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N.Korea`s rule by gift giving

Posted October. 05, 2012 05:55,   


The Russian Revolution of February 1917, which led to the collapse of the Russian Empire, can be explained by the proletarian class struggle. The event was also possible, however, because poorly compensated soldiers did not deter revolutionary forces. The same cause led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt under a dictatorship for three decades from 1981. When his financial resources were depleted, military forces withdrew their support for Mubarak at a critical moment. Dictators care more about the top elite of 1 percent than the 99 percent of hungry people because their power depends on elites.

In 1948, North Korea set up “confidant politics” upon establishment of its communist regime. Changgwang Street in Pyongyang is a residential area exclusively for ruling party and military elites. They get luxury gifts from Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia through the Secretariat, Office 39 of the Workers’ Party, and overseas offices on the ruling Kim family’s birthdays and anniversaries. The Kims’ have the right to approve the marriage of the children of high-ranking officials and give wedding rings, luxury watches and suits in person in exchange for their loyalty.

When North Korea launched its first nuclear missile in October 2006, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 said all member countries shall not provide directly or indirectly, sell or transfer luxury goods to the Stalinist country regardless of country of origin. After Pyongyang`s second nuclear test in September 2009, the U.S. designated Office 39 the origin of illegal activities such as luxury goods transactions, counterfeiting and smuggling to block cash management for North Korean elites. This was an attempt to shake the Kims’ rule based on gifts. North’s imports of luxury items through China, however, cannot be blocked.

North Korea’s imports of luxury goods are on the rise, going from 272.1 million dollars in 2008 to 322.5 million dollars in 2009, 446.1 million dollars in 2010, and 584.8 million dollars last year. The practice of rule by gift-giving seems to have been passed down to new leader Kim Jong Un. The quality of life of the Kims and their aides did not decline despite 10 years of the “sunshine policy” and five years of a “stick policy.” If democracy is a political platform that can gain power by winning over the majority of the people to its side, dictatorship is a game of buying off a few confidants and elites for support.

Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (triplets@donga.com)