Redenomination Sows Deep Seeds of Distrust

The biggest side effect of the currency redenomination has been that a profound distrust of the government has taken deep root in the people. Sources say that while nobody really blamed the regime for the catastrophic famine of the late 1990s, now if small groups of people get together, they are quick to criticize the state.

The target was mid-level cadres. This was because after the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure of 2002, bribery became the main source of income for cadres charged with regulating the activities of the common people. Bribes became an institutionalized way of life for cadres in markets, factories and on collective farms, not to mention in the National Security Agency and People’s Security Ministry.

But then, in the redenomination, people lost a lot of their hard-earned assets, which they had obtained and retained in many cases by offering bribes to cadres to look the other way. There was also a redenomination in 1992, but at that time the notion of private enterprise was alien to the people, and there was little to lose.

The inability to get the distribution to which one is entitled is totally different to being deprived of one’s own property, obviously. Naturally, the more one has, the more one has to lose. Consequently, criticism turned towards the regime.

The follow-up measures only added fuel to the flames. Closing the markets hit seriously those who were living from hand to mouth. As food prices soared, food traders did not release food into the market. Some even starved in the border areas and smaller provincial cities. The authorities released emergency aid, but it was not enough to get over the crisis without difficulty.

Food distribution, which was supposed to fill the space left by the closed markets, was limited to Pyongyang. However, there was nothing to distribute, even in food distribution centers and procurement stores. The promise of the Chosun Central Bank, “Thanks to the redenomination, state-designated prices will fall by 100 times, and we will increase the people’s purchasing power 100 times by offering the same salaries as workers were receiving,” came to nothing.

Therefore, the source said, “Now, even soldiers and cadres criticize. More than 80 percent of the population no longer believes the authorities.”

Since February, the markets have opened again and a theoretical ban on foreign currency use has been discarded, but distrust of the authorities is carved deeply in the people’s minds. People believe that, looking back, the measures were all based on lies.
People have also reacted weakly to lectures on the Cheonan incident.

Although the North’s media insists that the Cheonan incident was “a fabrication made by the South Chosun authorities,” people either do not care or do not believe it.

The Daily NK’s source reported, “Until April, military and Party cadres boasted about the incident, saying, ‘Our heroic Chosun People’s Army took revenge on the enemy’, but now their words have completely changed. Now they say, ‘It was a South Chosun fabrication.’”

He added, therefore, “The people now have an indifferent attitude toward official pronouncements, and say that they don’t care whether a war breaks out or not.”

Some of the people say, “Since the authorities were facing difficulties thanks to the currency redenomination, they tried to make the people more interested in outside issues by raising tensions with the South.” At the same time, others say, “How come South Chosun did not move even after being attacked?”

Either way, inside sources say they cannot find any tension among the people over the Cheonan incident.