Naughty or nice, North Korea's Kims still get gifts

North Korea has a massive soft spot for the gifts given to its leaders.

The isolated, impoverished nation has dedicated a museum to more than 220 000 items, including a bear’s head and a bullet-proof limousine, sent to “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung and “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il from around the world.

The International Friendship Exhibition hall, about 160km north of the capital Pyongyang, is a huge structure built into a mountain.

Regional powers such as the United States meeting in Beijing this week in an attempt to end Pyongyang’s pursuit of atomic weapons have chastised the North’s leaders for letting the country slip into poverty.

But the message in the museum is the North’s leaders are truly wise and the gifts, mostly from communist leaders and a few political figures viewed as pariahs by the West, prove it.

“North Korea maintains this museum for gifts to show off to its people how much praise its leaders have received from overseas,” said a South Korean official who once visited.

No item is too small or mundane. On display are rag dolls that sell for a few dollars, wooden wall clocks and a living room set sent by a South Korean furniture maker.

“This is how the world recognises the fact that the late Kim’s doctrine will prevail,” a tour guide at the museum said to a group of visiting South Koreans this week.

‘Gifted’ leaders

Other displayed items include a bullet-proof limousine given to Kim Il-sung from Soviet leader Josef Stalin, a bear’s head from Communist-era Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu and a railway carriage donated by China’s Mao Zedong.

Libya’s Moammar Gadaffi sent a sword in a gold-studded sheath and Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito gave a gold cigarette box.

Gift-giving is a staple subject in North Korea’s state media, where eternal president Kim Il-sung still receives tributes 12 years after his death.

The museum guide proudly said people and officials from 179 countries had sent gifts in honour of the North Korean ideal of self-reliance. Plaques on the wall list the number of countries to which the Kims have travelled, from which they had received gifts and the hours they spent meeting visitors.

A word to diplomats and dignitaries: If you go to Pyongyang, you had better bring gifts.
And expect them to be displayed.

In 2000, former United States secretary of state Madeleine Albright brought a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. One of Kim’s three known sons is a basketball fan.

The late leader of the Hyundai Group has given a luxury sedan. CNN founder Ted Turner gifted a clock.

Kim Jong-il is also known for his generosity, the guide said. In visits to army units in the past few weeks, he has given away several machine guns, automatic rifles and binoculars. - Reuters

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