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North Korea Today No. 108

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng

North Korea Today
108th Edition January 2008
North Korea to Attain a Great Power Status by 2012
More People Suffering Than During the Arduous March
Non-Public Distribution Management Farming Helps in Survival
2007 Was the Worst Year in Terms of Food
People Can’t Afford to Eat Boiled Corn
General Mobilization Order for Collecting Farmyard Manure until January 20th, 2008
Desertion Increasing in the Army Due to Hunger
Residents Facing Serious Water Shortages Due to Electricity Cut In North Hamgyung Province
“Ah-Oh-Ji Means Ah, Don’t Come”
Some of the Publicly Executed Regained Their Impaired Reputation
Kaesung Industrial Complex, “Try to Read South Korean Managers’ Faces to Secure a Job”
Inconvenient Entry Procedures to Kaesung
Admission to Kim Il-Sung University Can Be Bought
Ten Pyongyang Government Officials Had a Car Accident
A Military Food-Supply Vehicle Turned over
Victim of Car Accident Rather Beaten By Perpetrators
Table 1. Price of Rice and Maize in Major Cities in mid. January, 2008
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North Korea to Attain a Great Power Status by 2012
Government officials간부at every unit are undergoing training lectures as the New Year kicks off. The point of emphasis for this year’s lectures is that North Korea will become a powerful nation강성대국 soon; more specifically by 2012. 2012 is the 100th year anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung김일성. In these training lectures, they emphasize that “in 2012, we will have become a great power that will dwarf all the difficulties and challenges with which we have so far been dealing and all problems will be resolved.” In response, an attending official expressed his skepticism by saying that these promises are not new and that many have doubts after the lectures on the viability of these statements.

More People Suffering Than During the Arduous March
Some people are saying that the Arduous March고난의 행군[1] is back. Last summer was especially similar to what it was like during the Arduous March. Some homes have less food than they did during those difficult times ten years ago. They complain that the longer they live, the less hope they have of living. That is because they see people dying of hunger like back in 1994 at the beginning of the Arduous March. Furthermore, last year’s fall harvest amounts are far below the level needed.

People say that the Arduous March years were marked by people dying of starvation and malnutrition. Even those who survived during those years were merely by chance. They still have fresh memories of those harsh years. One resident recollected, “We used to live off from what we got through the Public Distribution System(PDS) 배급 without the Non-Public Distribution Management 비배(급)관리(patches of land for growing crops for individual use). When the Public Distribution System suddenly stopped, we even made porridge by cooking with the goosefoot plants능쟁이풀for pigs and the fistful of powdered corn cob강냉이묵지가루. People ate more grass than rice. More people died every year. That’s when the Republic began to see an increase in the number of thieves. When you planted potatoes or corn in your backyard and woke up the next day, you would find nothing there.” Another resident said, “How can things continue to get worse when we survived like that?” He went on to say that 2007 was as difficult as those Arduous March years.

Non-Public Distribution Management Farming Helps in Survival
Some laborers are saying that the Non-Public Distributions Management비배관리helps them survive. One laborer related, “After the incredible hardships of the Arduous March, people got some land of their own on the hills and mountainsides and farmed in the plots as if their lives depended on it, which they did. They couldn’t eat to their fill but things started to get a bit better, nonetheless. From 2003, people received small plots from their factories공장and Public Enterprises기업소, and farmed in the plots, using the fertilizer and the skills they had learned earlier from the Non-Public Distributions Management farming.

Laborers are at their busiest during the months of late May through August. Until May, they can make their way on food harvested from the previous fall, but it becomes really difficult when June rolls around. Some households, in order to last until the potato season, borrow corn against the fall harvests from richer households by promising to pay back 2 to3 times the amount borrowed. When the potato season comes, it’s not uncommon to see households who eat potatoes three times a day. Even though they are chronically famished, they still go up the steep hills to their little plots with mounds of dried human wastes as fertilizers and tend to their plots, planting them with corn and other plants. But they say that they don’t have much left when they pay off their rent for the plots and any food they had borrowed against the harvest. Even so, all the laborers say that there is a huge difference between farming in their Non-Public Distributions Management plots and not having done anything.

