In South Korea, several dozens people, who stand for South Koreans along with North Korean defectors, packed 770 pounds of sweet candies Choco Pies into plastic bags, which they attached to 50 giant balloons and released into North Korea from a park in the border city of Paju. The move was supposed to mean an act of rebellion against the alleged North Korean ban on the chocolate confections.
The candies, which are produced in South Korea, are quite popular in North Korea. Considering the possibility that the treats would encourage an uprising, the country’s leader Kim Jong-un reportedly banned Choco Pies from the country earlier this month.
The pies, which have received the status of something of a political statement, are viewed as a symbol of capitalism and represent a taste of the world outside North Korea.
Choco Pies have occasionally been doled out in North Korea as bonuses to workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Employees earn around $100 a month there, according to the news site Daily NK, but they able to bring home only about 30% of their salaries as a result of deductions by the North Korean government. The pies were suppose tp give the workers a literal taste of the outside world.
“Choco Pies are an important mind-changing instrument … [North Koreans] are suffering and starving, but thanks to Choco Pies, DVDs and large-scale labour migration to China, people don’t buy the old story [that the South is even poorer] and the government does not sell it any more,” Andrei Lankov, an expert on Korean studies, told reporters. Other items like DVDs have also been transported to North Korea via balloons.
“It has become a symbol of South Korean prosperity – and North Koreans read it. They are suffering and starving, but thanks to Choco Pies, DVDs and large-scale labour migration to China, people don’t buy the old story [that the South is even poorer] and the government does not sell it any more.”
“As South Korean bosses were not allowed to offer cash bonuses, which were considered too capitalist, they turned to informal incentive systems,” The Guardian explains. “Instant noodles and mixed coffee sachets are also popular, but Choco Pies are resold for three or four times their original price and have achieved almost legendary status among North Korea-watchers.”
“The fact they are from South Korea is probably part of the allure. North Koreans don’t have a lot of options as consumers,” noted Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, which works with North Korean refugees.
Those who have earned a little cash might buy a foreign DVD; if they are doing better, they might stretch to a mobile phone.
“Someone from [the North Korean port city of] Rason told me that one of the biggest reasons she defected was because of the lack of fashion freedom in the country,” Park added.