North Korea Today No. 97

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today
97th Edition November 2007

General Assembly of the National Party Cell Secretary Ends Early
The National Party Cell Secretary General Assembly당세포대회[1] ended earlier than planned. The deputy heads and high officials of provinces, cities and counties stayed behind in Pyongyang to participate in the ‘Fight for Ideology meeting’사상투쟁회의, but the cell secretaries were disappointed that they had to return home without having finished the event. Cell secretaries had the highest expectations and were looking forward to taking a photograph with Chairman Kim Jong-il, considering it as a family honor.

No women under 45 allowed to trade
On the October 26th, the Democratic Women’s Union(DWU) of North Hamgyung Province decreed that, beginning on December 1, 2007, no women under the age of 45years can engage in trade. The original decree had put the age limit at 30years and then increased it shortly afterwards to 40years. Now the decree bans trading by women under 45years . Each city circulated the official decree document to the members of the Women’s Association, which is part of the Kim Jong-il Revolution Studies Center, and followed up with ideology education lessons.

Members of the DWU complain strongly against the banning women under 45 to trade
When the decree was circulated in the city of Hoeryung on October 28th, most of the members of the DWU protested, “They gave us only 3 month’s worth of corn ears to eat for 6 months. How are we supposed to survive when you won’t let us trade in the markets? Husbands only make from 800 to 1,000 won per month, which is not enough to survive on. Does that mean we should only eat air?” After the announcement of the new ban, the meeting hall was noisy with loud complaints until high officials of the Propaganda Office regained control. As the women came out of the hall, they were still complaining, “This is the same as saying that we should starve to death and do nothing,” and “What on earth is going on?”

On October 30th, in Chungjin City청진시’s Soonam Market수남시장, the Division Chairman of the People’s Committee 구역 인민위원장and market managers told the women to no longer trade in the market but look for jobs in workplaces. But women’s complain voices were often so loud as to drown out the officials’ voice.

Crackdown on the market resembles martial law
Traders in their 20s and 30s are not allowed to trade in the markets. Furthermore, the authorities are getting rid of counters selling cosmetics, medicines, bags, and other prohibited goods. Many people are inspecting in the market, followed by police officers cracking down on any violations, making the whole scene resemble a martial law crackdown. In Sinuiju, each security office was ordered to continue the crackdown until individual trade activities have been completely stopped. This has caused almost all of the available police officers in the police station to basically live in the markets. They pretend to be potential customers and approach the traders. Once the traders show their goods, then they threaten him with two options, “Give up your goods or go to the municipal jail?” Which then the traders’ goods are confiscated by the officers.

Price Increase of Vegetables Causes Worry Over Making Gimchi
The season for Gimjang김장[2] has now set in as soon as the busy harvest time had ended. For North Korean residents, Gimjang at this season means preparation for next half year’s food. Since North Korean people, poor or rich, regard Gimjang before winter as a must, they are fretting about the price of vegetables higher than that of rice. Not only vegetables, but seasonings and condiments such as hot pepper, garlic, and salted fish are several times more expensive than rice. People can not even think of buying them. Some residents complained that they would not dare to purchase them because they had more basic food shortages. Even if each city government has decided to give out Chinese cabbage and Korean radish to each district, with the exception of a few big districts, those small districts do not expect much.

It is true that the prices of vegetables and other food items are indefinitely going up. While the price of Chinese red pepper powder is around 5,000-7,000 won per kg, that of domestic red pepper powder is between 10,000 and 30,000 won per kg. The price of red pepper powder has been hiked up from 18,000 won to 25,000 won per kg between Oct. 20th and 22nd in Hamheung함흥 . By Oct. 23, it went up to 30,000 won per kg in Pyongyang. The price of garlic also has gone up from 2,300 won per kg to 2,800 won per kg in Hamheung. It is 3,500 won per kg in Pyongyang평양. As of Nov. 1st, in Sinuiju, Chinese garlic is sold for 1,200 won per kg, and domestic garlic for 3,000 -5,000 won.

In addition, the price of Chinese cabbage and Korean radish has been hiked up since last fall. Korean radish now is sold at 400-700 won per kg, but it was sold for 100-200 won per kg nationwide last year. As for Chinese cabbage, the price was relatively stable – it was traded for 200-350 won per kg in major cities last year, but this year, it varies from 450 won to 1,300 won per kg depending on the region. Pyongyang has the highest price of Chinese cabbage. These circumstances make poor people unable to consider Gimjang this year. Meanwhile, rich people are upsetting them by fussing over how much red pepper and garlic they would put or whether they would put octopus in Gimchi.

