GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

.

North Korea Today No.275

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr
[Weekely Newsletter] No.275 April 2009

[“Good Friends” desires to help the North Korean people through humanistic point of view, and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as real as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]

[Hot Topics]
City of Chungjin Declares, “Do Not Sell Any Items Other Than Agricultural Products”
Market Shelf Spaces Substantially Reduced In Number In South Hamgyong Province
“Are Products Of South Korea Our Enemy?”
Market Control In Wonsan Causes Resentments And Complaints

[Food]
Obong Coal Mine In Eunduk County Has Provided No Food Rations Since January

[Economy]
Taechun County Eunheung Collective Farm, No Bulls to Plow the Field
North Pyongan Province Party Encourages Farming of New Potatoes for the Spring Hardship Season
No Gasoline for Fertilizer Transportation Vehicles in Soonchun City

[Politics]
The Supreme Public Prosecution Office Launched Inspection on the “July 7 Enterprise” in Eunduk County
80% of Eunduk Criminals are Burglars, Larcenists, or Imposters
North Hamgyong Provincial Party Investigates Corruption among the Farm Workers in the Border Region
Farm’s Joint Properties Being Used Only by the Officers
Hoeryong City Convened Emergency Meeting in Connection to Farm Inspections

[Society]
A Battle over Dog Naming Turns Ugly
In Chongjin, Potatoes Confiscated from Merchants Using Trucks for Trade
Neighborhood Unit Must Hold Funeral For Woman With No Family

[Women/Children/Education]
Feed Kkotjebi Children with Forfeited Food from Markets
One Child out of 4 Goes to School

[Accidents]
Jongsung Forest Fire Spreads to Saebyul
Seed Depository of Yeonsa County Potato Burglarized as Soon as It Opens

[Commentary]
Even the Secretary of Propaganda Opposes Eliminating Markets

__________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
City of Chungjin Declares, “Do Not Sell Any Items Other Than Agricultural Products”
Last April 10th, authorities of Chungjin City, South Hamgyong Province announced to a group of female peddlers a ‘February 17th policy’ in connection with what could be sold in the market. Other districts such as Soonam, Chungnyun, Gongwon, Soowon and Sinam, mobilized the Secretaries of Propaganda. They used broadcasting trucks on the streets of market in announcing the policy. This is rather unusual in comparison with the past, when they used the existing administrative channels in delivering any instructions. They made clear that dealing with any contraband items is ‘a behavior promoting anti-socialism’ and will be subject to punishment as a felony. The Secretaries of Propaganda reiterated that ‘the prohibited merchandise should never be sold in the market.’
Residents follow the orders of authorities and deal with only the agricultural products for the time being. Items other than the agricultural products are blocked to get into the market. Some female peddlers bitterly complain, “With blockade of the market and no provisions from the government, how could people live? How in the world do they think we should live?” However, they do not dare to attract other people’s attention anymore by uttering more complaints. When the peddlers were asked how they would peddle the contraband items, they said that they would take them to the market and deal illegally in secret. However, once caught, everything would be confiscated and they will be punished also. That would be the unfair and the bitterest experience, but there would be nothing they can do about it.

Market Shelf Spaces Substantially Reduced In Number In South Hamgyong Province
In major cities of South Hamgyong Province, the number of merchants at the marketplace has visibly reduced. According to a worker at the Market Management Office, City of Hamheung has experienced reduction of nearly 40% in number of merchants. Slow business and restriction by the authorities are two main causes. Peddlers in the city of Hamheung said that number of hours they are allowed to conduct business is too short, to begin with. Koh Mi-gyung (40s) said, “Authorities allow us to conduct business between 1 PM and 6 PM. We have hard time to make living with peddling even from early morning. Restricting the hours as between 1 PM and 6 PM makes it much more difficult.” The other problem is restrictions on the merchandise. Jung Pil-rye (40s) said, “Since last year, we have been instructed to deal with only the agricultural products. Industrial products, food items, and other miscellaneous items were brought in secretly. Agricultural products were displayed on the front, and the other items were dealt in secret. Once caught, everything is confiscated.” This kind of restrictions created another kind of transactions. Residents make deals among themselves, and their private transactions occur outside the market at their designated places. This of course reduces users of market place, which in turn causes less business in the market. Peddlers say that they earn very little profit after fees for the market shelf spaces. Some of them claim that peddling by appointment or standing at alleys with a sign might be better. Clients will follow you to your house if the sign mentions any contraband items. When there is an indication of any enforcement, you hide the sign. Unlike wandering peddlers, there is no danger of confiscation this way.

