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Kim Jong-il (also written as Kim Jong Il) (born 16 February 1941, Vyatskoye, Soviet Union; official biographies state 16 February 1942, Baekdu Mountain, Japanese Korea) was the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He was the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army, and General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (the ruling party since 1948). He succeeded his father Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea, who died in 1994, and commanded the fifth largest standing army in the world. North Korea officially refers to him as the "Great Leader" or "Dear Leader".
CNN has described Kim as "one of the most mysterious leaders in the world." Much of this reputation stems from his infrequent media appearances, his emphasis on isolation as a key element of North Korea's foreign policy under his leadership which continued until his death in 2008.
Soviet records show that Kim Jong-il was born in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in 1941, where his father, Kim Il-sung, commanded the 1st Battalion of the Soviet 88th Brigade, made up of Chinese and Korean exiles. Kim Jong-il's mother, Kim Jong-suk, was Kim Il-sung's first wife. During his youth in the Soviet Union, Kim Jong-il was known as Yuri Irsenovich Kim (Юрий Ирсенович Ким), taking his patronymic from his father's Russified name, Ir-sen.
In 1945, Kim was three or four years old (depending on his birth year) when World War II ended and Korea regained independence from Japan. His father returned to Pyongyang that September, and in late November Kim returned to Korea via a Soviet ship, landing at Sonbong (선봉군, also Unggi). The family moved into a former Japanese officer's mansion in Pyongyang, with a garden and pool. Kim Jong-il's brother, "Shura" Kim (the first Kim Jong-il, but known by his Russian nickname), drowned there in 1948. In 1949, his mother died in childbirth.
Kim Jong-il's official biography states that he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain (백두산) in northern Korea on 16 February 1942. Official biographers claim that his birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow over the mountain and a new star in the heavens.
According to his official biography, Kim completed the course of general education between September 1950 and August 1960. He attended Primary School No. 4 and Middle School No. 1 in Pyongyang. This is contested by foreign academics, who believe he is more likely to have received his early education in the People's Republic of China as a precaution to ensure his safety during the Korean War.
Throughout his schooling, Kim was involved in politics. He was active in the Children's Union and Democratic Youth League (DYL), taking part in study groups of Marxist political theory and other literature. In September 1957 he became vice-chairman of his middle school's DYL branch. He pursued a program of anti-factionalism and attempted to encourage greater ideological education among his classmates. He organized academic competitions and seminars, as well as helping to arrange field trips.
During his youth Kim's interests included music, agriculture and automotive repair. At school he repaired trucks and electric motors in a practice workshop, and he often visited factories and farms with his classmates.
Kim Jong Il began studying at Kim Il-sung University in September 1960, majoring in Marxist political economy. His minor subjects included philosophy and military science. While at university, he also undertook production training at Pyongyang Textile Machinery Factory, as a road-working apprentice and as a worker building TV broadcasting equipment.
Kim joined the Workers' Party of Korea in July 1961. He began accompanying his father in "tours of field guidance", which consisted of visits to factories, farms and workplaces around the country.
Kim Jong-il graduated from Kim Il-sung University in April 1964.
Kim is also said to have received English language education at the University of Malta in the early 1970s, on his infrequent holidays in Malta as guest of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff.
The elder Kim had meanwhile remarried and had another son, Kim Pyong-il (named after Kim Jong-il's drowned brother). Since 1988, Kim Pyong-il has served in a series of North Korean embassies in Europe and is currently the North Korean ambassador to Poland. Foreign commentators suspect that Kim Pyong-il was sent to these distant posts by his father in order to avoid a power struggle between his two sons.