ago.

The first official photo of heir-apparent Kim Jong-un

Little is known about the new leader.  “The young man tipped to be North Korea’s next leader and propel the Kim dynasty into a third generation is even more of an enigma than his mercurial father,” reported Agence France Presse:

Kim Jong-Un’s life is shrouded in mystery, but in recent years he has been pushed to the forefront as his father apparently speeded up plans for the nation’s second dynastic succession, after suffering a stroke in August 2008. In September 2010 the son was made a four-star general and given senior ruling party posts, despite his lack of any military experience.

It was only then that state media published his first-ever adult photograph — an image of a chubby young man dressed in a dark Mao-type suit sitting in a line-up of top communist party officials.

Since his elevation, Kim Jong-Un has been constantly at his father’s side, and is said to be actively involved in state affairs.

In a memoir, Kenji Fujimoto, a former Japanese sushi chef for Kim Jong-Il, described the Swiss-educated Jong-Un as a “chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape and personality”.

Some analysts had seen second son Kim Jong-Chul as favorite to take over. But Fujimoto said in his memoir that Kim thought of Jong-Chul as effeminate and unfit for leadership.

Eldest son Jong-Nam apparently spoiled his prospects after being deported from Japan in 2001 for trying to enter with a forged passport while attempting a visit to Tokyo Disneyland.

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