North Korea Today No. 98

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today
98th Edition November 2007

Responsible Officials for the Administration Bureau meet in Pyongyang
This past October 28th, Pyongyang was the site of a meeting of responsible officials for the National Advisory Council for Administration. The main message was for them to manage the economic situation of their cities and counties well. Specifically, they were told to develop and strengthen foundation for export-related economic activity and pay the workers on time.

No flood aid to Saepo County in Gangwon Province
Saepo County세포군 in Gangwon Province, which suffered greatly from this summer’s floods, has not yet received any flood aid to speak of. What they have received in the way of flood relief aid per household are 2 kettles, 3 water basins, and 3 pairs of underwear. The majority of residents of Saepo County have been making rounds to their respective circle of siblings and relatives; however, since the relations are also in the same dire situation, their outlook is bleak. Meanwhile, Saepo County has many abandoned houses. This is because they are filled with mud, making it impossible for people to live in them.

Reinforcement Lectures on the Prohibition of Market Activities
As the crackdown on market activities continues, with consequent complaints among the residents, there have been a ‘flood’ of reinforcement lectures on the prohibition of market activities. Some examples of the titles of the lectures are: “Let’s have the right idea and position about the market and do well in our own jobs” and “Let’s strengthen the business of organizational ideology so that we have the right position on the prohibition of market activities.” The key messages of the lectures are “Market activities are the shortcut for twisting us away from our socialist state from the inside out. Market activities have created a huge difference between rich and poor. The purpose of our society is to allow everyone to live well despite their age or work status. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and this disease will lead us to the sickness of capitalism. This comes from market activities. All citizens should know this truth about markets and have the right ideas and do their best in their own jobs.”

In Pyongsung Market, women under 30 continues to trade ignoring orders
The reinforcement lectures also highlight the case, “Women under 30 are ignoring orders from above to stop going to the markets and are still engaging in trade activities around the periphery of the market. The Pyongsung city평성시 police are patrolling the market with officials from the Department of Labour in local government and seizing products and levying fines from 5,000 to 10,000 won. If the attitudes of the traders are bad, the penalties are adjusted accordingly.” Pyongsung city has issued passes for these women to work in factories, but there are no women who are actually going to these factories. This is because no factory seems to want to accept these women, and, even if they do so, the women won’t get paid. That’s why the women don’t even go. The complaints against the authorities for prohibiting market activities without suggesting realistic, alternate ways to survive are not subsiding anytime soon.

No Trade - when there is No Food?
Women in Soonam Market in the city of Chungjin are still debating over the ban on trade. Some expressed their strong complaints by asking: “Why do they not allow us to trade when they don’t give us food at all? Do they want us to starve to death?” Meanwhile, in the Chungjin city, since Oct. 29th, meetings are held on a daily basis to date (Nov. 10th) in all factories to discuss how not to have any more opinions about the ban.

Hazardousness of ‘Ice’ Being Stressed
As all types of lectures are taking place to warn on the use of ‘Ice’[1], Chungjin city has handed out an educational material about Ice to Neighborhood Units. The material states “The use of the drug is a very bad activity which undermines the ‘Our Way of Socialism우리식 사회주의’”. Moreover, it stresses the hazardousness of this drug by saying that it is the worst one which dims mind and destroys one’s health, also disturbs family life and social activities. It also instructs that: “You should not use Ice for when ill. It harms health rather than healing disease. You should teach your parents and children not to smoke Ice.” It also warns that those who sell or buy Ice for money will face harsh punishment. 120 Drug Abusers in People’s Hospital in Hamheung, South Hamgyung province In Hamheung함흥, South Hamgyung province함경남도, 13 households were expelled after the investigation from the Anti-Socialist Conscience Investigation Patrol비사그루빠 called the ‘Bi-sa-grupa’. There are 120 drug abusers hospitalized in the People’s Hospital인민병원 in South Hamgyung province. In Hoeryung회령, North Hamgyung province함경북도, 61 drug abusers have been hospitalized and 35 people have been arrested for trading the Ice.

