North Korea remains a closed and tightly controlled socialist country, but recently a new social class called donju, Korean for money masters, have penetrated the bubble, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The donju hold prestigious state economy jobs that allow them to travel abroad. With this special freedom, the donju can ignore international sanctions on North Korea and unofficially make deals to gain personal wealth.
Popular products like Hermes handbags, Rolex watches, and smartphones have begun showing up inside a state that actively shuns much of the global community.
Although the government’s seemingly complicit relationship with the donju is unusual, the donju trace their existence to the first crack in the regime — the famines in the 1990s. During that time, the state economy nearly collapsed and became unable to provide food for many of its people, and black markets emerged to fill the shortages with bold entrepreneurs bringing food across the border from China.
Over time, with the state failing to recover, black markets became a permanent fixture of North Korean life with some estimates registering two-thirds of all employees involved in them.
These days, the elite donju class sees their country’s abrasive international politics as a threat to future business and moneymaking. With economic development recently declared a top priority, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Un could be grooming some of his people to take full advantage of a more open market, some experts believe.