Why Did the Central Bank Erase Kim Il Sung?

Today, the North Korean authorities began
to replace all 5000 KPW bills in the country with a new note. The move does not
represent a currency redenomination of the sort implemented in November 2009.
Rather, it is a currency replacement, and for the time being only one bill, the
5000 KPW, is being replaced.

The most surprising news is that Kim Il
Sung’s likeness has been deleted from the new bill.

For a number of decades, the highest
denomination bill in circulation has featured an image of Kim Il Sung, most
recently the benevolent, smiling
portrait in use since his death in 1994. Now,
however, the front of the bill features an image of the house at Mankyungdae
where official propaganda says Kim was born, and the back contains an image of
the International Friendship Exhibition at Mt. Myohang.

Removing the portrait of Kim Il Sung at
this time may seem particularly obtuse. After all, Kim Jong Eun has been
deliberately mimicking Kim Il Sung since the beginning of his rule. From his
walk to his laugh, his hairstyle and even his speech, Kim has sought to follow
in his grandfather’s footsteps. This has been done to enhance the younger man’s
legitimacy and inspire nostalgia for the time before Kim Jong Il came
officially to power, when life was better for most people in the country.

However, it may be designed to indicate to
the population that Kim Jong Eun is now in a position to rule in his own right,
having seized control of the armed forces, administration and Party alike,
settling his ruling system into position. In such circumstances, the change makes more sense.

There may also be an international
dimension. By eliminating Kim Il Sung from the 5000 KPW and bringing in a less
overtly propagandist image, that of the International Friendship Exhibition, North
Korea may seek to symbolically proclaim that it is becoming a “normal” economically
developing country, the better to attract potential investment.

Indeed, a senior South Korean expert told
Daily NK on condition of anonymity, “Kim Jong Eun is looking for economic
results. He’s moved away from the Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il era focus on heavy
industry to concentrate on things like the apartments on Changjeon St, Munsu
Water Park, and Masikryong Ski Resort. He can’t actually go out and negate Kim
Il Sung officially, but he can change things up to really emphasize the image
of himself as leader.”

However, the simplest answer to the
question of why Kim’s image has been removed, and the one that sources inside
North Korea tend to agree with, is that a 10,000 KPW bill is going to be put
into circulation in due course, and that the new bill, when it appears, will once more feature the likeness of Kim Il Sung.

Such a step would be economically logical, since
inflation continues to eat away at the value of the Korean People’s Won. For
the time being, however, it is unclear when such a new bill will appear, if at
all. Daily NK inside sources asked banking officials about the possibility, but
were rebuffed with the answer, “Don’t ask,” an answer that only lends greater weight to the
thesis that a brand new denomination is only a matter of time.