North Korea Today No. 150

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today 150th 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.”

[Special Report 5] Increasingly Open and Candid Lectures on Agriculture for the Officials and the Public

In April 2008, the North Korean government issued a report nationwide on the farming conditions of the country. One official said that he received a tremendous shock when he saw the report for the first time. According to the official, although many government reports have been issued in North Korea since the founding of the country, there has been no reports as open and candid as this one. The official said that he believed the Central Department of Propaganda and Agitation (중앙선전선동부) was the agency that issued the report, and went on to say that he was able to surmise just how serious the current conditions are after reading the report. He went on to say that the report shows that

“the government already anticipated that people would die from starvation in the spring, and that this lecture was devised in order to enhance the internal congruency”.

The report contains candid and open references to the current situation’s unprecedented nature. The ‘North Korea TODAY’ will present the government report entitled “Everyone Needs to Work Together to Ensure a Good Harvest” in the next five issues.

[Special Report]
“Let’s All Come Together As One This Year To Bring In A Great Harvest

Grandmother's Tears at Her Grandchild Being Treated as a Kkotjebi to Be Controlled
The Rampancy of Theft: "Starving Tigers Do Not Recognize the Lord"
A Rise in Customs Duties Strikes a Blow at Side Business Ship
A Mother Who Abandoned Her Daughter to Get Remarried
Overturn of a Military Car in Chungjin-Rajin Raksan Hill (Kwangju Ryung)
[Commentary] It Can Be Summarized In One Word: You Are On Your Own

[Special Report] “Let’s All Come Together As One This Year To Bring In A Great Harvest
As such, we must the policies of the agricultural revolution and stand tall on the precepts of scientific and technical farming to create the right action plan to move forward as one. We especially have to take advantage of the recent research in the various highly-performing seed stocks for rice, corn, beans, and other crops and use the policy of ‘right location, right seed’ and ‘right time, right seed’ to maximize the yield. We especially have to accept and implement as soon as possible those advanced farming methods with proven effectiveness, such as Growing the Modernized rice seedling(현대모기르기), Nutrition Cold-framed rice seedling Nurturing (영양랭상모기르기), Pot-raising Seedling (소식재배 방법), Pot-raising Seedling (심층시비방법), and Stream Cultivation Method (물결재배방법). What we have learned from last year was that we could actually hurt farming if we don’t accept and implement the latest farming techniques according to the conditions that we face. For example, in some farms last year, we saw fertilizers being wasted and rice rooting taking place later because of delays in proper watering in rice plantings, ploughing, and furrowing. This year, everyone has to be on their highest alert to make sure we follow the scientific demands for proper and effective farming.

We also have to push forward with our efforts to raise the quality of our soil. We have to engage in a battle to raise the level of the self-fertilizers so that the second crop yield in the double-cropping field does not drop off. Like the saying goes, “where manure piles go, rice sacks follow,” we need to maximize our self-production of fertilizers. Along with this, we also must prevent valuable plots in collective farms from being tied to other uses. This was one of the reasons that we couldn’t farm as much as we could. Every single farm must make sure that it absolutely maximizes the yield so that we get one more grain of rice and one more ear of corn at the end of the day. Make sure that the party’s instructions on bean farming are being followed to the letter. In the case of double-cropping, we have to actively accept and implement bean farming in the spaces in-between and behind wheat, barley plants to maximize our use of farming space.

All the farm workers and laborers must invest all their passion and strength to bring about a revolutionary transformation in this year’s farming results to resolve the food situation of the people and make the upcoming 60th anniversary of the funding of the Republic a truly meaningful one.

Grandmother's Tears at Her Grandchild Being Treated as a Kkotjebi to Be Controlled
On June 5, a child from a normal household was almost taken away by a Kkotjebi (homeless child) control officer in Wonsan market in Kangwon Province. A Kkotjebi control officer saw an 8-9year-old boy being alone some distance away from food stands and attempted to drag him away. The stunned boy started shouting that "My grandmother told me to wait for her here. I don't want to come with you!" and struggled to escape. The officer who was grabbing the boy's wrist and forcefully dragging him said that "Stop bagging people here. Go to a farm and work. Many other kids are there, too, and you will get food as well if you go there!" and hysterically hit the boy's head with a book. The grandmother who found her grandson being taken away rushed to claim the boy and confronted the officer, "Where are you taking my grandson away?" She held the boy tight and continued to accuse the officer of dragging her grandson. The officer who felt embarrassed said that he thought the boy was an orphan. The little poor boy was so scared that he cried hard in his grandmother's arms once the officer left. She didn't even know what to say about this outrageous happening. Shortly later, however, she scolded her grandson that "Why did you get your clothes dirty with mud? That's why people got confused you're a parentless child!" Then, she held him again and burst out crying. The scene that the boy and the grandmother were holding each other and crying was so heartfelt that even people who were watching it teared. Seo Mi-hyang, a 37-year old local resident, showed her sympathy toward them, "Indeed, it's hard to distinguish a boy wearing worn clothes from a Kkotjebi, a homeless orphan. That is just a pain for innocent children from poor households. He must have been so scared."

