Almost the entire world — even those societies which have separate calendering systems — use the Gregorian Calendar. The new year begins January 1 and currently, we’re in the year 2011 — a date which marks the years since the birth of the baby Jesus of Nazareth (roughly speaking). Even China, which has a separate New Year’s celebration, follows this rubric.
North Korea, uniquely, does not.
While North Korea still uses the names of months we are familiar with, Year 1 was not two thousand and ten years ago. Rather, Year 1 was what we refer to as 1912 — which, not coincidentally, is the year of the birth of former North Korea despot Kim Il-sung (pictured above). In 1997, three years after Kim Il-sung’s death, the nation promulgated the calendar, known as the Juche calendar after the state’s official ideology of the same name.
If this seems like an attempt to elevate Kim Il-sung into the realm of the divine, you are probably right. After all, this is not the only allusion to the idea of “Kim Il-sung as god.” The landscape of North Korea is littered with statues of Kim Il-sung, calling him “the Great Leader,” as the dictator’s efforts to create a cult of personality began in earnest. In total, there are about 500 statues of him, and it is tradition for newlyweds to begin their honeymoons by finding the nearest such statue and place flowers at its feet.
And when Kim Il-sung died, his successor in the seat of power in Pyongyang — his son, Kim Jong-il (who, per a 2004 CNN article, was brought up believing he was “the son of God”) — went even further. Not only did he re-do the calendar as to imply that his father was divine, but Kim Jong-il made it explicitly clear. As of September 5, 1998, the North Korean constitution deems Kim Il-sung the “Eternal President of the Republic” — a title only he has held, and a title, by its intent, Kim Il-sung will hold for all time.
But for now, we — or, at least the North Koreans — are only in Year 100. So there is plenty of time for things to change.
From the Archives: Land of Darkness: North Korea barely appears on night photos taken by satellites.
Related: A collection of speeches and essays by Kim Il-sung on the Juche ideology, and “The Juche Idea,” a mockumentary which the New York Times called “like a Saturday Night Live Sketch devoted to Kim Jong-il.”