GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 115

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


North Korea Today
115th Edition March 2008

Women in Local Markets in Chungjin City Protest En Masse
Chungjin City Allows Market Activities without Age Restrictions
Food Prices Slowly Increase In March
Police Power Has Been Strengthened
Since The Announcement of the New Judiciary Rule, the Status of Police Has Been Elevated
Police Stations in Border Areas Initiated an Extensive Crackdown on 'Ice'-related Family Affairs
Inspection along the Border Until Arrests Are Made
Shinuiju-Nakwon Road Extension Construction to Be a Burden for Residents
Losses and Injuries in Sinuiju Road Construction Accidents
Steep Competition for College Entrance in Pyongyang
Girls Prefer Pyongyang Commercial College
Woman Professor at Gimchaek University of Technology in Pyongyang Stripped Of Her Position for Speaking In South Korean Dialect
So Lucky To Live With Our Two Daughters
Sinpo Senior Center Needs Help Desperately
A Homeless Child Burned To Death While Sleeping On a Pile of Ash
Lye Instead Of Soap for Washing


Women in Local Markets in Chungjin City Protest En Masse
This past March 4th, women who had had enough of the economic hardships protested en masse in managements offices of the local markets in Chungjin City, including Soonam district. As if prearranged, many women gathered together in front of Soonam Market and other Chungjin City local markets beginning at 1pm. They hurled extreme epithets and shouted out, “We will all die like this. If you won’t let us trade, give us food” and “We won’t die alone, we will take you with us.” The police who came to quell the situation tried to persuade the women. But the women refused to budge an inch against the market manager and the police. They told the police, “They make us work and then give us a salary that, after everything has been taken away, amounts to only 500 won. It’s like not giving us anything. How are we supposed to survive? Tell us if this kind of city policy is designed to kill its citizens or not.” “This is the end of the line!” they would shout, jealously guarding their space. “Even the law is too much!” It looked as if a large-scale riot would explode if the police tried to force them to disperse.

Chungjin City Allows Market Activities without Age Restrictions
This incident was immediately elevated to the central party from the local provincial party reporting arm. The city party also held an emergency meeting to ask its apparatchiks on emergency measures to deal with the situation. On the other hand, the central party policy makers who came up with the market age restrictions policy in the first place couldn’t come up with any ideas, floundering around in search for solutions. Faced with limited options, the Chungjin City officials decided that they could no longer afford to wait and ordered all markets in the city to “open its doors so that all women can trade, regardless of their age.” Even the provincial party recommended to the central party: “Chungjin City is not able to distribute any food to the workers, leading to decreased attendance rates in workplaces. If we block market activities, it will mean not only the stoppage of work at factories but will actually lead to many people starving to death. Let us allow all women to trade in the markets as before without age restrictions.” Soon afterwards, official notices issued by the Labor Ministry were posted, allowing all market activities in Chungjin City. Currently, all markets in Chungjin City are operating normally.

Food Prices Slowly Increase In March
Rice prices are slowly increasing across the nation as we enter March. The price for 1kg of rice in Sinuiju on February 29th was 1,300 won; but it’s jumped to 1,600 won as of March 5th. In others areas, including Hamheung, rice prices are increasing from 1,300-1,400 to 1,500-1,600 won per kg.

Police Power Has Been Strengthened
The People's Safety Agency has been authorized to directly handle criminal cases without going through prosecutors since February 1, 2008. Previously, once police officers arrested suspects, the prejudication department examined facts and evidence of the case and handed over the case file to prosecutors. It was not until the completion of prosecutors' investigation of the case file that the court made an official decision upon the case. In this old judicial process, prosecutors were frequently involved in bribery due to their high influence over a case; people who have connections with prosecutors and bribed them were often found not guilty or had light punishments. Because of such cases, from now on, once police officers finish their investigation and propose a punishment for a case, the court makes a final decision in the absence of prosecutors' investigation.

Since The Announcement of the New Judiciary Rule, the Status of Police Has Been Elevated
As a new rule that authorizes the police to directly investigate a criminal case without involving prosecutors, the status of the police has been elevated. Particularly in the case of the national border area, the power of the police has become greater than ever before due to the extensive on-going 'Ice' (a kind of amphetamine) crackdown. Under the old rule, when security agents, who are bribed with money, pressure police officers to release arrested drug dealers, they could not but do so in order to save the face of security agents. However, under the new rule, police officers no longer have to consider requests from security agents. As a result, a conflict between the police and security agents is becoming more serious.

Moreover, as the new rule has given the police the authority to control the military personnel, the police are enjoying a great power which they couldn't even imagine to wield before. In the past, only the military police (경무부) had an authority to control the service personnel. Yet, in an effort to prioritize the power of local parties, police officers have been allowed to watch over soldiers as well as to regulate military vehicles. In the past, police officers used to avoid any confrontation with soldiers due to their lower status, even when they were beaten by soldiers. Now, police officers are wielding their power over army people; they arrest the service personnel, prejudicate their cases, and sentence them.

