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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Kim Seong Min

Interviewed June 23, 2024

1997 was a turning point. At that time the farmers markets started to transform themselves into marketplaces, which are what the markets are called in North Korea today. At these marketplaces, North Korea started to trade basic necessities and light industrial products.

In 2002, the marketplace was officially legalized by the North Korean regime. Of course the regime always retained control, but the regime started to rent out sections and spaces within these marketplaces so people could engage in commerce.

For many decades, marketplaces were prohibited because they were regarded as remnants of capitalism. We now see that the North Korean regime had to open this market up due to the citizens’ strong dependence on them.

The government still has control of these markets, but when you look at what is traded, they are actually products from South Korea like instant ramen noodles, coffee, radios, recorders, and even television sets. You can really see that an element of culture is being traded through these markets. It is not just a place where you buy and sell products or basic necessities.

So it is a very important place where North Koreans can be exposed to the new world. I personally think that these markets will be further developed in the future. The marketplace is no longer a place where products are simply bought and sold. It is a place where North Koreans can realize new things. It is a place where they can become more rebellious towards the regime and become more independent.

Let’s say an elderly couple sells vegetables at the market. All that they can earn by doing this is just enough to provide them with a small bowl of porridge to get by. But if you go to another section of the market, you could find a Chinese-made jacket being sold at 7,000 Korean Won. The average salary of a North Korean laborer stands around 3,000 Won, so this gives you an idea of the value.

When North Koreans see this kind of disparity within the market, they come to realize what the income gap means for them. They also start to realize that the North Korean regime is not to be trusted. In the past, they used to depend on government rations and gave all their loyalty to the central regime.
Now, when they look at what is happening in the marketplace, they realize no matter how much loyalty is given to the regime, all that is received is a sum of money that’s insufficient for buying a small amount of rice.

Their perceptions and values start to change and they realize that if they are really serious about looking after their family, then the regime is no longer trustworthy and that something must be done. For these reasons, I believe the marketplace holds great hope for the future.