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Coca-Cola in North Korea

Posted March. 04, 2013 08:35,   


In France after the end of the Second World War, people selling "it" were considered spies for the Office of Strategic Services, a U.S. intelligence agency formed during the war. The French people believed that red trucks dashing on the streets of the Champs-Elysees carried what would destroy their culture and spirit. Trucks that contained "it" were even overturned and bottles containing "it" were vandalized. The French Communist Party claimed that the U.S. was attempting to colonize France with "it." Rumors spread in Paris that the company making "it" was trying to purchase the Notre Dame Cathedral and use one side of the walls as a billboard for advertisement. "It" was Coca-Cola.

Tom Standage, a British writer who authored the book "A History of the World in Six Glasses," wrote, "Coca-Cola is the nearest thing to capitalism in a bottle," adding, "The moment Coca-Cola starts shipping is the moment you can say there might be real change going on (in a region)." Coca-Cola is a symbol of capitalism as well as of the U.S. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many East Germans were quick to buy the soft drink by the crate, Standage said. In 2003, protesters in Thailand poured Coke onto streets as a protest against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to the writer.

Last summer, a video clip posted on YouTube became the talk of the town as it showed Coca-Cola being served at a restaurant in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The video was taken by foreign tourists who visited the restaurant, which was founded by Korital, a joint venture between the North and an Italian company. A Coke can was placed on the table where they had pizzas. Considering that the North and Cuba are the world`s only two countries that do not officially import the drink, the Coke was obviously brought into the North through an unofficial channel. Coco-Cola has appeared again in Pyongyang, this time, right in front of the supreme leader of the Stalinist state. A red can of Coke was placed in front of former U.S. National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman, who was sitting right next to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while they watched an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang. The can even made it on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North`s ruling Korean Workers` Party.

In the 1980 South African comedy film "The Gods Must Be Crazy," a Coca-Cola bottle falls from the sky out of nowhere on a tribal village in the Kalahari Desert. Though it was thrown out of an airplane flying over the village, the tribe considers it a gift from their gods and fight each other to get it. The small bottle causes a stir in the village, so a member of the tribe embarks on a long journey to return the bottle to the gods and restore peace in his village. Blasphemous as the title might sound to the Stalinist North, the little red can hopefully signals winds of change that might be blowing in North Korea.

Political Reporter Min Dong-yong (mindy@donga.com)