Police Stations in Border Areas Initiated an Extensive Crackdown on 'Ice'-related Family Affairs
Police stations in the national border area of North Hamgyung Province have recently initiated an extensive investigation on 'Ice'-related family affairs. Legal affairs units hitherto had not been involved in family affairs. However, due to the increasing number of 'Ice'-related illegal activities, legal affairs units no longer could overlook family affairs. As the rate of illicit drug use among adults has been increasing, domestic violence— such as family quarrels, serious wife assaults, and extramarital affairs—has been escalated as well. The nationwide spread of 'ice' was deemed to be the root-cause of this recent rise in family violence and divorce. This is the underlying reason for the decision to tighten the control over 'Ice'-related family affairs, according to authorities. Those convicted of family violence can be sentenced to Re-education and even to death penalty, depending on the severity of crimes.

Inspection along the Border Until Arrests Are Made
The security offices along the border in North Hamgyung Province decided to focus all their efforts and resources on capturing spies beginning March 1st. They will try to capture and interrogate all drug runners, smugglers, and defectors. The authorities state, “The South Korean government’s spies are recruiting defectors and sending them back with specially manufactured drugs. These drugs were made by the Korean CIA and will mentally derange anyone who takes even a small amount. It’s meant to subvert the integrity of the North Korean socialist society by creating many mental patients among the officials and people. We must be on high alert to capture all drug runners and defectors so as to guard against their dark plans.” They plan to crack down severely on the drug dealers and defectors until they capture the spies behind the whole operation. The wholesale crackdown against the anti-socialist groups in cities and counties has already started its 40 day plan. Immediately after the completion of provincial level anti-socialist groups, inspections against central party anti-socialist groups will commence. “After the provincial inspections have ended, the central party inspections will begin and include re-inspection of those who had already been convicted of crimes a year ago. This inspection effort will be stricter than before,” they said.

Shinuiju-Nakwon Road Extension Construction to Be a Burden for Residents
Sinuiju City has decided to extend the road between Sinuiju and Nakwon(락원). The city plans to have foundation work finished by the end of March and to have the entire extension project done by September 9. As this road extension construction was designed as a joint project, each unit and enterprise is in charge of assigned sections while residents are responsible for construction expenses and labor. And this city's unilateral decision generated a great deal of discontent among the residents. Despite the complaints of the inhabitants, the municipal authorities insisted that "contribute either with money or with skills." In response to the announcement, some expressed their concerns, "how much will the payment be? We can't even afford rice. We don't want to even think about how much money the city will fleece us for this new road project."

Losses and Injuries in Sinuiju Road Construction Accidents
Shortly after the Sinuiju road construction started, there were already several critical accidents which caused injuries and deaths. A young woman and two men were killed in accidents within a day in late February. There have been 17 dead people and 40 injured by March 2. The root-cause of numerous accidents lies in the negligence of safety measures; despite the fact that the construction is highly dependent on man power, no attention has been paid to the safety concerns. Meanwhile, members of Neighborhood Unit were mobilized for the first phase of the construction from February 15-29. All units and enterprises have provided labor until March 15.

Steep Competition for College Entrance in Pyongyang
During February 25th -29th, the college entrance examination was held simultaneously in major universities across the country. The examination for admission to universities in Pyongyang also started on February 25th. In particular, due to the high population of high-ranking government officials, enthusiasm for education in Pyongyang is greater than any other city. For such a strong zeal for education, the main entrances of universities were completely packed with parents on the day of examination. To pray for successful exam results, parents and relatives ranging from 5-6 members of family members for a student taking the exam to 10-20 per student—came and stood at the entrances. Those parents and relatives who were waiting for their children to finish the examination looked even more nervous than the students.

Girls Prefer Pyongyang Commercial College
Girls in Pyongyang increasingly prefer Pyongyang Commercial College while boys favor Gimchaek University of Technology or Kim Il-Sung University. For example, it coasted around $1, 500 to $2,000 two years ago to get a certificate of graduation and dispatcher (파견장) of Pyongyang Commercial College, but recently the cost has jumped up to $3,000~$5,000. An official, who has been busy trying to obtain a certificate for his daughter and just got it, says it was very difficult even though he invested a huge amount of money and exhausted his social network.

The reason why girls prefer commercial college is that after graduation they have a better chance to get a job in hotels, restaurants, utility service sectors, and store chains, where the food problem is less severe. Meanwhile, to secure the fairness in the entrance exam, the universities and colleges in Pyongyang sealed the examination answer sheets as soon as collecting them and sent to other provinces to grade them. The result of the entrance exam is scheduled to be pronounced before mid-March.

