GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 139

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



North Korea Today 139th Edition June 2008



“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”

Senior Officials at Gimchaek Steel Mill Meet Over Absentee Workers
Difficulties at Gimchaek Caused by the Bankruptcy of the Jangsaeng Company
Workers and Security Collude To Steal Equipment at Gimchaek Steel Mill
College Students Get 120g of Ground Corncob Meal
“When Did You Give Us Uniforms To Wear?” Protest Parents
Crackdown on Uniforms: “Go Change and Come Back”
Students Who Recently Entered Elementary School Were Placed in Second or Third Grade
Parents Need to Pay Teachers’ Business Traveling Expenses
Uncovering Embezzlement of a School Fund
Mobilizing in Farming Areas is a Big Burden for Members of Democratic Women’s Union
Expecting a Big Amnesty on the Founding Day of Korea Worker’s Party
[Opinion] South Korea Should Give 200,000 MT of Food during This Farm Hardship Period Rather Than Just 50,000 MT


Senior Officials at Gimchaek Steel Mill Meet Over Absentee Workers
Gimchaek Steel Mill (김책제철소), located in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, has not given out any rations since January. This is leading to many workers not reporting to work because they are not receiving any food and there is no food in their homes. To deal with this situation, senior officials in management and workforce association held an emergency meeting and decreed that everyone must report to work. If workers fail to report voluntarily, the officials will send a disciplinary team to bring them in forcibly and make them undergo further education training.

Difficulties at Gimchaek Caused by the Bankruptcy of the Jangsaeng Company
“The everyday lives of workers at Gimchaek Steel Mill are no longer tolerable. They are indescribable,” say Kim Chun-kwan, 49-years-old. Although some rations are trickling out, they only go to select people and most workers don’t get anything at all, leading to large-scale absenteeism. Kim says that this problem is the result of the Jangsaeng Company (장생회사) going under. “When President Kim Chul of Jansaeng Company was here, he at least sold steel to get rations and salaries of the workers. It wasn’t as hard then. Now we have more and more workers not coming to work. We try our best but it’s getting more difficult to get them to come.”

Workers and Security Collude To Steal Equipment at Gimchaek Steel Mill
In the singles dormitory in Gimchaek Steel Mill, workers are provided with a meal of ground corncob and long grain rice(안남미). Unable to overcome their hunger, some workers are stealing and selling steel plates and equipment from the mill. In early May, two sets of soldering irons and transformers were stolen. Teams of security and workers patrol every night, but they have been unable to end the thefts. Some patrols even cooperate with the thieves and turn a blind eye in return for a share of the spoils. By now, the mill possesses very little equipment.


College Students Get 120g of Ground Corncob Meal
Students in the Mine Metallurgy College(광산금속대학교) in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province are only getting 120g of ground corncob mixed together with bits of rocks for meals. They say, “You wouldn’t give this to an animal.” Students of means can buy their food from a restaurant or pay local households to make them decent food. Kim Song-hyun, 19-years-old, says, “We don’t expect much from school food. We are just going to get our diplomas since we are not learning that much anyway. This is the season for students to go out and help in the farm regions. But those students with money paid 150,000 won to get out of it.” Ultimately, it’s the poor students without money who end up working in the fields and eating food not even fit for animals.

“When Did You Give Us Uniforms To Wear?” Protest Parents
It’s mandatory for students to wear uniforms. The authorities have stated that they will check to see if students are wearing uniforms. They told parents to make sure that their children wear uniforms. But parents have a different opinion on the matter. 39-year-old Kang Joo-yeon lives in Pyongsung. She says “Does it make sense for them to tell us to dress our children in uniforms when they haven’t given them to us?” Even if you wanted to buy the uniforms privately, there is no solution. The manufacturers all have differing colors and fabrics. They take similar fabric from whatever is imported from China and make uniforms out of them. It’s no wonder that each uniform is different from one another. But the authorities are making an issue of those differences and preventing students from wearing their uniforms.

Even worse, the costs of these uniforms are a heavy burden to parents. One skirt for a junior high school girl is about 16,000 won, but there is no guarantee that one skirt will last throughout the year since the children are always growing at that age. Kang says, her voice rising, “They say that you can’t wear it because it looks a little different. Then again, the kids are growing every day, so you have to buy the expensive uniforms again. I don’t know if this policy is really for the people. We try to send our kids to school to get an education no matter how difficult life becomes, but at this rate, I don’t have the confidence to continue doing so. Why is the government making life so difficult for us by not allowing uniforms that are slightly different? They say it’s because the differences are against the ideals of the collective? Is that right?”

