Purveyors of styrofoam-stuffed flower bouquet punished in North Korea

North Korean residents pay tribute to Kim Il Sung on the 25th anniversary of his death
North Korean residents pay tribute to Kim Il Sung on the 25th anniversary of his death. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Several officials have been punished for involvement in the stuffing of a flower bouquet prepared to honor the 25th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death on July 8, Daily NK sources have reported.

“Styrofoam was placed inside a flower bouquet prepared by several members of the Pyongyang Party Committee to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Suryong’s [Kim Il Sung’s] death,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

“The styrofoam was discovered, and it turned out that the greenhouse that supplied it had run out of fresh flowers, so somebody stuck styrofoam in the bouquet to try and make it look normal.”

The flower bouquet in question was immediately noticed by a high-ranking official in the Central Party Propaganda and Agitation Department in charge of the Mansudae Grand Monument and Korean Revolution Museum.

The incident, however, became more serious when it was reported to even higher levels within the leadership. Due to its occurrence in a “period of mourning,” it was reported to both the Central Party Propaganda and Agitation Department and the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD).

The manager of the Propaganda and Agitation Department within the Pyongyang City Party apparatus was given a light warning while another member of that same department was let off with a harsher warning. The manager of the municipal Party’s exclusive greenhouse, however, was stripped of his rank and demoted to the rank of simple horticulturist.

The incident was reported to Kim Yo Jong, the director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department, who appears to have signed off on the punishments. Her involvement in dealing directly with incidents that occur during major state events suggests she wields a considerable degree of power.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) stated during a National Assembly Intelligence Committee briefing recently that her stature “has been upgraded to the level of leaders along the lines of WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea] Vice Chairman Ri Su-yong or Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium President Choe Ryong-hae.” There is no information available to determine whether her title has changed, but the NIS’s analysis suggests that she has risen to the status of a department head.

A separate Daily NK source in the North Korean capital referred to Kim Yo Jong as a “department head” and added that the recent incident involving the flower bouquet has some North Korean government officials believing that Kim is managing party and administrative issues in Pyongyang.

There is still controversy in South Korea over Kim Yo Jong’s position in the regime, however. Some analysts suggest that she is within the “top 10” of the leadership given that she sat on the first row of the “presidential seating” and fourth to the right of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the “Central Mourning Rally” held at the Pyongyang Gymnasium.

That being said, her name was 22nd in a list of names released by North Korean media at the time. Some analysts contend that there is not enough information available to delineate her position in the leadership.

The Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), which is managed by the NIS, suggested in a recent briefing on North Korean politics that Kim Yo-jong frequently reports directly to Kim Jong Un and is an “all-around player” with wide-ranging duties not confined to a specific position.

The institute also suggested that Kim Yo Jong’s stature has increased due to her own status as a member of the Mount Paektu bloodline regardless of her official status or title.

It further noted that “Kim Yo Jong is the sister [of Kim Jong Un] just like Kim Kyong Hui was to Kim Jong Il [and this suggests] she will have a role in maintaining the psychological stability of the leader.” In any case, it is likely she did not view the styrofoam replacement honoring her late grandfather kindly.