Authorities Order Punishment for North Koreans Who Trade ‘Double-Portrait’ Lapel Pins

north-korean-offcial-lapel-pin-jan24-2014.jpg A North Korean official wears a "double portrait" lapel pin at the United Nations in New York, Jan. 24, 2014.

North Korean authorities have issued instructions that residents who engage in the illegal trade of lapel pins of the reclusive country’s founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il, must be punished, sources inside the isolated country said.

The nation’s ruling Workers’ Party held a meeting about the buying and selling of the “double-portrait” pins, which it refers to as the “commercialization of supreme dignity,” sources said.

Authorities concluded that the Party must find and punish all those who “commercialize their supreme dignity” because they are “blinded by money,” a source in Yanggang province, which borders China, told RFA’s Korean Service.

The Workers’ Party disseminated details of its discussion on the lapel pins, whose sale is banned in North Korea, via a nationwide People’s Meeting on July 3, he said.

But there was no mention of when the Workers’ Party held its meeting or what else it specifically discussed, he said.

“Buying and selling insignia pins with the images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is a political crime,” said a source in North Hamgyong province, who declined to be named.

The cost of the double-portrait pins, which current leader Kim Jong Un used to wear, has dropped to 4,000 North Korean won (U.S. $0.57) from 200,000 won (U.S. $29) in the country, so that North Koreans now can buy them for less than the cost of one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice, he said.

Images of the Kims

Official double-portrait lapel pins used to be manufactured only by Mansudae Art Studio in the capital Pyongyang, which produces all images of the Kims.

But when the popularity of the pins grew, and people realized they could use them in place of currency, others began making imitations, pushing the price down, he said.

Smugglers now circulate imitation double-portrait and single-portrait lapel pins made in China, which are distinguishable from the official ones because their shoddy reverse side, the source in North Hamgyong province said.

Worker patrols have started to extensively inspect the lapel pins to try to find fake ones, he added.

The lapel pins are informally referred to as ggokji, a Korean slang word for “nipple,” because North Koreans must attach them to their clothing every day or risk being called out by authorities, sources said.

RFA reported in January that ordinary North Koreans were illegally buying the highly sought-after double-portrait lapel pins in local markets and using them in lieu of cash to pay for accommodations, meals and drinks.

At that time, a growing supply of pins had pushed down prices from a high of 130 Chinese yuan (U.S. $21) when they were first sold in 2012 to 40 yuan (U.S. $6.40).

One source had said the double-portrait pin was worth about 20 yuan (U.S. $3.20) when used to pay for meals in restaurants or accommodations in North Korea.

The double-portrait lapel pins appeared after the December 2011 death of Kim Jong Il, father of current leader Kim Jong Un.

The Workers’ Party gives the pins to high-ranking executives and military leaders, but not to ordinary citizens who usually wear ones with a single portrait of Kim Il Sung.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Yunju Kim. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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