“Are Products Of South Korea Our Enemy?”
More than 90% of the items in markets of North Korea are imported goods. They are mainly Chinese products. Occasionally, there are items from Russia, Japan, United States and even South Korea. Legally, only products from China, Russia and Japan can be traded. Any products from South Korea are prohibited. If you get caught in trading them, everything will be confiscated and you should be ready to get punished as well. According to Han Seung-ok (40s), a peddler of South Korean cosmetics in the city of Pyongsung, “Everyone agrees. Products are not our enemy. Good products should be traded. My clients tell me there is nothing wrong with buying good products.” Kim Gyong-sook (40s), a wholesaler of footwear and clothing, mainly out of Sinuiju also says, “There are many requests for South Korean products because they are good. They talk about unification, but how would it be possible if they reject good products? I don’t want to make any stronger statements because they may bring troubles, but this is not what I claim. This is what everyone else thinks.”
Cho Mi-ra (40s), a peddler of South Korean clothing also adds, “I do not understand the control of authorities. Nowadays, everyone knows that South Korean clothing is of such a good quality that there are some who request only the South Korean products. Consequently, now there are people who put the South Korean trademarks on everything, while in old days we used to cut the South Korean trademarks out with a pair of scissors. They put the South Korean trademarks on the Chinese clothing and sell them as South Korean products. An interesting thing is that even when it gets caught, it does not bring any big problem. If you get caught selling authentic South Korean clothing, you are in a big trouble. But when you get caught selling the fake products, the investigators would confiscate them and just curse at you, ‘why in the world did you do such a thing?’ One reprimand is all you should take. Consequently, there are so many fake South Korean products in the market, including cosmetics.”

Market Control In Wonsan Causes Resentments And Complaints
There are many complaints in Wonsan, Kangwon Province, against market control. Prices of industrial products have been going up because of changes in exchange rate of Chinese currency. This caused reduction in business volume. On top of that, the announcement on a number of items as contraband caused a lot of problems to peddlers. Talks going around the market are as follows: “Greeting a new year 2009 after 2008 should bring a better living. However, year 2009 has brought a worse living. Living conditions should improve with new days, but instead living conditions are getting worse. What are we looking forward to? Those high-ranking officials are well off and do not care about the ordinary people, who are suffering from starvation and watch their family members die. How could we understand market control? Laborers do not receive any wages. Farmers are not receiving any help from the state. There is nothing. How could people live?” This may sound like usual complaints against market control. But this is the long-accumulated complaints and resentments. So far this has not grown as a big political problem. Nonetheless, their supplication that ‘survival gets more difficult’ gets noisier and noisier.”

[Food]
Obong Coal Mine In Eunduk County Has Provided No Food Rations Since January
Obong Coal Mine In Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province, has suspended food rations until February 16, Lunar New Year’s Day, a special occasion. A special, temporary food ration was provided. On the occasion of February 16, each laborer received a bottle of liquor and a half-bottle of artificial honey. It was a gift from United Command of Saebyol-Gyongwon Coal Mines. A little amount of food was also provided. Each of the 700 laborers received a kilogram of rice and 1.5 Kg of corn. Anyone with children received one kilogram of rice and 1.5 Kg of corn. It meant that around 500 laborers with children could receive 2 Kg of rice and 3 Kg of corn. None was provided for those with dependent wives. There has been no food ration since then. Normally, laborers are assigned tasks to be finished in eight hours. They should continue work until the tasks are done. They need nutrition to be able to sustain physically. Many times their working hours are from seven in the morning to eight in the evening. They cannot come to work unless they are fed. Each laborer carries a sack and at the end of his shift, he fills the sack with coal weighing 7 to 8 Kg illegally. He sells it for about 1,600 NK won. This enables them barely survive with meals of porridge. Coalmine enterprises look the other way when employees illegally take around 10 KG coal since they do not provide any food ration.

