North Korea Today No. 101

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today
101st Edition December 2007

Under 49 years Prohibited from Trading Beginning December 1st
Beginning on the December 1st, anyone 49 years and younger is not allowed to engage in market and/or commercial activities across the country, according to a new central directive on market management. It instructed city administrations in major cities to examine the current state of market counter/transaction space usage and crackdown on anyone who have access to them. Furthermore, they are urged to keep a close eye on the overall climate of the market and report to the local police superintendent anyone who is non-cooperative so as to ensure a smooth operation of the markets. When notified of this latest directive, the residents expressed strong displeasure.

Prohibition of trade should come after the Welfare of the People
After a series of recent directives imposing age limits on people who can engage in market activities, countless people are complaining that these directives are unfair. Joining them – although not always out loud - are many government officials and police officers보안원 tasked with enforcing the directives, who say they have no choice because it is an order from above. People say, “How are we to live if they don’t let us trade in anything contraband, in the markets, and force us to go to work when they don’t give any public distribution or pay salaries? If this is not a world in which only the bad people thrive, then what is it?” Other voices complain even more belligerently, “They should prohibit market trade only after they make sure people are living well. Otherwise, the only people who are well-off will be the government officials간부, intelligence agency보위부, and police officers보안원.”

Phone Tapping makes Trading Difficult
Intelligence Agency officials보위부원 in the border regions are tapping the phones of the residents. It is inevitable that the people who engage in trade will be more exposed in phone tapping operations. Especially, trade people who engage in contraband items are understandably more anxious over phone tapping than others. This reflects an overall trend among the National Intelligence Agency and police stations. This past October 28th, a state-of-art phone detection device from Israel was installed between Onsung온성 and Hoeryung회령. High-tech phone detection devices have also been installed not only in border areas such as North Hamgyung Province but also in Sinuiju신의주, Hyesan혜산, and other regions.

Residents complain cell phone search as human rights abuse
Officials in Hoeryung City of North Hamgyung Province함경북도 are stepping up inspection in time with the Day of Mother Kim Jung-sook. Recently, inspectors from the National Intelligence Agency came to Hoeryung to conduct a thorough search of cell phones. The agents have been carrying around a portable phone detection device and checking houses for possible cell phone use. In one instance, agents forced themselves into a house, searching and demanding the people in the house to hand over cell phones. Recently, the agents did a surprise inspection of a neighboring house when the first house they searched didn’t turn up any cell phones. Neighbors, who were upset by the sudden forced searches, gathered around to witness the commotion. Although some complained that these searches were a violation of their personal rights, the agents paid no attention to them and yelled out to the people gathered as they were leaving after failing to find any phones, “Next time we detect any phone signals, we will levy fines no matter what!” To this, the neighbors expressed their anger and resentment.

Compassion is unaffordable
Cell secretaries and Party Secretary units from each city and province held meetings recently. They discussed how the basic, on-the-ground units of the Party can become more integrated with theeveryday lives of people and try to diagnose and alleviate some of the difficulties that the people are facing as part of an effort to bring the people closer together around the centrality of the party. But some attendees are not optimistic, saying, “How can we take care of them when we ourselves have trouble surviving? These days, compassion can lead to a trap which we can’t get out of.” On November 22nd in Sinuiju, the cell secretaries held a meeting on the problem of city residents leaving and loitering of unemployed hoodlums. They discussed how the lack of food is creating the increase in the number of residents leaving and unemployed ruffians. They discussed the problems the whole day without coming up with any specific plans; they wrapped up the meeting by saying only to pay more attention to people’s lives. Attendees said, shaking their heads that things won’t change unless there is an improvement in the fundamental living conditions.

‘Get Rid of Formalities and Vanity’
On November 30th, each district of Sinuiju City held document-based Study meetings학습회의. The first point stressed in those meetings was the removal of formalities and vanity허례허식 from the city. It included directions such as: “Make wedding ceremonies as simple as possible; don’t build luxurious 2- or3- story houses because it is against the socialistic idea; and teach your children not to hold festive birthday or other celebration parties.” The meetings also held lectures insisting on holding onto strict anti-Americanism and class consciousness. Those lectures repeated an old concept arguing that “We should not expect too much from the Six-Party Talk with America because nature of American imperialism will not change just as wolves do not change into sheep. Therefore we have to fight against the American imperialism.

“Let Them Exercise and Take Walks.”
The order prohibiting elderly people from exercising or taking walks in the parks or other recreational places has been withdrawn. The Chairman Kim Jong-Il said: “Even other countries criticize the prohibition. Our people need a freedom to exercise for their health. Let them freely do their workouts and take walks.” Due to the remark, the special order from the Party which allows exercises and walks has been issued.