Crackdown on Uniforms: “Go Change and Come Back”

The students are inspected every morning on their uniforms and hair neatness. If their uniforms do not fit strict regulations or look sloppy, they are sent away and told, “Go back and change!” On the streets, disciplinary teams(규찰대) roam around looking for violations against the uniform code. 16-year-old Kim Young, a junior high school student from a local school in Pyongsung, says, “Sometimes there are more members of the disciplinary team than pedestrians, so it looks like something is happening.” She admits to being sick and tired of these crackdowns by the disciplinary teams.

Students Who Recently Entered Elementary School Were Placed in Second or Third Grade
The parent of a student who is going to Namhyang Kindergarten(남향유치원) in Pohang District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province anxiously said, “This school teaches students only before noon and it doesn’t have classes in the afternoon. Kindergarten school expenses seem to be bigger than elementary school. To decorate classrooms, observe holidays, and conduct other events, they unreasonably ask parents to contribute 5,000 won for every event. Because it is very difficult to survive this year, we have thought that we would let my kid stay at home and send him to elementary school next year. But I was told that they will place a late-entered student in the second grade if he is even one year older than others, so I am worried if my kid will not catch up to the class without taking lessons in the first grade.”

Without considering parents’ plans to have their children enter elementary school one to two years later, the school authority places these students in classrooms according to their ages. Depending on the age of newly registered students, schools in Chungjin, North Hamgyung Province placed them in the second or third grade. Many of the students placed in higher-level classes have never attended school before. When asked about the one to two-year learning gap among the students, the school authority responded, “There is no problem because each student can learn the missing contents by themselves.”

Parents Need to Pay Teachers’ Business Traveling Expenses

A teacher of Jagang County in Jagang Province had trouble because he didn’t have business traveling expenses when he needed to receive an award presented by the Central People’s Committee. Although there is a fund for business travel, the nation created this fund without considering current prices of commodities, so it is a far below what is needed. Furthermore, the county’s bank didn’t have enough cash, so he didn’t receive the expenses appropriately. After making every effort, the school authorities decided to collect some money from the parents of their students. The parents contributed about 80,000 won, but they were embarrassed because collecting the teacher’s traveling fund was a large and unreasonable burden. The teacher is also dissatisfied because the sum is not enough for the travel.

Uncovering Embezzlement of a School Fund
Choi, Bong-ik, age 33, who has instructed the Boy Scouts(소년단) at a middle school of Onsung County, North Hamgyong, was arrested by the County Prosecution because he embezzled 250,000 won from the Fund of Children’s Plan[1]) (꼬마계획자금) and used it for his own business. In similar cases where teachers have used school money for personal business and were subsequently arrested, Mr. Choi took the lead in criticizing them. Ironically, he made the same mistake and confessed that he did this immoral business because he owed money for his wedding and needed money to start his new married life.

Mobilizing in Farming Areas is a Big Burden for Members of Democratic Women’s Union
Like the metaphorical expression “The Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) is running, the Sarocheung(사로청;Socialist Working Youth League: SWYL) is standing, and the Party is just waiting,” During the current mobilization, the members of DWU pursued all kinds of enterprises and tried to find any feasible way to maintain their living and feed their family. DWU projects included trading at the market from early dawn to midnight without taking enough sleep, farming on small patches of fields, collecting wild greens, and working as day laborers. It is not easy to maintain their living because this is the period of mobilization in agricultural areas. The members have allotments for a day, so they cannot go home before they finish their duties, any arrangement that has become stressful. This system can be called a contract work method in which a primary unit and the Neighborhood Unit have to receive and achieve individual quotas. The quicker they finish their quotas, the more time they have to prepare for their trades and feed their family. When they are in urgent and unexpected circumstances, they can skip the given duties by paying 1,000 won. They need to pay 2,000 won a day when they skip the duty without acceptable reasons.

Depending on the situation, rich people often use this method because they seem to think that it is much better to make money or secure food rather than having a hard time in the mobilization for agriculture. Hwang, Eun-oak, age 49, lives in the Soonam district of Chungjin City. Hwang said “It is very difficult to maintain a living during the period of mobilization. We recently had rain for four days, so many people felt cold during the rice planting and actually got a cold. Even though I had a fever and muscle aches, I still went to work because I would have had to pay the penalty in the contract system if I missed the duty. This is the reality in Chosun (North Korea), where poor and ordinary people have to work even when they are sick.”

