What Is the Difference Between ‘Gift’ and ‘Remembrance’ in North Korea?

[imText1]On 23rd, Sankei Shinbun reported “North Korean government was not able to provide gifts for the people on Kim Jong Il’s birthday”.

Some carefully speculate that it might be ‘the result of financial sanction by the United States.’ It was presumed that the order from North Korean central government, “this year, the gifts are to be distributed by local governments” implies the money exhaustion in North Korea.

However, order such as ‘local governments should provide gifts’ is not new. Even before, ‘gifts’ for the officials were distributed from the central government, while ‘gifts’ for the students were provided by local governments.

Gifts For the Children Were Provided by the Local Government

The word ‘gift’ is used differently in North and South Korea. In South Korea, ‘gifts’ are exchanged between significant others, parents and children, colleagues and acquaintances. However, in North Korea, only those received by the Leader is called ‘gift’. Therefore, ‘gift’ between usual people is called ‘a remembrance’.

It was thirty years ago when the North Korean central government provided ‘gifts’ for the first time. On the 65th birthday of Kim Il Sung in 1977, they provided school uniforms and candies, the first ‘gifts’, to the children and students throughout the country.

In the text book in history for North Korean students in middle school and high school, ‘Revolutionary history of the Great Leader Kim Jung Il’ states that the ‘gift of love’ has started since Kim Jung Il declared that “For the 65th birthday of the Leader, the party will provide clothes for the students throughout the country”. Since then, ‘gift’ has symbolized the mercy and generosity of the Leader.

At that time, students older than 7 years received school uniform, shoes, stationeries, candies and snacks, and children less than 7 years old only received candies and snacks.

It requires a huge amount of foreign currency in order to provide ‘gifts’ for approximately 50 thousands students at once. Therefore, after the first ‘gift’ in 1977, the central government ordered the local governments to ‘prepare the gifts by earning foreign currency on their own’. Since then, uniforms were provided for the children older than 7 years old every other year, and candies and snacks for the children between 1~12 years old.

Since 1987, however, ‘gifts’ were sold cheaply instead of being provided. Although the goods were sold cheaper than the market price, they were no longer for free, and they were called ‘supplies’.

Only candies for the children were still called ‘gift’. However, since mid 1990s, the number of different candies was reduced and the qualities of candies were different region.

Gifts provided for the children are actually ‘self-earned gift’, which are bought with the foreign currency earned by exploitation of child labor through projects called ‘Kids’ Projects” such as collection of recyclable steel and paper, and raising rabbits.

High Officials Still Receive ‘Gifts’

However, the gifts provided for ‘the secretary department of the central government officials’ can still be called ‘gifts’. ‘the secretary department of the central government officials’ refers to officials elected by the secretary department of the central government.

Officials in the central party, central departments, ministries, local government, local safety agency, local security agency, local police department, local courts and local secretaries, secretaries of local departments, chairmen of people’s committee, director of security, chairmen of safety and security agencies, officials in police and trials are included. In the military, officials above regimental commander and general level are included.

Besides, personnel who fought against the Japanese, and who are in charge of projects regarding South Korea receive gifts as well. Those who receive the gifts are the highest elites who are supporting the North Korean regime. They receive suits, high quality alcohol, cigars, tangerines and apples every year on Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s birthday.

On the reporting on Sankei Shinbun about the termination of provision of ‘gifts’, it is not clarified if the gifts to the secretary department of the central government officials or to the children were terminated.

If the reporting were referring to the former, it would reflect the serious financial difficulty they are going through. However, it is very unlikely. Gifts are the symbol of prerogatives that those who support Kim Jong Il regime have. Unless Kim Jong Il has given up on sustaining the regime, such change is not likely to happen. If the reporting were referring to the latter, it is nothing to be read into too deeply as it’s an everyday affair.

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