2007 Was the Worst Year in Terms of Food
Ordinary laborers say that 2007 was the worst year for food yet to date, if you just take the food amount into account. They used to barely survive by farming in their plots. But in 2007, they were prevented from doing so because of the new directives that regenerated the Public Distribution System and made them stop farming on their own. Of course, some regions continued the private farming by the units; but other regions that stopped the Non-Public Distributions Management are in trouble. According to the directive, any loss from not farming should have been made up through the amount distributed through the public distribution system, but nothing came because of an overall lack of food. Some residents say that, faced with no food from the public distribution system and no food from their own plots, some have given up any hope of living.

Some have taken to life of thievery, running away when caught trying to steal from their family members’ or close friends’ houses. Some have drifted away into the mountains, never to be seen again. Others are spending their everyday lives begging for alcohol to dull their pain. Others are planting corn even on the roads frequented by people and living off that. One resident who actually did this say that they eat the corn as soon as early grains appear. They even split those tiny corn grains into pieces and mix them with potatoes to cook porridge.

People Can’t Afford to Eat Boiled Corn
As a desperate countermeasure to save the short provisions and reduce the consumption, some residents of North Korea grind corn with a grater and cook porridge by mixing potatoes with it. Eating boiled corn is a way to eat it up quickly, thus they think making gruel can be a way to spare food. Because residents have only little amount of crops even after harvest, they lament the situation and have utterly no idea how to handle it. When the source of food dried up last year, especially from the end of May to August, women staying in their houses had a little portion of breakfast and supper to not feel starved, but usually skipped lunch. Some women who took care of their family’s living recalled that they were discouraged and wanted to give up everything because supporting their family was really tough during that time. Compared to the previous situation, the current condition is better because they harvested some crops; however, they do not seem to think the food situation has improved.

A woman said, “Although people plough and work hard in the farm for a whole year, crops last only for a few months. There is no choice but to save. Honestly speaking, we are barely surviving with a minimal amount of food just to stay alive.” Another woman said, “When I prepare a meal, I would buy barley that swells the most and mix it with potatoes. Sometimes I get lucky and make enough money to buy corn-floured noodle, but still, it’s mostly only the rich who can afford the corn-floured noodle, but the poor like us can’t get enough groceries and live on only the soup of thin gruel.” Even after the harvest, the price of rice is increasing up to around 1,400 won and the imported rice (long-grain rice) 안남미 has been traded at around 1,100won. Moreover, the exchange rate is raising as much as 44,000 NK won to 100 RMB.

General Mobilization Order for Collecting Farmyard Manure until January 20th, 2008
The North Korea authority declared a general mobilization order for collecting farmyard manure from January 3rd to 20th, 2008, and requested further cooperation by the involved organizations. The issue of fertilizers needs to be resolved, especially for the spring crops before everything else, so the government urged everyone to give an impetus for collecting the manure퇴비 during the mobilization period. Moreover, the central government asserted that all government officials and party members must take the lead in this national campaign, and any officials who wouldn’t support the mobilization effort or leave their offices for personal reasons without permission during this period would be punished by the Party or be forced to resign from their positions.

In this context, the party executive general assembly of each province, city and county decided to hold a comprehensive meeting to make a prototype of the campaign, and to check the procedures of the plan and performance in each unit. If any unit does not accomplish the given goal by the 20th, the mobilization will be continued beyond the time period until the goal is achieved. Current participants of the mobilization include almost all organizations and units such as City People’s Assemblies, Public Enterprises, Division Offices, the Democratic Women’s Union, factories, senior beneficiaries년로보장자, party cells and members, and students.

Desertion Increasing in the Army Due to Hunger
Facing the cold winter and hunger, the number of deserters from the North Korea Army has been increasing. At the end of last December, 2008, a soldier went awl for extreme hunger during a training period in Eunduk County은덕군, North Hamgyung Province함경북도. After running away from the training camp, he committed a burglary at a farm village and was caught and kept at a police substation분주소 in Rokyari록야리. Meanwhile, a 20-year old soldier in a maneuver company기동중대also ran away from his camp for the same reason. A special order for deserter search was given to the company and other companies joined together under arms.