The Rampancy of Theft: "Starving Tigers Do Not Recognize the Lord"
In addition to the food crisis, the insecurity caused by an increasing number of crimes, including theft, rubbery, murder, just reminds people of the Arduous March. Cho Dong-hyuk, a 48-year old resident of Singye County (신계군) in North Hwanghae Province, said, "Nobody feels secure because of the rampant theft. It seems that the number of thieves is increasing every year. Even when military personnel and security officers come to stay in a village and park their cars on a street, they send out or leave at least one officer to protect their vehicles from potential theft, particularly when it becomes dark. It is because the cases of auto accessory theft, such as tires, have been rapidly increasing. This is exactly the kind of a situation that a Korean old saying, 'a starving tiger do not recognize the lord' talks about [when people are so starving, they forget their discretion; in other words, when people suffer from hunger, they will do anything to survive]." Cho deplored the reality that his country is facing. Moreover, he also voiced his strong dissatisfaction of [corrupt] high-ranking officials that although big thieves are out there, they rarely get caught. Cho went on to say that "Due to the serious food crisis, people are almost starving to death. Despite such a horrible reality, some high-ranking officials are sitting on their hands and only seeking their self-interests. While there are generous and warm-hearted officials who use their own money to buy corn and give it away to their people, most officials keep food rations for themselves and search for a way to raise prices in markets. Like a saying that good people get rewards, bad people get punishments, there will be a day in near future that those corrupt officials would pay the price for what they did," and he concluded by saying that he was disillusioned with those leaders.

A Rise in Customs Duties Strikes a Blow at Side Business Ship
A recent rise in customs duties has significantly affected workplaces(기관;직장) and enterprises that are engaged in the Side Business Ship(부업선) in East Cost District (동해안지구) as well as the fishing industry. Due to high gas fees and an increasing number of taxes, many organizations and enterprises have found that their regular income does meet the expenses; some of them are even about to close their business. Like a saying that 'an innocent bystander gets badly hurt in a Titanic struggle,' fishermen who are most venerable in this fishing industry are likely to become the biggest victims of this recent side business ship industry crisis. As the jobs at these organizations and enterprises are a main source of income for most fishermen, many of them are in fear of loosing their means of living, particularly those who are working at the organizations that are about to close.

A Mother Who Abandoned Her Daughter to Get Remarried
Lee Sun-ok, a 31-year old resident of Danchun City (단 천시), South Hamgyong Province, had been living with a 6-year old daughter after the divorce from her husband because of the hard living. As she found difficult making a living by herself, she had been trying several times to remarry a man who has a secure job. All her previous attempts of remarriage, however, ended up in failure because she has a daughter. As the food prices have been skyrocketing, starting this year, she could not even afford a diluted rice soup, which has been her family's staple food. As a result, the number of times of their daily meal gradually decreased; she and her daughter used to be able to have the diluted rice soup three times a day but they barely got to have it twice or even once a day. As the life became more and more miserable, she feared that both of them would die of hunger soon. Thus, she finally decided to abandon her daughter for her own survival; she left her daughter deep in a mountain and returned alone. The little girl who was left alone began to wander the mountain to look for her mother who had suddenly vanished. Later, the little girl was found by residents who came to the mountain to pick wild (edible) greens; at the time she was fallen on the ground, her clothes got worn out, and her body was full of scars and bruises. She must have fallen in a faint after a hard journey to search for her mother. As soon as discovered, she was sent to a nearby hospital. Shortly after, however, she eventually died; while her immune system was already very weak, she spent a night on the mountain in cold weather and the psychological shock of her mother's missing deteriorated her overall health condition. Lee who got caught by authorities denied the abandonment of her daughter but she confessed it later after a series of interrogation. People who have heard of the incident accused Lee of being a heartless mother. Song Young-Deuk, a 72-year old mother of eight children who had lost three kids during the Korean War and another three during the Arduous March said that "No matter how miserable your life is, a mother should not be so heartless. How difficult her life was to make her abandon her own kid! I have some sympathy toward Lee. Still, even if ten children of yours died and you still have other children who are alive, you should try hard to feed and protect those remaining children until you die. That's what the mother does!" and Song's message touched young mothers' hearts.

