Black Market Lapel Pins in North Korea

North Korean Lapel Pin

North Koreans have to wear lapel pins with the faces of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. It is common for these lapel pins to have one face or the other, unless you are a high ranking official. High ranking officials have special pins that show both faces, while the average person will have a different pin. Due to their rarity, these pins have grown in popularity amongst the population. People who can afford it are going to the black market to purchase one for themselves. To them, it is an investment that they can use when low on funds. They can trade the pin for drinks, food, board, or other services if they have no cash on hand.

Going to the black market is the only way for the average North Korean to get these lapel pins. While there are a few pins available, this is one that only high ranking officials can have. Military leaders and high ranking executives in office are the only ones to receive this special pin. People who have these pins are high up on the social hierarchy, are trusted and respected. For the average person, having this pin can make them feel as if they, too, have a high rank in the country. It is only one motivation for the increased sale in the black market.

Another motivation is to have an item that one can trade for items or services. Years ago, the item of choice to have instead of money was methamphetamine. After the government began cracking down on the sale and use of methamphetamine, however, it was no longer a viable option. These double portrait pins of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il became the popular alternative soon after the December 2011 death of Kim Jong Il. Only a handful of people could have them and there were not many for sale on the black market.

At first, the price of these pins reached 130 Yuan. Over years of continued circulation, use, and popularity, the price dropped to 40 Yuan. Part of this is also because the sale of these pins is illegal. The reason that people have to go through the black market is the fact that the government does not want the average person to have this pin. This does not do much to hinder the popularity or sale of the pins, though. Citizens continue to use these pins as a way to invest their money in items they can later sell or trade.