01/20/2010, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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People revert to barter to cope with crisis

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
The regime’s disastrous currency reform digs a deeper hole for the country’s economy. Most people live on the edge of survival, whilst the government acts as if nothing was wrong.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – As predicted by experts on North Korea’s economy, the country’s currency reform has been a disaster. Most of its 22 million people have been forced to survive by bartering, as they wait for the government to officially release state prices.

A defector now living in South Korea spoke with his family in North Hamkyung Province on Tuesday. “I called my family to send some money to them as I had heard they were in trouble,” he said. “They told me that the current situation is unspeakably terrible. They live only by bartering with others.”

According to the defector, the barter value of products is decided according to their value in old money. For instance, before the currency redenomination, a Pollock was 1,500 won and a kilogram of corn was 900 won, so people now barter one Pollock for a little less than two kilograms of corn.

“For now, state-designated prices are still not public, so people think that selling goods for cash now would mean making a loss. Therefore, bartering has become the main method of trading for the people,” he explained.

A source who travels back and forth between the two Koreas told AsiaNews that “We face a humanitarian crisis of such proportions that crimes will go up. Before, the state guaranteed some basic goods and services. Stealing from someone clothes provided by the Communist Party made no sense. Now that everything can be bartered, someone, somewhere, will have an incentive to use force to have more than others.”

Others sources suggest that ordinary people are starting to publicly dissent from government propaganda. On 8 January, North Koreans had a day off to celebrate the birthday of  Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent, but many simply complained that being a nuclear power meant nothing if there was not enough to eat.

In the end, reform is bound to fail. The main question mark that remains is the army’s position. Only the military can end the Kim dynasty, but until the ‘dear leader’ is still alive that is not likely to happen. 

In the meantime, people are inching their way closer to the edge of collapse.

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