North Korea Today No. 100

Research Institute for North Korean Society]

North Korea Today
100th Edition November 2007

Warning Issued to Make No Objection to the Party Policy
The other day, the Chief of the People’s Assembly인민위원회 in Pohang district포항구역 of Chungjin City청진시 was dismissed and reduced to a laborer. It was his remark about the recent ban on not allowing women under 45 to trade in the market that caused his downfall. After hearing about the ban, he said, “Nowadays, women play major roles in bringing income to their families. I am too concerned about this ban because it will cut family income substantially.” And this remark was reported to the Party as the No.1 Report1호보고. The People’s Assembly in Chungjin City warned high government officials not to object to any directions and policies from the Party. Meanwhile, in Shinam district신암구역 of Chungjin City, some woman was arrested for her words of complaint over the ban. She was taken to a police station, and released after going through much suffering and the self criticism battle비판투쟁 of the Democratic Women’s Union(DWU)’s general assembly.

Sinuiju, Banishes Once Divorced
The residence registration control주민정리사업 in Sinuiju신의주 is getting tighter since the latter half of the year. Sinuiju is the gateway to the national border and regarded as the second most important city after to Pyongyang. In Sinuiju, the residence registration is usually not easy to file; war prisoners and Voluntary Returnees의거입북자[1] are not allowed to register their residency. These days even people who have committed crimes for food and went to the detention center교화소or the re-education center단련대for the crimes have to forfeit their residency. The city considers them not qualified to reside in the city. Even for those who are divorced, are being banished to other regions for the speculative reason that many of them turn devious. The city even makes up some reasons to expel those who are suspicious or not favored by the city. If somebody does something that is even slightly against the censorship and precepts of anti-socialism, he is banished after a public trial공개재판 or open campaign (all out campaign against reactionaries) 공개투쟁. One government official has suggested that the residence registration task would go on for a while and it would be directed to diminish the entire population in the city to make sure there is no room for disloyal people불순분자.

Cracking Pine Nuts rather than Attending School
Some school children in Wonsan원산 Gangwon province강원도, are cracking pine nuts instead of going to school. They are engrossed in peeling pine nuts and receive 500 won per 1 kilogram of pine nuts they peel. One child boasted about earning 2,500 won after having peeled 5 kg of pine nuts in 4 days. These pine nuts peeled by these innocent little kids are sold for 20,000 won per kg in Wonsan, Hamheung함흥and Pyongsung평성, 23,500 won per kg in Chungjin청진, and 26,000 won per kg in Musan무산. Considering how hard this work is for children, the wage is very low.

Control On Anti-Socialism Retrieves Brewing Residue
Members of the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) 녀맹원began to control trade and manufacture of homemade liquors under the banner of “Remove the Anti-Socialism Among the Members!” There are many families manufacturing and trading liquors secretly to be for living. The DWU has framed a plan to control trading and manufacturing alcohols and to confiscate alcohol manufacturing equipment from those houses. They even decided to confiscate the residues from brewing술깡치. However, some poor people have barely managed to earn their living bymaking liquors and feeding the residues to their pigs. They are deeply concerned that they are no longer allowed to make their living by liquors any more, as they do not know what else to do to survive.

Pyongyang Citizens Complain on the Trade Ban
Even Pyongyang평양 is going to ban women aged under 49 from trading in markets from the end of November. Currently only women under 39 are prohibited from trading in Pyongyang. The city has forced women under 39 to go out to work for various agencies such as the Road Management Breau도로관리국or the Land Management Office국토관리반. Some are deploring the fact that the most affected group because of this ban is those belonging to the lowest socioeconomic class making only 1,000 or 2,000 per day. In addition, people are experiencing major inconveniences as the new regulation prohibits street trading. They have to go all the way to the crowded market just to buy small amounts of food and vegetables, because trading is allowed only in permitted stands in the markets. Some expressed a strong complaint, pointing out that the government is banning trades without any back-up policy. Some officials are worried not only about people’s livelihoods, but about the huge burdens on the entire society as a result of this new regulation.