[Economy]
Taechun County Eunheung Collective Farm, No Bulls to Plow the Field
Enunheung Collective Farm in Taechun County, North Pyongan Province, is having trouble plowing the field because there are no bulls. Last year around this time, farmers were able to plow in the right time by having a good management system for bulls. Last year, they built covered cowshed in private houses rather than at the farm and took good care of the nutrition. However, a problem was created because those farm workers who had good management of laboring bull were not compensated well at the End of Year Recapitulation. Unlike what was promised, the money spent on the management of laboring bull by individuals was not taken into account in the end of year distribution. Since there is no compensation, it is obvious that farmers do not take good care of the laboring bull. As a result, the bulls showed poor health condition and there was no bulls left for plowing. Workers of the Farm Management sold 5 tons of rice from the emergency grains. Then, they purchased diesel gasoline to use tractors for plowing.

North Pyongan Province Party Encourages Farming of New Potatoes for the Spring Hardship Season
North Pyongan Province Party decided to proactively promote farming of new potato to all cities, military factories and enterprises. The Province Party announced, “There will be an increasing number of starving families starting from the farming season up to the weeding season. We need a good potato crop so we can distribute two months worth of rations to the labors during the most difficult time of the weeding season.” They decided on these steps after various investigations on all cities, all county factories and enterprises that cannot distribute any rations to their laborers. At the Province Party meeting, they stated if the potato farming starts on April 15th, they would be able to harvest by the second week of June. According to the plan, factories and enterprises with some farming side jobs decided to grow potato in good soil location as well. In the meantime, there are increasing numbers of farmers in North Pyongan Province who cannot go to their workplace due to food shortage in April.

No Gasoline for Fertilizer Transportation Vehicles in Soonchun City
The Soonchun City Party in the Southern Pyongan Province had an emergency meeting because the vehicles, which should be used to transport fertilizer to farms, had no gasoline. On the morning of April 8th, the Soonchun city called a fertilizer transportation meeting with Party Secretaries and the managers of each factory and public enterprise. However, they could not immediately raise money to purchase gasoline. As a result, they decided that manpower would be the best solution. Thus, from two o’clock in the afternoon at the same day, factories, public enterprises, village offices, the Democratic Women’s Union, and schools began to mobilize all the manpower they possibly had. Wagons were also used to collect and transport fertilizer. Those who do not have wagons carried fertilizer on their backs to the farm they belonged to. That is, residents themselves delivered fertilizer to their farm.

[Politics]
The Supreme Public Prosecution Office Launched Inspection on the “July 7 Enterprise” in Eunduk County
Starting March 19, the Supreme Public Prosecution Office is conducting inspection on the “July 7 United Enterprise” in Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province. This is due to reports of machineries and equipments being stolen from the factory. The situation is critical because equipment theft is worse at military ordnance factories. This became known when the Party Secretary of the United Enterprises visited the site and some of the machineries did not operate properly. This enterprise ceased most operations for a long time due to lack of raw materials. There are over 6000 registered workers but less than 100 workers are actually working. Those workers are being sent to different regions for shipping operation or to be engaged in miscellaneous chores. They have no choice but to sell factory equipments with no distribution.
Many workers are running away because there is nothing to sell. Kim Geun-ho (40s), a worker from this factory, said these stolen machines were not in use for at least 2-3 years. Kim added, “The munitions factory machine lathes are usually uni-functional. These machines are rough, made easily and have only one capacity and this is why workers who are not technically trained can operate these machines. The machine malfunctions with a lack of resources or when any parts of the equipment changes. People sell machine parts that were not in use for 2-3 years for recycled iron. This inspection was initiated and recognized ‘when they tried to operate the machinery again and then found out stolen machines and equipments.’
This enterprise was originally started in 1987 at a location with many discharged military families. Numerous discharged soldiers asked to return to their hometown. There are several households who took their family and returned to their hometown without proper permission. A whole floor has gone missing at four of the workers’ apartment complexes for this enterprise. With the Supreme Public Prosecution’s Inspection, workers are responding that inspections are futile. What is the purpose of inspection when everything was all sold during the beginning of the Arduous March and whatever remained were stolen.