Children Abandoned by Parents
Many Kkotjebi꽃제비 (homeless children) are usually orphans, but recently the number of children abandoned by their own parents is increasing. After divorce, many parents often find difficult to raise children due to strained circumstances; thus neither parent wants to take their children and abandons them in the end. Most of 4-6 year-old Kkotjebi said that their parents left them and disappeared whilst struggling with poverty. They often abandon their children on the train. It is common that parents vanish after asking their children to stay in their seats and assuring them that they would come back soon. This is how abandoned children become Kkotjebi. Some people blame those parents for abandoning their own children but more people express their sympathy toward those parents and deplore such devastated living conditions, which have driven people to do tragic things like giving up their own children.

Many Kkotjebi (homeless children) Dying of Cold While Sleeping in Winter
There is no designated sleeping place for Kkotjebi. Still fortunate are some Kkotjebi who have found places, like a heap of ashes with remnants of burning charcoals or a gas-fired boiler room, where they can warm themselves. However, Kkotjebi who fail to find such places usually sleep in a small space by the apartment buildings and cover themselves with pieces of plastic bags. Under the given such poor circumstances, especially during cold winter days at sub-zero temperatures in Celsius, many of Kkotjebi die while sleeping. In Sunam Market수남시장in Chungjin City청진시, there are more parentless children than ever before. Those parentless children roaming in Sunam Market are in very bad shape; it is even hard to recognize if they are human beings or animals. Besides those parentless young Kkotjebi, there are (grandmother-age) female senior Kkotjebi in the market. A blind female Kkotjebi in her mid-60s lives like a beggar with a small amount of money collected through singing songs on the streets.

Fight for Seats to See Movie Stars From Pyongyang
Since last November 27th, 20 movie stars from the Pyongyang film studio평양영화촬영소has started to give performances in Hoeryung. They had a performance tour visiting many places including the city culture center, University of Education교원대학교, and the Daesung Cigarette United Enterprise대성담배련합회사. Hoeryung residents even fought for better seats to see their stars more closely. To keep order, police officers turned up, shouted at them, and forced them to make lines to get into the places of performance. These performances were 2-hour long with free admission.

Rajin Residents Petition to Flood Victim Relatives Get Out of Their Houses
Rajin City라진시of the North Hamkyoung Province 함경북도 has been controlling non-registered residents within the city. Those non-residents are mostly flood victims and currently residing in their relatives’ homes in Rajin. The police stations of Rajin warn them if they do not leave within a couple days, they will be sent to the Re-education Center단련대. This intense control is due to the continuous petitions from Rajin residents. The petitions say that it is too much for petitioners to feed both their own families and the flood victim relatives, but they cannot tell their relatives ‘cold-hearted’ to get out and hope that the city take some actions on behalf of them. The number of petitioners was so large that the city could not but direct the police stations to control those non-residents. Even if those non-resident flood victims complained strongly against the control because they have nowhere to go and no food to eat, it is of no avail. Some of them tried to flee to China since they believe that it is better to be a defector than to starve to death here.

“Women Can Wear Pants Until Next February.”
Pyongyang has granted permission for women to wear pants. It used to make women to wear skirts only, but this new permission allows women to wear pants this winter from November 15th until next February.

“Ice” Presents a Big Headache to the Government
The central government is facing a difficult situation as the drug addiction problem has worsened and the occurrence of the crimes related to drug abuse is more frequent throughout the country. Teenagers’ addiction of “ice”(a kind of amphetamine)얼음 is particularly critical. One official says, “Because some teenagers rely on “ice” so much, they cannot have a normal lifestyle.” He explained several features of the “ice” addiction. “The “ice” addiction has become deep-rooted and chronic problems in this area, so the addicts want to do nothing rather than working hard; young women take “ice” before they go to the market for trading; and even old people take “ice” for light headaches. For instance, in Hamheung City함흥시, South Hamgyung province 함경남도, where the “ice” abuse is the worst in North Korea, 60 of all the “ice” addicts in the city hospital were diagnosed as mental patients in the month of November.”

Movie Theaters become Meeting Places
Nowadays movie theaters in North Korea are used as meeting places rather than places to show films. Until the end of 2005, people used to go to the theaters when new films were released. However, it is very hard for people to manage their living, so they rarely go to the theaters nowadays. There are no new good movies any more, and although new movies are released or any interesting shows are performed, people can not waste time by enjoying them because they are extremely busy with feeding and supporting themselves and their families. Some Public Enterprises기업소 and the members of the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) 녀맹 are using the theaters for public lectures and as a community hall for public movies, references, or lectures or study meetings.

Parents Deplore an Order that Students Should Wear their School Uniform
The Department of Education has issued an order that students should wear their school uniforms that the central government distributed 3 years ago. However, most people do not keep the uniforms distributed 3 years ago. Even if the students still have the uniforms, they cannot wear it anymore because they have outgrown their uniforms. Parents are complaining about the order because the rich can buy uniforms at the market, but the poor cannot afford them. Most parents do not have extra money to buy school uniforms which are 18,000 won for a boy and 15,000 won for a girl. Parents’ overall opinions are “If the central government is not going to distribute again school uniforms, they should allow students to wear their ordinary clothes in their school. How can we buy the uniforms for our children with the money we don’t have?”

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