Individual Land Not Retracted – Only to Increase Tax Instead
People continue to farm in their individual patches of land along with organisations, workplaces and various other units cultivating additional crops. This spring, the government banned farming for 6months fields and growing on individual patches of land. Individual patches of land and fields used by organizations and workplaces were supposed submit back to the collective farms. Soon after, for instance, and the land were returned to the people in the boarder area. They also have altered organizations to grow crops. Instead, they increased the land tax by 50 won. Whereas the tax on the land cultivating beans, barley or potatoes are still remaining at 12 to 28 won. Same applies for the individual patches of land. After the prohibition of individual crops, there were raising complaints from the community. At that time some people would set fire on the fields, and they were taken to the police station or dead, while some committed suicide. As the result, the government eventually lifted the ban with the condition that,“Do not farm on the land like the ‘landlords’” and allowed people to cultivate on small land by following the regulations that the government set. The government also increased the tax on the individual patches of land by 50 won. Some people gave up cultivating all together because they could not benefit after deducting expenses, such as the fertilizer and land tax. Only in 2006, the land tax was determined by the quality of land, ranging from 8-12 won to 30 won. Currently, individuals would have to join the Utilization Unit리용반 that distributes land and pay the tax for use.

After the 2.13 agreement, decision on withdrawing small land
Since 2006 there had been a talk about retraction of 6-month-farming fields, but the decision was only implemented after the 2.13 agreement this year. An official says, “After the 2.13 agreement, I was told the government would provide rations because the United States would send food assistance. The government opened up the food storage stored for the state of emergency비축미 in March and April 2007 when the grain was out of stock, since they thought they would receive food assistance from outside. If the government did not release the food for the state of emergency, the military might not be experiencing such difficulty now. At that time, they have opened-up all the food for the state-of-emergency in the military divisions and brigades.”

“The Chairman orders “Trains to run on time”
The Chairman Kim Jung-il ordered, “Trains must run on time.” From October 1, the order was made that the trains should operate on time under all conditions, running time was temporarily shortened. The running time between Pyongyang평양 and Hamheung함흥 was shortened from one week to 1 ~ 2 days, and it took only one day from Kangwon province강원도 to Pyungsung평성. It used to take more than 2 weeks for the train departing from Kangwon province to Siniju신의주 via Pyongyang평양, but since the order it only took 1 or 2 days. Trains between Rajin라진 and Pyongyang were operating regularly. After only a month, however, the train schedule seemed to return to the previous situation because the shortage of electricity. An express train for Siniju, scheduled to arrive at 10:00pm, was delayed until 8:00am the next day. The international train which should have arrived at 7:30 pm did not arrive until around 11: 30 pm. Operating trains on schedule seems realistically difficult.

60 Ships Still Missing
Of the ships that left ports between late September and October 1, approximately sixty ships which met storms have not yet come back. These missing ships belong to various government bureaus, including the 6.2 Port Enterprise of Construction6.2항만건설사업소, the Shinjin Enterprise of Fisheries신진수산사업소, the Ryunjin Enterprise of Fisheries련진수산사업소, the Cooperative Gold-Rock Mine협동금바위광산, the Ryunchun Natural Sea Farm련천천해양식, and the Dosanwon Enterprise도산원기업소. From September 21 to October 3, a sea alert had prohibited ships from leaving the ports. Nevertheless, ships were still allowed to leave ports with the connivance of guards at observation posts who were bribed with fishermen’s secret deals, a half haul of fish. As a result, the number of casualties has increased. Meanwhile, on October 3, five fishermen of the squid boats from Ryunchun련천, Chungjin청진 were all killed by big waves.

Controls over Incoming and Outgoing Vessels Tightened
On the East Sea동해, both incoming and outgoing vessels are under a tight control. Due to the growing number of escapees by ships, even permitted ships are required to leave a starting gear with guards at posts and to bring it back when they leave ports. Approval procedures are also complicated: brothers cannot embark on a same ship, and it is required to receive eight permissions such as an operator’s license and an entry pass. An entry pass costs 10,000 won (North Korean). To receive permissions from the eight different divisions, it costs from at least 100,000 won to 200,000 won. In addition, in order not to let it go far, a ship is not allowed to carry more than 5 litres of petrol, which is not enough to sail offshore. Thus, rich ship owners bribe guards at posts by offering one third of caught fish and carry 20 liters of petrol. Due to excessive fees and bribes they have to pay, the amount of money that fishermen eventually earned is often insufficient to afford gas fees. Some fishermen in Chungam district청암구역 sighed that “it is hard to raise a child with our annual income by going out to the sea.”

Table 1. Grain prices in four major cities as of November, 2007
(Unit: North Korea Won/kg)
Pyungsung Soonchun Chungjin Hoeryung
Rice 1,300 1,250 1,250 1,200
Maize 650 600 500 380
Long-grain rice 800 750 700 -
Powdered Maize 570 550 - 340
Kernel Skin
Noodles 200 650 580 500
Beans - 1,300 1,000 700
Mung Beans - 2,500 1,600 1,200

[1] ‘Ice’: a colloquial term for a kind of amphetamine used in North Korea

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