80% of Eunduk Criminals are Burglars, Larcenists, or Imposters
There are about 200 people waiting for a preliminary hearing at the Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province’s Police Station. Approximately 80% of these people were arrested for larceny, burglary, or fraud. Kim Myung-chul (50s) said, “With the establishment of the July 7 Enterprise, many people from various areas with bad background and ex-convicts crowded to our county. For that reason, the county’s residential organization became complicated. There seems to be more criminals than other areas because we already had more ex-convicts here before this migration and our county’s resident compositions are more complicated than others.” An official commented, “There are increasing trend of crimes with current food crisis and the residents are living in more devastating condition.”

North Hamgyong Provincial Party Investigates Corruption among the Farm Workers in the Border Region
North Hamgyong Provincial Party began to investigate corruption among the farms in Hoeryong, Saebyul, Onsung and other cities along the border. The provincial party is inspecting the amount of grain harvested last year, the amount given to the state, the amount distributed to the farmers, and the amount remaining in the reserve. This year’s investigation was triggered by what had occurred at Obong County Farm in Hoeryong. The fact that Work Unit 4’s foreman and accountant embezzled 15 tons of rice from last year’s total harvest came to light. These two divided their profit with other officers. However, the farmers saw their yearly food distribution amount drop. The two men have been able to avoid prosecution so far with help from several workers at a local police station. Jung Keun-Soo (50) said, “We know that for a while the foreman and accountant have used the grain for their personal gain. Public opinion toward the farm officers and workers has been very negative for pocketing several tons of grain that we produced with our blood, sweat and toil is not even a big deal for the officers. And this is happening not just in our area but all over the republic.”

Farm’s Joint Properties Being Used Only by the Officers
This year’s investigation of the farms along the border revealed that there is a widespread problem with farm’s joint properties. Especially, each farm had several expensive motor vehicles that were not necessary for any operation within a farm. One particular farm in Saebyul purchased a car worth 7 to 12 million won from the profit it gained through selling the grain, which had not been reported to the state. A farm in Hoeryung bought a motorcycle worth 3.5 million won. Though it was registered as a joint property, the only people who can use are the government officials such as Secretary of County Party or Farm Managing Chairman. Regular farmers can’t even think of using them. Wonsan County Farm in Hoeryung sold a large amount of harvested corn when the corn price went through the roof last year, and purchased a pickup truck from China for 15.6 million won. The farmers of the farm, however, say that they have never needed a pickup truck. Only Secretary of County Party and Farm Managing Chairman are using the vehicle whenever they want. Oh Kang-Ho (40) shared what happened when he asked to use the truck: “One of the young men from my work unit was getting married, but he could not find any transportation to bring his bride to the wedding. So, he asked to borrow the pickup to cover less than 4 km, but his request was rejected. The officials told him that they need it to give rides to those who were coming to their meeting. Though the truck is registered as a joint property, only they can use it.” Mr. Oh added, “The report that contains complaints about the work habits of the chairman, the secretary and other officials, has reached the city party office.”

Hoeryong City Convened Emergency Meeting in Connection to Farm Inspections
Last March 25, Hoeryong City summoned farm workers including village party secretary, chiefs of management committees, accountant, and foreman to call for an emergency meeting. In the meeting, issues were raised that, "The grains were sold so that the farm management workers can purchase the means of transportation such as tractors, cars, cows, as well as computers for document management. However, the money was divided among the farm workers instead. The farm accountant and foremen took care of the book keeping process for crop consumption record so that no problems can be detected. They consume the grains openly and say there is nothing to worry even in case of audits." And they elaborated on the issues raised one by one. After that they made farm workers step forward one by one and criticized them vehemently. The meeting came to an end after long and intense criticism.
An executive who attended the meeting said, "It is all a conspired cover-up." "As you know, (in North Korea), there is no private property. Trading of products is done in the form of exchanges between cooperative-owned and state-owned. The net prices of items like cars, cows, and computer are set in the network of state-run stores. You have to trade cooperative property (grains) to buy them. You cannot embezzle even a penny in there because of the government set price. However, are there automobiles or computers in state-run stores? There is none. Those things are only registered at the state agencies. So, in fact, it is the farm buying the car or computer owned by individuals. Because it is not a deal in the market there is no proof of transaction or anything like that. So, there is no set price. Illegal profit can be taken at any amount. Farmers complain because while they do not provide the food distribution, they purchase expensive things spending a lot of money and share them only among themselves. These kinds of things are so pervasive it cannot be fixed. Although they convened an emergency meeting this time, they are just criticizing because legal punishment will be difficult. Knowing fully well that it is hard to fix they simply try to end this with criticism alone. It looks like they criticize it vehemently, but it is in fact covering up the problem. It basically is a conspiracy.”

