Kim Han Sol is a soft-spoken, bespectacled 18-year-old student who has his ear pierced and hopes to one day work toward “world peace.” He’s also the grandson of Kim Jong Il, the late dictator of North Korea and one of the most reviled despots on the planet.
In a first-ever interview recently uploaded to YouTube, Kim Han Sol sat down with former Finnish member of parliament Elisabeth Rehn to discuss his life and his unusual family.
Han Sol’s father, Kim Jong Nam, had been widely tipped to succeed Kim Jong Il until he was arrested while entering Japan with a fake passport from the Dominican Republic in 2001, reportedly during an attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Jong Nam and his second wife Lee Hye Kyong eventually moved to Macao, a picturesque former Portuguese colony on China’s southern coast, and home to a gambling industry larger than even Las Vegas. There, their son Kim Han Sol lived in obscurity, shepherded by bodyguards and attending an international school. His online media presence — with appearances on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and the dating site Asiafind — became an occasional hot topic in South Korean and Japanese news media.
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Last year, Kim Han Sol moved to the historic city of Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to further his studies at the United World College after Hong Kong rejected his visa application. Months later, his grandfather, Kim Jong Il died in Pyongyang and his uncle, Kim Jong-un, assumed leadership of the repressive regime.
Han Sol said in the interview that he had never met his grandfather. “I was waiting for him until before he passed away, hoping that he will come find me,” he told Rehn. “I really didn’t know that he knew that I existed. I always wanted to meet my grandfather, wanted to know what kind of person he is, wanted to know more about his personal things.” The teenager also denied ever having met his uncle Jong Un. “I don’t know how he became a dictator.”
Kim said he led a sheltered childhood, living with his mother’s family in North Korea; he only found out much later that he was the Dear Leader’s grandson. “When I was growing up in North Korea, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. I spent some time at my mother’s place. The standard was ordinary, I really didn’t get to know until later on that my grandfather was a leader in Korea. That was quite an interesting experience,” he said.
“Little by little, through conversations that my parents had, I started to put puzzle pieces together and started to realize who [Kim Jong Il] was.”
Han Sol said that he planned to pursue a university degree, volunteer and eventually dedicate himself to humanitarian projects. He said he wanted to “contribute to building world peace, especially back home.” Rehn, a former Finnish minister of defence, praised him for his goals. “I would very much to have you as one of my grandsons, but you have of course your own parents,” she said.
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