Luminous Traffic Signs Urgently Needed in North Hamgyung Province
Installing luminous traffic signs is urgently needed in North Hamgyung Province 함경북도. About 80 percent of this province is mountainous areas, so most roads connecting cities and counties in North Hamgyung Provice are rough and winding. Even though the road conditions are poor, they used only regular paints for the traffic signs which cannot be seen at night. Consequently, accidents have occurred consistently. For instance, Machunryung Hill마천령, which is on the border between Danchun단천, South Hamgyung Province함경남도 and Gimchaek김책, North Hamgyung Province, has one of the highest vehicle accident rates in the country. The road along the side of precipice is notorious because it is so narrow that only one car can pass at a time, and those drivers who have steel nerves find it difficult to drive on the road even in the daytime. It is all the more dangerous on foggy days, and is closed on heavy snow days. Drivers have made an urgent request to the government to install luminous traffic signs as soon as possible instead of widening and paving the road. They believe that the luminous traffic signs will reduce the number of accidents and casualties.

A bus accident at Bangwon Hill
Around 3 pm on November 17, 2007, the bus number 116 running between Chungjin and Onsung 온성tumbled down at Bangwon Hill방원고개 when it was returning to Chungjin. Four people were killed and twelve people were injured in this accident. The bus was severely damaged and cannot be repaired. Those injured from this accident were sent to the Hoeryung hospital회령병원, but they have not received any proper treatment due to lack of medication.

Manufactured Goods Can Be Traded at the Designated Stores
The government issued again a nationwide order that people should purchase all industrial goods only at the designated stores. This order intends to encourage more trading activity in these shops, and to limit the trading in the markets to agricultural products only.

45 % of Students at the Chungjin College of Mining Experienced ‘Ice’
Research on the condition of education in North Hamyung Province revealed that 45% of students at Chungjin College of Mining have experienced ‘Ice,’ classified in the category of amphatamine in North Korea. Students who have taken ‘Ice’ said they did it to keep themselves awake during an exam period. More than half of the organization and enterprise workers in Pyongyang, too, have used ‘Ice’; because it is common to take ‘Ice’ for diseases such as common cold, diarrhea, headaches, and neuralgia, due to the serious shortage of essential medicines. It is reportedly common to take ‘Ice’ during an exam period because of its stimulant effects. The ‘Ice’ is becoming considered a medicine to treat rather than an illegal drug. In the meantime, North Korean authorities are intensifying control and punishment for ‘Ice’ users and traders.

Hamheung City Ordered to Set Countermeasures against ‘Ice’
Until October 2nd , 2007, Hamheung City함흥시 had conducted an investigation on ‘Ice’ related anti-socialist groups and arrested nine producers and dealers of the ‘Ice’. The investigation results revealed that over 60% of the used ‘Ice.’ Accordingly, the Municipal Party officials and Municipal People’s Assembly officials are sharing responsibilities by the Neighborhood Unit인민반and are providing residents with lectures everyday. These public lectures aimed at propagating messages about the side effects of the ‘Ice’ and its negative impacts on the country. The Central Party requested the Anti-Socialist Conscience Investigation Patrol비사회주의그루빠 of the Hamheung City to set “countermeasures to deal with the ‘Ice’ producers and traders as well as producers and dealers of ‘Ice’ raw materials until December 10.” It was also ordered “to eradicate drug production from its roots, so that no drugs including the ‘Ice’ can be found in the city.” An official said that “these orders of the Central Party seems to come from a great concern that drugs produced in Hamheung are spreading throughout the country and they are becoming a threat to the foundation of the country.”

National Border Control Reinforced Starting November 20
The national border controls have been reinforced as the number of smugglers and escapees increase in winter when the Tumen River두만강 freezes. Since November 20th, all buses and other vehicles traveling between Chungjin and Onsung are checked at the checkpoints in the border area. At every checkpoint, prosecutory officials and National Intelligence Agency officers 보위부원check the baggage of travelers, and confiscate items such as CDs, ‘Ice’, medicines, and tradable products, and issue fines. In worse cases, people who have the above-mentioned items are sent to the police detention cells집결소or Labour Training Centres 노동단련대from one week to fifteen days. In Hyesan City혜산시 in Ryanggang Province량강도, any travelers from Chungjin or Musan are not allowed to pass through the city. As for buses and other vehicles, they are required to stop at every checkpoint in Hyesan City and male passengers are required to get off the vehicle for inspection.