Price of Rice Has Decreased More in the Beginning of November
The price of rice, which had gone down to 1,300-1,400 won per kg from 1,700-1,800 won per kg last month, is now about 1,200-1,300 won per kg. In some regions, it is 1,000 won per kg. As of Nov. 3rd, Chinese rice is sold for 1,000 won per kg and domestic rice for 1,200-1,250 won per kg in Sinuiju신의주and Hamheung. The price of rice is between 1,250 and 1,300 won in Pyongsung평성 and Chungjin청진. The price of corn is 380 won per kg in Hamheung which is the lowest, 450 won in Chungjin and Sinuiju, and 600 won in Pyongsung which is the highest among these regions.

Keep your eyes open until uncovering spies
The crack down on spies has started again the inspection of export trading companies when people thought it has come to an end. The main reason for resuming the inspection is to investigate any connection between export trading companies and the embezzlement of the government money and leakage of internal information to the outside world. Since the leakage of the internal secrets has not stopped, the government issued a special order to continue to inspect the companies until uncovering the spies.

Pursuing people disappeared for two days
Police in North Hamgyung province have been actively tracking if the residents are missing for two days. The police department and regional intelligence agencies summon family members of the missing people and investigate meticulously where the people are, what they do, etc. When the answer is not clear, they lock each family member in an individual chamber and continue the interrogation. They also ascertain whether people on a business trip are actually performing their duties in the planned location.

Workers taken to the police station just on a joke
Because of a joke, some people were taken to the police station on September 29 and are still detained. On January 17, during a break, workers at an automation company in Hoeryung회령 sat around having chats. While talking among themselves, someone joked that he wanted to visit China. A passer-by heard this and reported to the police that everyone involved in the chat wanted to go to China. The police arrested them on the spot then took them to the police station. As nobody has been released yet, there is a rumor that they might have been sent to a prison camp for political criminals.

5000MT of Rice from South Korea Provided to North Hamgyung Province
Of the loan-based rice received from South Korea through the Port Chungjin청진항, 5000MT weredistributed to North Hamgyung Province. 3000MT of rice were sent to the Gimchaek Steel mill김책제철소 and the remaining 2000MT were distributed to the regional Parties in each cities. Authorities continuously give orders to distribute rice to people to take care of the welfare of the people, and not to allocate it to the military.

Countless new policie measures Overwhelms the People
Provincial governments have intensified their fight against local traders. Upon the Chairman Kim Jung-Il’s remarks that “the market has become an antisocialist sanctuary,” the August 26 policy has been issued. The entire country has been bustling with implementing the new policy. An official said, “Recently, dozens of new measures are issued almost every week. To include detailed regulations to be implemented, they are countless. Many officials said they are overwhelmed by numerous new policies. Some of them even described new policies as a supra-party action.” As new rules and regulations are continuously announced, some people even derided this phenomenon as good news only to people who work for law enforcement agencies because of increased opportunities for regulators to accept bribery.

Both officials and residents seem to be in great confusion. While emphasizing the “information era,” the government continues to impose extensive regulations on cell-phones, Internet cafes, and even landline phones. Moreover, people are not allowed to trade or engage in market activities anymore, even though there is no sign of resuming wage payment or rations. Many people said that they do not understand what the goal of all these policies is. As a series of shackle-like policies are imposed during this difficult time, some people expressed their concern that something terrible and disastrous might happen.

Collecting Money While Implementing a Policy to Abolish Excessive Tax Burden
Meetings are held around the each provincial and metropolitan government to implement a new policy to reduce the excessive tax burden. These meetings are taking place at various units such as colleges, hospitals, organizations, companies, and town offices. However, money is collected for some other purpose as soon as the objective of the meeting is announced. For instance, participants in a meeting in Sinuiju could not help but laugh bitterly when they were told, right after they heard the meeting was to eliminate the tax burden, they had to give 10,000 won to pay for the materials for road construction in South Sinuiju.

The officials said they have no choice although they were told not to burden people with additional taxes. “How can we get the materials for construction without money?” they said. Every official agreed that it is not possible to complete the construction on time without assigning sand, pebbles, wood, petroleum, and electricity to the Neighborhood Units인민반. They rationalize this by stating, “It is better to have completed the construction by collecting money and have some officials fired for not implementing the new tax policy. Otherwise, all of us will be fired for not completing the construction on time.”

Table 1. Price of Rice and Corn in Major Cities As of Nov. 3, 2007
(Unit: North Korea Won/kg)

Chungjin Hamheung Pyongsung Sinuiju
(North Hamgyung) (South Hamgyung) (South Pyongan) (North Pyongan)
Rice 1,300 1,200 1,000-1,250 1,200
Corn 450 380 600 450

[1] Cell secretaries: those who are responsible for lowest unit in the Korean Workers’ Party
[2] Gimjang: preparing large amounts of Gimchi to consume throughout the winter

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