Witness to the cult of North Korea's Kim dynasty

CNN/April 12, 2012

Pyongyang, North Korea -- As we leave our bus we can barely hear a sound. We have stopped near a public square in the center of Pyongyang.

Our government minders whisked us here with just a moments notice. In a country obsessed with secrecy we are only told where we will be taken at the last minute, our schedule can change even while we are mid trip.

We'd started our day at the birth place of the man North Koreans call the "Great Leader" and the father of the country, Kim Il Sung. This is the centenary of his birth and North Koreans are flocking here to pay homage. To these people Kim is more than a leader, he is akin to a god. According to the constitution he will be president for eternity.

I ask our government minder if we can speak to some people. In North Korea it is forbidden for us to simply approach someone unannounced.

He selects a group for us and then asks me to choose. They are young women, probably only in their 20s and all from the same Pyongyang factory. They are nervous, wary of our intentions.

"President Kim Il Sung is our father," one lady says. "we are one family and because of his birth he has given us a powerful socialist state."

Others here are mourning the death of the Great Leaders' son, the man they call the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il.

His sudden death last December sparked public displays of grief. For one woman we met this day the tears have not stopped.

"We used to come here with happiness but not anymore," she says. "My heart is breaking this is why I can't stop crying."

This is the power of the Kim cult. These men are dead, but in every other respect they are still alive. Here in an atheist communist country, it is no exaggeration to say they are god-like.

The drab concrete skyline is brightened only by the splashes of color of the countless thousands of portraits, paintings and statues of the leaders.

"Quickly, on the bus," our minder orders.

We are being rushed from our birthplace pilgrimage to what we are being told is a great surprise. And this is where we leave our bus.

We are ushered up a hill and there before us is a sea of people. Everyone stands in rows, silent, not even moving. Then a thunderous roar; before them are two massive mosaics, the smiling faces of the Great Leader and his son.

The people arise as one holding flowers and chanting. This is the adulation the regime demands.

Human rights groups and defectors claim people can be sent to brutal gulags for not showing enough deference, or the crime of having dust on one of the leader's portraits.

In this way the personality cult continues. And now the power is passed to a new generation -- the youthful Kim Jong Un is now the "Supreme Leader."

But the question remains: just how long can the dynasty hold onto power?

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