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Witness to the cult of North Korea's Kim dynasty

By Stan Grant, CNN
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Western media -- including CNN -- have been invited into North Korea ahead of rocket launch
  • April 15 marks centenary of birth of "Great Leader" and father of country, Kim Il Sung
  • Kim and his late son, Kim Jong Il, are revered as gods by the North Korean people

Pyongyang, North Korea (CNN) -- 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 moment's notice. In a country obsessed with secrecy, we are told where we will be taken only at the last minute. Our schedule can change even while we are mid-trip.

We'd started our day at the birthplace 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.

Factfile: North KoreaFactfile: North Korea
North Korean citizens bow before the portraits of the founding father Kim Il-Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, April 9, 2012. April 15 marked the 100-year anniversary of the founder's birth and journalists were allowed inside the country. North Korean citizens bow before the portraits of the founding father Kim Il-Sung, left, and his son Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, April 9, 2012. April 15 marked the 100-year anniversary of the founder's birth and journalists were allowed inside the country.
A glimpse inside North Korea
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What N. Korea's rocket tells the world
North Korean rocket launch looms

"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 Leader's son, the man they call the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il.

His sudden death in 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 that 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 on to power?

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