Woman Professor at Gimchaek University of Technology in Pyongyang Stripped Of Her Position for Speaking In South Korean Dialect
Recently, a woman professor at Gimchaek University of Technology was stripped of her party membership and professorship, in addition to being sentenced to five years in a reeducation center, for speaking in South Korean dialect in her classes. A similar thing happened last December at Kim Hyung-jik University of Education when another female professor was stripped of her professorship for speaking in South Korean dialect. The reason that this is happening is that the South Korean dialect is widely used in everyday life of North Korean citizens. Students, as well as teachers, use South Korean dialect when speaking on the phone or talking with friends. This is especially true for young women because the South Korean dialects have softer endings and tone than the North Korean dialects. Expressions used by the characters in South Korean movies and TV dramas are especially fashionable among the young. One female student said that she even had trouble distinguishing the difference between North and South Korean dialects because she was so used to them both. The boys are also saying that their girlfriends speak in South Korean dialect when talking with them on the phone and that they actually prefer the South Korean dialect since it’s softer and more cuddly.


So Lucky To Live With Our Two Daughters
There is a husband and wife making a living by pulling a cart together in Chungam District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyung Province. Despite the economic difficulty and the struggle of life, they said “We are very lucky because we can live with our two daughters”. During the worst recession they have not died and have not abandoned their children. They have led their life with a positive attitude believing that their daily survival is blessed though their earnings from drawing their hand-cart are not enough.

They are waiting for their passengers on the assigned place drawing their cart from early morning every day. They have their first meal quickly around 10 am and do not eat lunch until 3 pm. The next meal or snack is usually taken past 10pm.
Even though they struggle every day, they have a dream. Someday they hope to save enough food to last them for at least 10 days and send their two daughters to school. This year their two daughters dropped out of school, because their 12-year old daughter could not buy school supplies and her shoes, and their 7 year daughter was not able to pay 2 kg of rice and 2,000 won to her kindergarten every month. Their two daughters stay in the house, doing nothing and playing until their parents come home. In order to realize their dream, the husband and wife work diligently without one day’s rest.

Sinpo Senior Center Needs Help Desperately
The Sinpo senior center is a famous facility, which is located nearby Yanghwa Fisheries Enterprise in Yanghwari, Sinpo city, South Hamgyung Province. Even though it is still in good quality compared with other facilities, the reputation has gone down as the economy has entered a recession. Currently 80 people over 55 years old reside in this facility. Around 60 percent have children but their children cannot support them. This facility serves seniors “with and without physical ability to move”. They provide corn powder soup to those without teeth while giving seaweed soup and corn-rice to the seniors with fairly good teeth conditions and physical ability.

With no heating system, these aged people have been shivering in the cold winter. They put on patched-cotton-winter-clothes, not even wearing warm underwear. The coffins are stocked in the center’s garage. If one dies, the center just buries the body on mountains without any funeral services. Actually this senior center is given no assistance like other centers for the aged. Only food is provided at the minimum level at which seniors can barely survive. A middle aged woman who works at the senior center said she feels sorry for the aged people. Even though she is determined not to end up like the seniors in the center, she is not sure if she can prevent it. She said the best way to help them is to get the government assistance, but so far the government has not supported the center sufficiently. She added that this is the time to receive external help for the center.

A Homeless Child Burned To Death While Sleeping On a Pile of Ash
Last February 21st, a homeless child (Kkotjebi) was dead in Gimchaek Steel mill in Chungjin City of North Hamgyung Province while sleeping on a pile of ash. The coal ash piles in Gimchaek Steel mill have always had warmth so that many homeless children (Kkotjebis) go there to sleep. They make temporary beds by spreading vinyl film on the ash pile. On that day, a child went to sleep without knowing that a small fire was caught on its cotton winter clothes. In a flash, the child was burnt to death without any chance to go to hospital. Year after year this kind of incidents keeps occurring.

Lye Instead Of Soap for Washing
It is hard to find households that do laundry on a regular basis anywhere in North Korea because they are running very low on soap and water. Households, which have not enough food, use lye instead of soap for washing clothes because they cannot afford soap. Also, it is difficult for households with soap to clean their clothes because they do not have tap water. What people can do is to make a hole on the frozen river and raise water to drink. Naturally, poor residents cannot help but be shabbily dressed. In addition, children have lice all over their clothes and hair because of the poor sanitary condition. A woman said “I am heartbroken to see the children who cannot bathe, shiver in cold weather while sleeping wearing never-washed, dirty clothes. Who knows our pain? Only the people with those kinds of experience can understand our suffering.” She pleaded her grievous situation saying that the food problem is not all the problem they have.
A public officer in Pyongyang said “Even though my family is rather rich, my wife uses lye to wash the clothes efficiently because dirt on clothes is not well cleaned by soap washing. It is because clothes are usually washed after wearing them for at least 10 to 15 days, not after one or two days.” and added that lye has been a more common detergent for a long time.



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