Recent reports suggest that the consumption gap is widening in Pyongyang, increasing tension between North Korean residents and the regime. According to sources inside the country, the newly affluent middle class, known as the donju, are fueling the trend by providing premium high quality products to wealthy customers while offering sub-standard items to ordinary citizens.
"Pyongyang, the heart of the revolution, is becoming a place of severe income disparity - even more so than in a capitalist state. This is because the privileged classes are in control of the Pyongyang Department Store [No.1], the General Markets, and the trading infrastructure," a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on February 27.
According to the source, the government gives priority to executives and wealthy individuals for the trade and management of department stores to secure funds for the Party and the military. What this has resulted in is a situation in which all the prosperous individuals are either direct relatives of officials or those who donate significant loyalty funds to government departments.
Having absolute power over trading infrastructure, the donju have taken control of the market in Pyongyang with the authority to import foreign goods freely, and price them however they wish.
"They provide expensive high-quality Chinese goods to department stores and inferior goods from the peripheral regions of China to general markets. It is an overall strategy to promote a consumer gap in society defined by economic status," the source said.
"In recent days, even the merchants in the General Markets have started to distinguish between the wealthy and the poor, and sell goods in a way that effectively prices out the poorer consumers," she explained.
As a result, many residents are feeling alienated from the benefits of marketization, and complaints against the regime are rising. In addition, criticisms are increasingly targeting the wealthy class who are openly squandering their money while maintaining their wealth through the political control of enterprise assets.
"The majority of Pyongyang citizens are beginning to detest the donju, who ignore the suffering of ordinary people while spending ridiculous amounts of money openly. Some of the more opinionated residents are saying that, 'They (the cadres and donju) should be bumped off first if a war breaks out,'" a source in Pyongyang added.