It has never been officially confirmed by the leader himself, or by the secretive North Korean government, however, over the years a number of reports, which do not corroborate, have been published of a Korean boy attending school in Bern that some think was Kim Jung Un, the North Korean leader.
The idea is compelling. Switzerland’s quiet safety and neutrality make it a natural choice of place for a paranoid dictator to send his children.
Here is what is known.
Korean boys went to schools in Bern
In 2009, the municipality of Köniz, part of Bern, confirmed at a press conference that a Korean boy, claiming to be the son of an ambassador, went to the state school Liebefeld-Steinhölzli, in Liebefeld from autumn 1998 to autumn 2000 – this was reported in the Tages Anzeiger. Media speculated that this boy was Kim Jong-un.
In 2009, Washington Post writer Andrew Higgins, interviewed Ueli Studer, the local director of education. He told Higgins there was a boy at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule known as “Pak-un”, who came to the school in 1998. According to the same article, the boy lived at 10 Kirchstrasse, in Liebefeld, and left abruptly to return to Pyongyang in 2000.
Photos of the boy, known as Pak-un, can be seen in this Tages Anzeiger article.
Years before, the media had speculated that Kim Jong-un had attended the International School of Berne in Gümligen, however this was never confirmed and some, including the Berner Zeitung, thought that this boy might have been Kim Jong-un’s older brother, Jong-chol.
Conversations with a classmate
In June 2009, the Berner Zeitung published a report which said that a Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule classmate of Pak-un, João Micaelo, claimed that his friend had told him he was the son of the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il.
North Korean defector claims to have looked after Kim Jong-un in Bern
In 2016, the Washington Post interviewed North Korean defector Ko Yong Suk. She claimed to be the boy’s aunt. According to her, Kim Jung-un arrived in Bern in 1996 when he was 12 and lived with her family and Kim’s older brother.
In 1998, when Kim Jung-un was 14, Ko said she became concerned that she would lose her privileged status. Her sister, Kim Jung-un’s mother, was ill with breast cancer. Ko was worried her death would break her link to the ruling family and bring an end to her privileges. Their defection started with a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, where they requested asylum. Eventually she and her family ended up in the US.
When they were in Bern, Ko said: “We lived in a normal house and acted like a normal family. I acted like their mother. I encouraged him to bring his friends home, because we wanted them to live a normal life. I made snacks for the kids. They ate cake and played with Legos.”
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 28, 2016
But the dates don’t match
The problem with these accounts is that the dates don’t match. Ko, the woman claiming to be Kim Jung-un’s aunt, says the boy arrived in Bern in 1996, however the the municipality of Köniz describes a Korean boy – Pak-un – who went to Liebefeld-Steinhölzli Schule starting in 1998. How can this be explained? Did someone give the wrong dates? Did he skip school for two years?
In his private blog, Claude Longchamp, Swiss historian and political scientist, recounts an interview with Victor Schmid, who lived across the street from 10 Kirchstrasse, where Kim Jung-un is supposed to have lived. Schmid told him: “We knew there were people from the North Korean embassy there. There were always four young kids with adults around them who were very protective. We saw them when they played basketball outside. There was one who stuck out because he was younger than the others. In hindsight, I assume that was the young Kim Jong-un.”
It is a fair bet that a number of important North Koreans spent time in Bern, Switzerland. Was one of them Kim Jung-un?