The poor, isolated state of North Korea – which cannot feed its own people – has spent more than $110 million to create and maintain a “personality cult” around its late leader, Kim Jong-il who died last December.
According to Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, the North Korean government spent $10 million alone constructing a 23-meter (76-foot)-high statue of Kim Jong-il in Mansudae in the capital of Pyongyang in April. Another seven statues depicting the former ruler scattered around the nation is estimated to have cost some $50 million.
If that wasn’t enough, North Korean officials spent another $25 million to inscribing Kim Jong-il’s name on more than 3,000 “Towers of Eternal Life” at all major intersections across the country. Another $15 million was blown on replacing mosaics of both Kim Jong-il and his father, the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
But there’s even more of this pointless largesse.
Pyongyang officials allocated another $20 million to replace more than an astounding 20 million portraits of the two former leaders and another $1 million on badges bearing the faces of the two men.
However, the profligate spending is likely to continue.
The current leader, Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered party officials to generate more funds to construct even more statues honoring his father and grandfather – and to upgrade and renovate the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the eternal resting place for the embalmed corpse of Kim Jong-il.
Apparently, for propaganda purposes, North Korea seeks to elevate the status of Kim Jong-il to the lofty heights long enjoyed by his father.
"Kim Il-sung is the brand," Bradley K Martin, author of ‘Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty,’ told the Daily Telegraph.
"Life in North Korea improved while he was running the country and got worse under his son Kim Jong-il. People remember that, so the boy leader is being cast as the spitting image of his grandfather."
Chosun Ilbo noted that the regime is pressuring, even forcing, ordinary people as well as diplomats to donate funds to the government to finance these vanity projects as a “show of loyalty.” Since October, the government has extorted $150 from every North Korean working overseas.
In addition, Pyongyang is taking out usurious emergency loans from Asian, Russian and European banks.
"If it doesn't have the money, the regime should stop building statues, but instead it's resorting to extortion," a North Korean defector told Chosun Ilbo.
"Kim Jong-un's promise to make sure people have enough to eat has proven to be empty talk."
Chosun Ilbo calculated that $110 million could have purchased about 380,000 tons of corn at $290 a ton, which would greatly relieve North Korea’s estimated 500,000-ton annual food shortage.
North Korea had a GDP of about $40 billion in 2011, according to the CIA World Factbook. If the United States spent the same proportion of funds commemorating its former presidents as North Korea does, the annual price tag on such expenditures would exceed $41 billion.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.