Everyone points out unanimously hunger as the main reason for prevalent desertions. At the age of high appetite, solders are starved with little food, whose diet includes around 150 g of corn meal with salted cabbage and salt soup소금국 per meal. Corps that can provide diluted bean-curd dregs콩비지 at least once every 10-day are considered to be in a good condition. Soldiers said they had no chance to wear thermal underwear. Instead, they wear winter cotton clothes outside and summer t-shirts inside. The number of deserters is expected to increase due to the continuing famine and cold weather

Residents Facing Serious Water Shortages Due to Electricity Cut in North Hamgyung Province
The electricity supply has been cut off in major cities, such as Hoeryung회령, Chungjin청진 and other areas of North Hamgyung Province since the end of last year, and has not been resumed yet. The power supply for urban households often lasts only for an hour or less on average. This electricity shortage also causes a serious water shortage problem. On the first day of the New Year, residents of Hoeryung City had to draw water with a pail from the nearby rivers. Even though the tap water becomes available for a short time, it’s still difficult even for people living on the first floor of apartment buildings to get 20-30 liters of water. It is reported that farm villages and factories have been prioritized in terms of the power supply in order to manufacture daily commodities and farm appliances; as a result, urban households have been left out.

Even the industrial electrical supply is insufficient. Factories that operate normally remain few. Officials of factories say, “We lack not only the materials, but also the power supply. How can we fulfill a myriad of tasks assigned to us? Despite the situation, the authorities only pressure us for the impossible mission. We need a miracle to make it happen.” The situation seems to overwhelm most managers. They continue to say, “If we don’t finish our tasks, then they would punish us. Still, it is almost impossible for us to complete our work under the current condition.”

“Ah-Oh-Ji Means Ah, Don’t Come”
Eunduk County은덕군 in North Hamgyung Province is also called ‘Ah-Oh-Ji’아오지 in North Korea. Due to the county’s chronic poverty, residents of Eunduk county often say “Ah, Oh-Ji-Ma-Oh아오지마오 (oh, don’t come to visit here)” to people from other counties who visit Eunduk county. That is how the county got to have its nickname of ‘Ah-Oh-Ji.” An average living standard of ordinary laborers in this county is not much different from the one of farm villages: corn-rice옥수수밥 with soybean-paste soup된장국 and Gimchi김치. It is still hard for ordinary people to have steamed rice쌀밥 and Tofu soup두부국 even on holidays. As holidays or birthdays approach, parents’ concerns and burdens grow. Children who have little sense of reality still look forward to their holidays, and some kids say that they wish everyday would be a holiday, so that they can eat enough food that they can’t on normal days. Residents of Eunduk County mock themselves by expressing their pessimism that Eunduck County, a land of hunger and sorrow, would not be able to change its nickname, Ah-Oh-Ji of Ah, Oh-Ji-Ma-Oh.

Some of the Publicly Executed Regained Their Impaired Reputation
In 1997 and 1998, many government officials, scholars지식인, and repatriates귀국자 were either publicly executed or imprisoned for unclear charges by the initiatives of the Defense Security Command보위사령부. However, at the end of last year, some of the government officials who were executed during those two years were exonerated.

Kaesung Industrial Complex, “Try to Read South Korean Managers’ Faces to Secure a Job”
As several years have passed since the Kaesung Industrial Complex개성공단was first built, rumors about the industrial zone have been circulating among residents of major cities, such as Pyongyang평양, Nampo남포, and Wonsan원산. People who have heard stories about the Kaesung Industrial Complex understand that as the North-South joint venture, the South provides modern equipment and materials and the North offers labor. A resident of Pyongyang said, “According to what I have heard, workers in the Kaesung Industrial Complex work under the supervision of South Korean managers. If workers do not come to work on time or neglect their duties, managers warn them not to come to work the next day. In such cases, the warned workers usually get fired soon after and are not likely to get hired again. Therefore, workers try to read their South Korean supervisors’ faces not to lose their jobs and work hard in order to complete their assignments.”

Inconvenient Entry Procedures to Kaesung
It is quite inconvenient to enter Kaesung from other parts of the country. From the very beginning, Kaesung has been one of the forefront areas전연지대that the security procedures were always complicated to go through. In case of a business trip, the business man had to report to the authority in detail whom he would meet and in what factory, and then the pass would be issued once the details were confirmed by Kaesung City. After the Kaesung Industrial Complex had opened, those security procedures have become even more complicated. First, getting a pass has become much more difficult. Even though someone gets a pass, s/he still has to go through the strengthened inspection procedures before being able to enter Kaesung.

