North Korean Premier Apologizes for Great Confiscation

kim-yong-il.jpgIf absolute power is never having to say you’re sorry, what could this possibly mean?

On Friday, Premier Kim Yong Il apologized for the aftermath in a meeting with government officials and local village leaders, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source in North Korea.

“Regarding the currency reform, I sincerely apologize as we pushed ahead with it without a sufficient preparation so that it caused a big pain to the people,” Kim read a statement during the meeting at Pyongyang, according to the paper.

Kim said the government “will do its best to stabilize people’s lives,” saying it will ease its curb on markets and re-allow the use of foreign currency, the paper said. [AP, Hyung-Jin Kim]

The AP helpfully notes that the Premier is the third-most powerful man in North Korea, after Kim Jong Il and Kim Yong Nam.

This is simply astonishing … an open admission of failure and defeat? From these people? In such a system, apologies tend to portend dark things. It may well be that the removal of Pak Nam Gi, the Finance Director of the Workers’ Party, and Kim Dong-Un, the head of Bureau 39, will now expand into a broader purge of party officials. Purges are dangerous things for regimes. Even when they don’t fracture the leadership, they weaken it, as The Great Purge of 1937-1939 weakened the Soviet Army. To this day, there is still speculation that Stalin was poisoned by aides who thought they’d be purged next.

Just as significant, the regime is now reversing some of the Great Confiscation diktats, or so says an anonymous source for the Chosun Ilbo:

He indicated that the regime will allow people to use foreign currency, which has been banned since the reform, and permit open-air markets to return to normal after a crackdown that seemed aimed at strangling a nascent market economy. But Kim at the same time stressed the need to stick to state-set prices, adding that the government will strictly crack down on the hoarding of goods.

Some experts say the situation in the North has returned to almost the state before the currency reform. A South Korean official said North Korean authorities loosened their control of the markets since there has been unprecedented resistance from ordinary people. This seems to have forced Kim’s hand.

After Kim’s apology, most money changers and illegal traders who had been arrested were reportedly freed. The number of people leaving for China has grown noticeably as offices of state agencies or state-run corporations involved in earning dollars, which suspended business due to the ban on use of foreign currency, have resumed business. [Chosun Ilbo]

The source claims that the apology has “quenched a lot of the simmering public anger,” though this is a report I find difficult to credit too much:

“Premier Kim Yong-il’s direct apology to village chiefs, who are representatives of the people of each region, is tantamount to an apology to the people themselves. It’s a big event in the history of North Korea,” a former senior North Korean official who defected to the South said. “Authorities have never apologized to the people for wrong policies before.” He believes the apology came “because discontent with the currency reform had spread widely even among core supporters of the regime,” he added.

Residents in Hwanghae Province are in some cases said to have beaten security officers who were cracking down on the use of dollars.

But of course, much of the damage can’t be undone. You can’t unburn a pile of worthless currency; revive people who’ve been starved, executed, or killed themselves; or restore confidence in a currency that’s under the control of unstable and arbitrary people.

Furthermore, in a system where power is a zero-sum commodity, for the first time, people fought the system and lived to fight again. To a lot of people used to being under the heel of absolute power, an apology is going to look like weakness. It will invite more challenges. Indeed, the Chosun Ilbo’s source agrees that this apology may invite North Koreans to become more assertive in the future.

7 comments

  1. “Furthermore, in a system where power is a zero-sum commodity, for the first time, people fought the system and lived to fight again. To a lot of people used to being under the heel of absolute power, an apology is going to look like weakness. It will invite more challenges. Indeed, the Chosun Ilbo’s source agrees that this apology may invite North Koreans to become more assertive in the future.”

    This was more or less what I also thought upon reading about this earlier today.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  2. KCJ says:

    It’s a big event in the history of North Korea,” a former senior North Korean official who defected to the South said. “Authorities have never apologized to the people for wrong policies before.”

    Oh, the last 18 months have been interesting for ‘firsts’.

    In no special order:

    An American, Robert Park walks into North Korea and invites demands that Kim Jong Il step down and ‘repent.’;

    The DPRK tears up all agreements with the ROK;

    KJI misses the 60th anniversary of the revolution in KIS Square;

    An American President visits the DPRK to ask for Al Gore’s employees’ release;

    The ROK government openly discusses contingency plans for the DPRK’s collapse;

    The US Ambassador openly discusses the human rights violations of the DPRK;

    ORASCOM (sp?) an Egyptian telecom firm sets up cellular phone infrastructure in North Korea for an estimated 70,000 (soon to be 120k) users;

    Actual North Korean defectors became the dominant balloon/leaflet launchers into NK;

    A major (and award-winning) motion picture is produced in the ROK depicting the horrid lives of the North Koreans (The Crossing).

    I am surely leaving out several milestones, but I’ve only been in the ROK for the past 18 months and its been wild, to say the least.

  3. Sonagi says:

    If the North Koreans are fighting back and living to tell about it, I wonder if the government might seek training and equipment from their neighbor who is experienced in quelling large uprisings.

  4. If China is giving that sort of advice to Iran, naturally they’d do the same for North Korea. When UNSCR 1874 was being drafted, China fought hard to keep the right to sell weapons to Kim Jong Il. All of the world’s most brutal governments have Chinese support now.

  5. james says:

    this is absolutely HUGE.

    the people won.

    i remember reading about one story when the veterans in their 70s and 80s spoke up, it make others unafraid of speaking up.

    they need a new revolutionary leader.

    the people are ready to fight back.

    if i was KJI, i’d make sure the 1st thing i do is get food in the population’s stomach right now.

    ‘dem belly full but we hungry. a hungry mob is an angry mob….’

  6. Sonagi says:

    “If China is giving that sort of advice to Iran, naturally they’d do the same for North Korea. “

    Well, that might explain why Iranian hackers targeted Baidu last month, earning applause from the fenqing of all people.

  7. Ernst says:

    So the people put up a fight now. That’s good but it won’t change leadership in NK for now. Ideally, you need some properly armed vigilante groups rather than a bunch of ‘hostile class’ waving spoons and shoesoles. Didn’t Hwang Yang Jop say that only the army can kick KJI out ?

    In any case, as I have argued before, for the sake of global economic recovery, it is better that NK will remain the dim place it is for the next 18 months as well as that KJI stays alive. Stockmarkets always react very badly to instability in nuclear armed countries and we can really do without another Dow / FTSE crash.

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