N.Korea Drops Kim Il-sung from New Banknotes

North Korea's new 5,000 banknotes no longer feature a picture of nation founder and demigod Kim Il-sung. But the new note shows Kim's childhood home in Mangyongdae.

The new bills feature the house prominently on the front and on the back a museum in Pyongyang that displays gifts Kim and his son Jong-il received from foreign leaders.

During a botched currency reform in 2009, Kim Il-sung was also dropped from the 2,000 and 1,000 won bills.

The 5,000 won note is North Korea's largest denomination and nominally worth around US$50, though its actual market value is nearer $1. Workers in the North Korean state economy are paid some W3,000 a month on average, making it vital for most to seek other forms of income.

A North Korean source said when the new notes were officially announced on July 25, they sparked fears of yet another misguided currency reform, triggering a certain amount of chaos as food prices surged temporarily and some people began stockpiling food.

North Korea watchers are busy speculating what the removal of Kim Il-sung from the banknotes can mean.

Some say the reason is simply consistency, because the W2,000 and W1,000 notes depict the birthplaces of Kim Jong-il and his mother Kim Jong-suk.

Others point out that the old notes were easy to forge and plenty of fakes were in circulation. One North Korean source said, "Two years ago, a large amount of counterfeit 5,000 won bills from China caused chaos in the North's market."

Others read a more complicated message into the new bill, scenting a gradual erosion of the personality cult that could clear the way for current leader Kim Jong-un to implement timid reforms of the planned economy that his father and grandfather zealously maintained despite dismal failure.

Yoon Young-kwan at Seoul National University said, "Removing his grandfather's image suggest that Kim Jong-un will follow an independent path to develop the North's economy," while due homage is being paid to the former dictators by depicting their birthplaces.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 11, 2014 09:26 KST