As of December 31, 1998

On the 50th anniversary of its founding in September, North Korea officially declared Marshal Kim Jong Il as its "Great Leader," symbolically lifting him to the position held by his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, who died in 1994. Little is likely to change as a result, however, as the younger Kim had already been running the country since the death of the patriarch. Kim the Elder is revered as a deity, a fact symbolized by a constitutional amendment passed this year proclaiming him to be the nation's "Eternal President."

Kim Jong Il presides over a nation with no independent press and a population kept in isolation from news of the outside world. Information about North Korea is extremely difficult to obtain. The handful of foreign journalists allowed to visit are kept on a very tight leash by government minders, and the few North Korean websites offer a highly filtered view of the country, mostly proclaiming the triumphs of socialism and the evils of capitalist South Korea, with whom the North is in a perpetual state of war.

Occasionally, the tightly controlled press provides a note of inadvertent comic relief. The official Korean Central News Agency informed its readers in June that Korean military leaders invented a flying car 400 years ago and used it to combat enemies. According to Master O Myong Ho, a researcher at the History Institute of the Academy of Social Sciences, the flying car, equipped with "flexible wings" and "jet propulsion," repelled Japanese aggressors in 1592.

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