North Korea announced yesterday that the body of its recently departed "dear leader", Kim Jong-il, would be embalmed and displayed forever.
Following a communist tradition that dates back to the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, whose embalmed body is still on display at a marble mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow, Kim's body will have its organs removed before being soaked in a chemical bath. The body is likely to be exhibited in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, where his father, Kim Il-sung, is on display.
The procedure is likely to be performed by an institute in Moscow that looks after Lenin's corpse. The institute worked on the body of the older Kim, as well as on the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, Czechoslovakia's Klement Gottwald and Angola's Agostinho Neto.
Last month, one of the institute's specialists gave a rare interview to a Russian tabloid in which the embalming process was discussed: "It's not a pretty sight," said Pavel Fomenko, who was part of the team that embalmed Kim Il-sung. "First, all the internal organs are extracted, the veins are dissolved and the blood taken from the tissues," he said.
"The body is placed in a glass bath filled with the embalming solution, then closed and covered with a white sheet... Gradually, the water in the cells of the body is replaced by the solution." Mr Fomenko said the process takes around six months, and that the embalmed body then requires meticulous aftercare every week.
Mr Fomenko, now 78, said that Russia was prepared to help with the embalming of Kim Jong-il, and recalled that the North Koreans had paid around $1m for the embalming of Kim Jong-il's father. "I remember that when Kim Il-sung died, there were reports that he had been buried. But at the same time they were asking us to prepare our products and some days later we took off for Pyongyang." Kim senior is now on display inside a glass coffin on the top floor of the Kumsusan Palace. Visitors are required to bow three times when viewing the body, and must first pass through a full-body dust-remover, to prevent contamination.
When Kim Jong-il's body is laid to rest alongside his father's, it will be the first time that two embalmed leaders have been displayed together since Joseph Stalin's body was removed from the Lenin mausoleum in 1961, eight years after his death.
Kim died of a suspected heart attack on 17 December, aged 69, and his body was put on display before his carefully choreographed funeral on 28 December. It was also announced yesterday that memorial towers will be built for him in Pyongyang, and that his birthday, 16 February, will become a national holiday known as "Day of the Shining Star".