[Society]
A Battle over Dog Naming Turns Ugly
As North Korea’s income gap continues to grow, communities have begun to see the resulting societal tensions manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Mr. Kim Young-jin (alias) of Nampo, South Pyongan Province, told us a story about a situation where this tension resulted in violence. There were two families who lived next to each other in the same neighborhood unit, but they did not get along. One of families was wealthy due to the head of household’s title, while the other was a poor family of laborers. One day, the rich family brought home a dog and named it 'Byol’, after the son of poor family. Offended by the gesture, the poor family decided they too would buy a dog, even though they couldn’t really afford it, and named it ‘Duckgu’ after the rich family’s patriarch. This resulted in a big fight that resulted in the poorer family getting seriously injured. The poor family decided to appeal to the court, but they were the ones who ended up being punished and the poorer father received a jail sentence. Mr. Kim reported, “This case caused a huge debate. Those with money can get away with committing crimes, so it’s often those who have no money who end up receiving the punishment they don’t deserve. Fighting over dog’s name seems laughable, but currently, in North Korea, these little things are no laughing matter.”

In Chongjin, Potatoes Confiscated from Merchants Using Trucks for Trade
On March 29, in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, security authorities arrested three merchants and confiscated the potatoes they were transporting by twelve-ton cargo truck to the Sunam market from Yonsah County. The Sunam area police, as part of a crackdown, arrested these merchants and detained them at the local police station. Upon arrest, the authorities declared, "laws against the illegal use of vehicles to benefit personal trade must be executed without exception and all related goods should be confiscated. Enforcement of these laws will continue without mercy going forward." Afterwards, the police officers divided the confiscated potatoes amongst themselves.

Neighborhood Unit Must Hold Funeral For Woman With No Family
Kang Hwa-sung (a man in his 30’s) from the harbor district of Nampo, South Pyongan Province, reported that he recently attended the funeral of his friend’s mother. Because the woman had no surviving family members, her Neighborhood Unit was tasked with organizing a service. Mr. Kang told the following story about his friend and his friend’s mother:
In August of 2007, Lee Jeong-min completed his military service, but when he returned home, he discovered that his father had passed away, leaving his brother to take care of his mother, his wife and their two children. Even though his brother and sister-in-law both worked as laborers at a glass company, the family was quite poor and barely able to provide a thin gruel regularly. While their living situation was barely sustainable in 2007, they were forced to watch it decline even further in 2008. After quitting his job, the brother decided to leave home to make money elsewhere, but he was never heard from again. Eventually, Mr. Lee’s sister-in-law moved back in with her parents leaving Jeong-min to take care of his mother and two nephews by himself. During this period, the family struggled to maintain their already insufficient standard of living and provide the most basic necessities. Because they did not have anything to eat, the family was forced to reduce its consumption to two meals of thin gruel per day. Then, in June of last year, the friend’s nephews left home to find food elsewhere, because they could not endure the hunger any longer. This left Jeong-min alone to care for his mother. As conditions continued to worsen, Mr. Lee was also forced to leave home in order to make money as a trader. In June of last year, however, Jeong-min died in a traffic accident and his mother passed away shortly thereafter. Due to the circumstances, no family members remained to underwrite the funeral, so the Neighborhood Unit performed in the ceremony instead.

[Women/Children/Education]
Feed Kkotjebi Children with Forfeited Food from Markets
To solve the problem of kkotjebi children in major cities in North Korea, the government organized a ‘6.20 Sangmoo.’ It gathers wandering kkotjebi children, provides them with food and a bed, and also gives them simple work. For their meals, they use the distribution of the government and forfeited food from markets. In spite of these efforts from the government, the number of kkotjebi children has not decreased. There are still a lot of homeless children hanging around in the markets, restaurants, or public places.

