Many news analysts have recently observed that North Korea is not so much a “Communist state” as it is a personality-driven “cult.”

A dictatorial dynasty rules the country, which was first established by the current leader’s father

Noted psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, once studied the methodology of “education” used by North Korea within prisoner of war camps in the fifties. His conclusions were published within his seminal book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

What can easily be seen from Lifton’s writings is that North Korea has a long-standing and well-established expertise in what is commonly called “brainwashing.”

Its absolute authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Il, known now as “Great Leader,” controls all the media, military and environment. Lifton calls this “milieu control,” which is the foundation for a thought reform program.

Something called “Juche,” is the detailed dogma or ideology used to control the North Korean population, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Lifton calls such an ideology the “Sacred Science” of Totalism.

Like many cult leaders Kim has exploited his followers, it is estimated that he holds $2 to $4 billion dollars in European banks. He also lives lavishly, while most of his people go hungry. During the 1990s mass starvation took the lives of 2 million in North Korea.

But North Koreans are still officially called “Kim Il Sung’s people.”

Sounds a bit like “Sci-fi cult” leader “Rael” calling his followers the “Raelians” or David Koresh and his “Davidians” doesn’t it?

This is what Lifton calls “Doctrine over Person.” That is, when the group uses its dogma to supercede and blur individual identity.

Kim’s regime is certainly a closed system not easily permeated by outside ideas; the country can be seen as little more than a giant cult compound.

One expert says that North Korea has “carefully constructed illusions.” And such cultic “illusions” often whither when subjected to an outside frame of reference and the free exchange of ideas.

According to recent reports there is now some critical “whispering” about the “Great Leader” within his nation compound. Perhaps “Kim Il Sung’s people” are beginning to consider the possibility of a future without a cult leader.

Lifton has written extensively about cults and “cult formation.” He lists three primary hallmarks that define a destructive cult.

1. A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;

2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;

3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Sounds just like North Korea.

Fans are often obsessive about their idols and some can develop into a kind of “cult following.”

Recently, one group of sports fans took their obsession so seriously they established a church to honor their hero Argentina football star Diego Maradona, reports Ananova.

According to the “First Maradonian Church” we are now living in 42 AD. That is, 42 years after the birth of Maradona. And of course “AD” stands for “after Diego.” The church’s 100 members celebrate Christmas in October on their icon’s birthday.

Not to be outdone Americans in the United States have long worshipped at the altar of Elvis. Portland, Oregon has its very own “Church of Elvis.”

Stars who die young like Elvis and another evolving rock legend Kurt Cobain, often develop enduring cult followings.

Cobain’s recently published diaries seem to have largely energized his loyal fans. The Nirvana star’s journals expose a tormented genius, ultimately overcome by self-loathing and drug addiction.

A new film titled “Frida” starring Selma Hyek, is sure to feed the flame that still burns brightly for the unconventional Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s personal catharsis forged her own unique life, art and cult following.

What most often generates a “cult following” is a person who breaks with convention to establish something new. Such personalities are especially romanticized and their image empowered when they struggle to overcome adversity and/or personal obstacles, suffer and/or die young.

Some cult followings have developed into mass movements. Three historic examples are Nazism in Germany, Italian Fascism and Iran’s recent embrace of Islamic fundamentalism. Each of these mass movements was largely established and driven forward by a single charismatic personality.

However, cult followings that evolve into personality-driven movements are not always bad, such as Gandhi of India and Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

History also offers examples of mass movements intended for good that somehow went bad. Inititially created by an icon espousing idealism, but later evolving into abusive totalitarianism, like Communist Russia, China and North Korea.

Whose to say which “cult icon” today might be the impetus behind a new mass-movement or religion?

Could there be a “Church of Madonna”?

Probably not—this “Madonna” only claims she is “like a virgin” and hasn’t really established anything new. Nor does it seem likely that she will abrubtly depart anytime soon.

Increasingly it seems that a cult following is developing within Russia regarding its current leader Vladimir Putin, reports The Globe and Mail.

The former KGB agent now President has an approval rating higher (70%) than his American counterpart George W. Bush. Books and songs have been dedicated to him and Russians seem to think he has brought respectability back to the Kremlin after years of bungled bureaucracy and sordid corruption.

But apparently unlike past Russian icons such as Lenin and Stalin, Putin reportedly wants no hero worship and discourages such reverence.

Historically totalitarian Communist regimes have produced quite a few personality cults such as China’s Chairman Mao, Kim Il Sung “The Great Leader” of North Korea and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam.

Interestingly, when Stalin died, despite his brutality the people of Russia wept. And in North Korea today even though much of the population suffers from starvation they still appear to be loyal followers of “The Dear Leader,” Kim Il Sung’s son.

Putin is wise to discourage such hero worship. Historically, personality cults have not served Russian well, from the times of the Czars to its era of Commissars. Statues of Lenin are now toppled throughout the former Soviet empire and Stalin is viewed as almost Satanic. Putin can leave a more lasting legacy by acting as an agent for positive change rather than an icon.