Overturn of a Military Car in Chungjin-Rajin Raksan Hill (Kwangju Ryung)
Last June 3rd, an overturn of a military car took place at Raksan Hill (Kwangju Ryung) located at the gateway from Chungjin to Rajin in North Hamkyung Province. A charcoal engine car that belonged to the 278th in the 74th Brigade of the 9th Corps Headquarters fell over a precipice of a mountain due to a braking problem. There were one driver, two soldiers, and 6 citizens in the car. Two soldiers survived the accident because they jumped down, and so did the driver because he was grasping a wheel. But 6 citizens in goods compartment tumbled over with the car. Two people among those citizens died on the spot, the other four were sent to a provincial hospital. One person died during the treatment, but the other three are still in a coma. The citizens in this accident were female merchants on the way home after purchasing goods for sale at Sunam Market in Chungjin. One was a student, and the other five were house wives. They had to leave for a market in the evening because they worked during the day in the general mobilization period. It was reported that they paid 1,500 won per person for getting on the military car to get back home because it was so late at night. It was not until the next day, June 4th, the news was delivered to the bereaved family. On that day, this local hospital was a pandemonium itself due to the bereaved family members who were looking for their daughter, daughter-in-law, mother, and wife. One old woman fell into a faint, and all others seemed to be stupefied at the staggering piece of news of such an accident.

[Commentary] It Can Be Summarized In One Word: You Are On Your Own
The North Korean authorities in effect asked all the different levels of societies in North Korea to rely on their own resources and solve their own problems as they relate to food, essential items, labor, and support for the farm workers. It ends with the exhortation to follow the party’s policies on revolutionary farming, which belies the fact that all it contains are old and tired guidelines.

All the so-called modern and advanced farming techniques itemized in the policies require prerequisite conditions: plastic sheeting, seed stocks, and fertilizers, to name a few. Fertilizers, especially, are sorely needed. Without it, all the nice-sounding advanced farming methods are useless. The North Korean authorities obviously are aware of this by the fact that, in the second paragraph, they specifically instruct the people to engage in a battle to turn out as much self-produced fertilizers as possible for the double-cropping fields. They fully realize that fertilizers have to be available to expect any result from this year’s farming efforts regardless of any advanced farming techniques that may be implemented. Especially, a technique like the plowing of fertilizers deep into the soil to raise its yield quality can only be done effectively by using a tractor to plough deeply into the lands. Using oxen’s just will not do it. But with the ageing fleet of tractors along with high gas prices will not make this any easier, which leads to the conclusion that it won’t be easy to elevate the quality of the soil even with the best efforts.

One farm official says, revealing the depth of his troubles, “It’s just empty rhetoric to tell us to follow these policies without giving us any resources such as fertilizers and gas. We have many farm workers who can’t come to work because they are too hungry and weak. Gas prices are high, fertilizers are absent, equipments are dilapidated, and there is no one to ask for help. We are at death’s door. We don’t know how much the yield will be in this year’s harvest. Who could have a solution to this problem?”

The North Korean authorities warn of food crisis and exhort every member of society to tackle this issue head-on as they conclude their speech. But this long speech can be summed up by one expression: “You are on your own.” It leaves all the problems such as farm equipment, labor, support for farm workers, and other issues to each locality while concluding that this crisis can only be solved by everyone tackling this issue as if it were his or her personal problem. This could be the only and desperate solution that the North Korea authorities could come up with. But to the people, these exhortations have a hollow ring of repetitiveness. As such, they relegate these exhortations as clichés and retort how they can solve these problems on their own when they have enough trouble eating three meals a day. It’s not that they don’t want to do it, but they can’t do it. And they are at wit’s end on how to do something that they couldn’t possibly do. In short, the so-called national policy is absolutely unrealistic.

“Although the season for fertilizers is past, we can still use them even now. Fertilizers, food, etc. we basically need everything and anything that we can get our hands on. We lack everything. We can’t ask the South for anything but this is what we are facing,” admitted one North Korean official. It’s not enough to criticize North Korean policies as unrealistic but these desperate times call for cooperation to look for ways for come up with realistic solutions to this crisis.

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