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The North Korean dictator has been back in the spotlight after claims circulated over his health earlier this year, with some claiming he had died. But the 36-year-old quashed such reports when he took centre stage at a massive military parade and public rally in Pyongyang to mark the 75th anniversary of the country’s ruling party. In what appeared to be a moment of compassion, Kim removed his glasses and wiped away tears as he apologised for his failure to guide the country through tumultuous times exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak.
Unbeknown to many, Kim’s childhood was vastly different to tyrant seen today – the second of three children Ko Yong-hui bore to Kim Jong-il – he is said to have been brought up in Switzerland where he attended the private International School of Berne and later Schule Liebefeld Steinholzli.
And there were warning signs of what was to come during his adolescent years, author Anna Fifield claimed during her book ‘The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong-un’.
She wrote: “When he first enrolled at the school in Liebefeld, Kim Jong-un started in a reception class for children who did not speak German, spending several months learning his lessons in German but at a slower pace with simpler instruction.
“To find out more about what the young North Korean learned in school, I took the bus to Koniz one day and visited the municipality office.
“Marisa Vifian, head of the Koniz education department, pulled out a big white binder containing the school curriculum from the Nineties.
“There was the usual lineup of classes – German, math, science, health, foreign languages, music, art and sports — as well as units like “The World Around Us,” which taught world religions and cultures.”
Ms Fifield claimed during a piece promoting her book that she tracked down former classmates of Kim, who remembered him well.
She said: “While his friend Joao remembered Kim Jong-un as ‘ambitious but not aggressive,’ according to an unpublished interview with a Swiss journalist, other students remember the new kid being forceful because he had trouble communicating.
“While lessons were in High German, the more formal variety of the language spoken in official situations in Switzerland, families and friends spoke to each other in Swiss German, former classmates recalled.
“This is technically a dialect, but to an outsider, it sounds so different that it may as well be Dutch.
“It was frustrating to Kim, who resented his inability to understand.
“One former classmate said: ‘He kicked us in the shins and even spat at us’.”
More interestingly, those who are said to have grown up with Kim remembered his unorthodox fashion choices.
Ms Fifield added in 2019: “The other students tended to think of Kim Jong-un as a weird outsider.
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“The North Korean always wore tracksuits, never jeans, the standard uniform of teenagers the world over.
“In North Korea, jeans are a symbol of the despised capitalists.
“One classmate remembered him wearing Adidas tracksuits with three stripes down the side and the newest pair of Nike Air Jordans.
“The other kids in the school could only dream of having such shoes, said Nikola Kovacevic, another former classmate who often played basketball with Kim after school.”
Most analysts agree that Kim Jong-un attended Kim Il-sung University, a leading officer-training school in Pyongyang, from 2002 to 2007.
Kim obtained two degrees, one in physics at Kim Il-sung University and another as an Army officer at the Kim Il-sung Military University.
His eldest half-brother , Kim Jong-nam, had been the favourite to succeed, but reportedly fell out of favour after 2001, when he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Kim Jong-il’s former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, previously claimed Kim Jong-un then became favourite to be his father’s successor over his elder brother.
On January 15, 2009, Kim Jong-il appointed Kim Jong-un to be his successor before he died two years later.
‘The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong-un’ is published by John Murray and available to purchase here.
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