A government official said “prohibiting trips to Kaesung is a way to reinforce the control over the bad public opinion about the large standard-of-living disparity between North Korea and South Korea. It is also because the public has a fantasy about South Korea” and then “Kaesung is the only place allowed to talk about South Korea openly. North Koreans project the images of South Korea through Kaesung. North Koreans who have used made-in-South Korea products or have ever heard of news from South Korea have a yearning for South Korea.” The Kaesung Industrial Complex is isolated from other regions in North Korea, so residents in other parts of the country are likely to believe the words about South Korea with no suspicion. Despite the intention of North Korean authorities to control the public opinion by closing the Kaesung Industrial Complex entry and restricting the trip to Kaesung, the illusions about South Korea have been magnified.

Admission to Kim Il-Sung University Can Be Bought
A government official in Pyongyang said that he/she recently spent over $1,000 for his/her kid’s admission into Kim Il-Sung University김일성종합대학, adding that nowadays all the wealthy people and high government officials send their kids to college the same way. Consequently, some criticize that the performance of college students isn’t as good as it was in the past. Even exam scores can be raised easily with bribes. Simply put, money can solve any problems in North Korea. Kids from these wealthy families usually spend their pocket money from 500,000 won to 600,000 won per month while they are in college. In contrast, meal plans for students from the poor background consist of 120g of cooked half long-grain rice and half corn for breakfast, a few pieces of bread for lunch, and some noodle for dinner, just enough for students to manage hunger.

Ten Pyongyang Government Officials Had a Car Accident
On December 23rd, 2007, ten Pyongyang government officials who were supposed to attend the birthday event of Mother Kim Jung-Sook (Kim Jung-Il’s mother and Kim Il-Sung’s first wife) 김정숙탄생기념행사 got into a car accident. On the downward slope from the Hoeryung statue회령동상 to the City Party시당, the bus of a Pyongyang international travel agency국제려행사 , which was transporting the officials to the event collided with a truck from Hoeryung city회령시. The forepart of the truck was severely racked from the collision and the driver was arrested by the traffic patrol교통단속대 of the Hoeryung City Police Station회령시보안서. The bus driver and 10 government officials in the bus received emergency treatment in Hoeryung City Hospital회령시병원. The emergency call was made to the Chungjin Hospital청진병원for a team of doctors to come to treat the injured immediately; some patients in critical condition were transmitted to Chungjin Hospital.

A Military Food-Supply Vehicle Turned over
On December 25th, 2007, a vehicle carrying military food supplies군대보급용식량차량 turned over on its way from Daemun-ri대문리of Euijoo County의주군, North Pyongan Province평안북도to Shinuiju 신의주. In this accident, all five people in the vehicle - three laborers and two soldiers from a troop near Shinuiju - were killed.

Victim of Car Accident Rather Beaten By Perpetrators
On January 17th, 2008, a car accident had occurred on a road in Raksan-ri of Chungam District청암구역 in Chungjin City청진시. between a cargo truck화물자동차 of the Rochang Fisheries Enterprise로창수산사업소 and a cargo truck from a naval base해군기지 located in Raksan-ri락산리. From this accident, a driver in the naval truck was injured and a female sales personnel in the truck of the Rochang Fisheries Enterprise was killed. Even though it was the navy truck that violated the traffic regulation and eventually caused the accident, the sailors on the collision spot started beating the driver of the Fishery truck, which upset the area residents witnessed the accident.
Table 1. Price of Rice and Maize in Major Cities in mid. January, 2008.
(Unit: kg / North Korea Won)

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Chungjin청진 Hamheung함흥 Pyongsung평성 Soonchun순천
(North Hamgyung) (South Hamgyung) (South Pyongan) (South Pyongan)
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Rice 1,400 1,400 1,300 1,250
Corn 550 680 670 650
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[1]Arduous March or March to the Hardship고난의 행군--- These two names both refer to the same period of extreme hardship that the North Korean populace endured during the mid-90’s to early 2000 because of a massive food shortage. The North Korean government revealed the seriousness of the situation to the international community too late, and even though international food aid was sent to the country, an estimated 3 million people died during this period.
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