Expecting a Big Amnesty on the Founding Day of Korea Worker’s Party
To celebrate the founding day of the Korea Worker’s Party on October 10, 2008, there was an announcement of a big amnesty in advance. According to the terms of the amnesty, the Party will lessen the period of detention in prison and allow special release. It is expected that about 30% of criminals who are currently imprisoned in North Korea will receive this special benefit. Prisons are now making lists of those convicts due to be released, which will be submitted to the courts. Some people think that this amnesty could be a good chance to make money, leading to an increasing number of families of incarcerated criminals being pressured to bribe prison officials. The families are gathering money because the amount they give to the court and to the judges can reduce the period of detention by a maximum three to four years. To achieve the full three to four year reduction, it is necessary to pay at least 3 million to 5 million won, so it is impossible for ordinary people to even think about gathering enough.

News of Incidents and Accidents
On May 24, there was a burglary in the accounting warehouse of a Local Food Administration Unit(양정수매사업소) in Sariwon City, North Hwanghae Province. A security official guarding the warehouse discovered the theft and tried to arrest the perpetrators, but he was attacked with an ax. The official died on the spot and was robbed of food and weapons.

Also on May 24, there was a vehicle accident between Gohwon County and Jungpyong County, South Hamgyung Province in which the 116 bus (116기동대 버스), involved with troop maneuvers, collided with a truck belonging to the support bureau of the Fourth Corps. In this accident, four passengers died and seven people were injured. The wounded were sent to the Jungpyong County hospital and are receiving treatment.

On May 25, the Kyongsung County Police Station, North Hamgyong Province held a public trial. The court presented ideological criticisms and judged five defendants who had traded metal. One worker at the Kyongsung pottery factory was sentenced to three years of re-education and two members of the Democratic Women’s Union of the district office were sentenced to two years of re-education. The chief of the Police Station gave a strong warning speech to residents and emphasized the fact, “Don’t trade metal.”

[Opinion] South Korea Should Give 200,000 MT of Food during This Farm Hardship Period Rather Than Just 50,000 MT
The Unification Ministry has expressed its intentions to give 50,000 MT of food to North Korea. This is a good beginning. It has been some time since Good Friends and other international aid groups began to publicize the acute food shortages of North Korea and encourage, along with domestic and international media, South Korea to donate food to the North. The minimum amount of food needed to stave off starvation during the June and July farm hardship period is 200,000 MT of food. If you are going to help, you might as well help so that it makes a difference. Therefore, South Korea should give the 200,000 food urgently needed and not just the 50,000 MT of food.

What good is arguing over who asks whom first about what, or whose harvest production numbers are more accurate when people are starving to death? Don’t they know the extent of the tragedy? You have people falling into malnutrition, dying of diseases because they get poisoned from eating grass, and the young and elderly dying off because they lack the strength to fight off common diseases? What good is South Korea going to achieve through a stare down with North Korea when people are starving to death? What are they going to believe if they refuse to believe news from inside North Korea that people are risking their lives to deliver to the outside world? While bureaucrats are arguing over the accuracy of the numbers and politicians are calculating their political capital, people are dying because they don’t have anything to eat.

It doesn’t matter if North Korea produced 6 million MT of food or 1 million MT of food. If people are starving to death, then they are starving to death. You can’t argue with what’s happening in front of your eyes today in North Korea. It’s also true that North Korea doesn’t have the ability to solve this situation internally. It’s also true that North Korea will not ask South Korea for aid. This is the reality. This means that we have to begin giving food first if we want to save the North Korean people. This is all moot if we don’t care whether North Koreans starve to death or not. But didn’t MB’s administration say that they loved the people of North Korea? Then, how can you stay silent and immobile when someone you love is starving to death? Let us then consider some concrete solutions based on this reality.

South Korean government should clearly state its intentions to give 200,000 MT of food to North Korea and ask for a meeting to agree on the logistics of the food delivery. North Korean government should receive this suggestion, when it is made, with alacrity. In the current situation, 200,000 MT of food is not much. It is the minimum amount needed to barely stave off starvation during the farm hardship period. South Korea should immediately provide the 200,000 MT of food and North Korea should distribute it to relieve the hardships of those who are in direst need. Together, the Koreas can save a starving people from death. It is possible that such collaboration today could even provide the impetus for closer cooperation in the near future that can lead to an improvement in North-South Korean relationship.

[1]) Fund of Children’s Plan(꼬마계획자금): The Boy Scout members collect this fund by selling scraps of iron and paper.


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