Hoeryung City residents make strong complaints against National Holiday-related non-tax obligations
The City of Hoeryung회령시 is collecting 10kg of cowpeas from every household for the purpose of holiday distribution in commemoration of the Day of Mother Kim Jung-Sook. If a household is not able to give 10kg of cowpeas , then it has to pay 9,000 won in cash. This is eliciting strong complaints from the city residents. They are saying, “How much would we really get even if they collect 10kg of cowpeas Since it’s not easy to receive these holiday distributions, we’d rather they don’t collect it in the first place.” Some residents are also protesting bitterly, saying that they don’t have any place to make money now since the authorities have cracked down on market activities. They have no way of generating cash. In the face of rising complaints, some officials are cautioning, in meetings, that these complaints are very dangerous ideologically and that people should tone them down. Despite such cautions, the residents – faced with ceaseless requests for contributions such as 2kg of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, castor oil plant seeds, in addition to 2 bottles of liquor, promising a later distribution of liquor, etc. – are not showing signs of quieting down.

Residents of Onsung County also Against Non-Tax Contributions
Residents of Onsung County온성군 are also up in arms against the constant barrage of demand for non-tax contributions. Onsung County officials have ordered the residents to remit 300g of rice for the military and a sack. This past September, when some households could not remit 5kg of beans for export, as demanded by the Neighborhood Unit 인민반 of Jongsung-Gu종성구, Onsung County, they were forced to give 6kg of yellow beans. Moreover, in the elementary and middle school of Woonahm-Gu운암구, Onsung County, they are collecting 10-15kg of corn ears per class. The graduating class must remit 20kg because they have to take into account the teacher’s part as well. The parents have been up in arms against such demands, saying that they cannot possibly give so much as non-tax contributions when they don’t have enough food to eat at home, especially during such a season of lack.

Editorial To us, North Korea is still a closed society.
The most difficult and immediate problem we faced in understanding North Korea was the limited, and sometimes distorted, information. In this context, the Good Friends North Korea Research Center began to publish the weekly publication, “North Korea Today”, in order to give an objective picture of the North Korean society, thereby increasing an understanding of North Korea and contributing to unification efforts.

It is only natural that we published stories and editorials that the North Korean authorities did not find pleasing to hear, or would have rather had swept under the rugs. However, it was inevitable in our pursuit to bring to the public an accurate depiction of the difficult lives that the North Korean people lead. Every society has aspects that it would rather keep under wraps; however, these shadows disappear much more quickly when they are exposed to the sun.

The North Koreans are voicing their strong disapproval of recent orders by the authorities greatly restricting market activities. The opposing voices are unusually strong because the matter is directly related to their survival in a reality in which the central distribution and other productive work are no longer viable options. As the saying goes that it is impossible to live in Josun (North Korea) without aggressive desperation, most female heads of households can only survive by drawing from their sense of desperation. If the authorities really want to create a market management policy that caters to the difficulties of people, they should listen to the residents on what their greatest hardships and most urgently needed solutions are.

The voices of people and conscientious officials can be a medicine to cure the ills of the current situation. If there are other ways for people to survive besides the market-based trade, then the authorities must provide realistic options and create jobs before issuing the ban. Only then the authorities can convince the people not to engage in market activities. Unless the fundamental issues are addressed, it is difficult to remake the economy and elevate the quality of life of people using only temporary and superficial solutions. This is an ideal time to engage in all-inclusive governance by embracing the needs of even the lowest and the weakest.

As we look back on our time from the first to the 100th issue of North Korea Today, it is clear that North Korean people are doing their best to survive and have become much more conscious of their current situation. Therefore, we will listen more proactively to their voices and carry them more faithfully, so that their lives could undergo an improvement as quickly and securely as possible. We will also examine more carefully the policies of the North Korean authorities.

All in all, we are sincerely grateful to all of whom have supported us throughout. We promise that we will do our best to bring you news of North Korean society with objective and balanced perspective.

[1] Volunteer returnees: Korean nationals living abroad – mainly from Japan - who have voluntarily came to North Korea

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