One Child out of 4 Goes to School
Kim Young-ho (50s) at Mooncheon in Kangwon province said that he felt bitter because his children pester him to send them to school. Mr. Kim’s four children are 7, 11, 12, and 14, and only the oldest child attends school. He said, “Although my wife and I work hard, we cannot send all of my kids to school because the government does not support anything. We send Hyuk, our first child to school, but we cannot afford to send the other children.” Although school is free, it is hard to meet the extra demands for the school. He said, “My family often starves. In this situation, how can we pay for extra stuffs and contribute to the school?” He repeated his negative statement about sending them to school. Mr. Kim’s wife was in tears and said, “Everyday my thoughtless children pester me to send them to school. Nobody can understand the terribly painful minds of parents who cannot send their children to school if they do not experience the same thing as me.” Some of her neighbors said, “In any case, you are doing a great job. Currently, most parents cannot even think of sending their children to school.”

[Accidents]
Jongsung Forest Fire Spreads to Saebyul
Last April 7, a forest fire broke out in Jongsung of Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province. The next day, on the 8th, the forest fire crossed into Saebyul making it difficult to put out the fire. Onsung county workers mobilized to do recovery work in WangJaesan on the 10th were instead put to work to control the fire. The strongest men from each enterprise also went to help put out the fire. The recovery work of Wangjaesan was reinitiated on the 13th after the fire had been extinguished.

Seed Depository of Yeonsa County Potato Burglarized as Soon as It Opens
Yeonsa County in North Hamgyong Province had 6 tons of potato stolen in two days , last March 27 -28. It happened as soon as the potato seed depository was opened to start potato farming of this year. Most of the potatoes were stolen by citizens of households who have very little food left. As half of the total repository of seeds (total=12 tons) were stolen, the outlook for potato farming does not look good this year.

[Commentary]
Even the Secretary of Propaganda Opposes Eliminating Markets
Now that the March 8 election was over, it appears that the control of market activities is tightening again. The merchants continue to cry out that the business is slow. No one spends money. Also the problem is that only agricultural products can be sold. The business is slow and yet only products they should not sell are stacked high. The only thing increasing is sighs from the merchants. Those who had been paying rents and had traded openly in the market are leaving their stalls. In Hamheung City, the news is that the number of merchants that rented stalls has decreased about 40%.
Does this mean that the tightened control by the authority is becoming effective? If the objective is to eliminate the market, it seems to be successful at a glance. However, the people have different opinions. They say that leaving the stall does not mean not doing trading. It is because instead of paying the rent regularly, they would rather trade items they want to sell in secret even though it is more hardship to them. Visit-trade, grasshopper-trade, alley-trade, etc., are some of the names of various illegal trading activities. In the past only those who did not have stalls engaged in these activities, but now there are many who voluntarily choose them. The type of trading where they entice customers with only a list of merchandise is spreading wider than the stall-trading.
Paradoxically, the ineffectiveness of tightened control is well highlighted in the propaganda by the authorities. In Chungjin City, the Secretaries of Propaganda had personally gone to the market and conveyed the “February 17th Policy” from a parked broadcasting vehicle. This was unprecedented in view of the fact that all communications had always been delivered through the Party.
At present, the policies are not properly delivered through the existing system. No matter how strongly warned not to do it, people do not follow (listen). Even the people who give instructions to carry out the policy do not follow it. It is because the reality is that they cannot survive (eat and live) without markets. However, as it is their livelihood to keep the merchants under control, they can only be passive in carrying out the market control. Externally, they support the policy, but internally, they oppose closing-down of the markets. This is the reason why they have difficulty eliminating (markets) even though they try hard to close down trading through the system.
No matter how loudly the Secretary of Propaganda shouts through the amplifier, people listen with one ear and throw away with the other. Even the Secretary of Propaganda would not expect the market-place policies be properly carried out. The residents also have some inkling that even instructions through the system are no longer effective. It is time that (the authorities) should listen to the resident’s expression, “Is merchandise our enemy?” and explore the operating policies of marketplace that fits the reality.

No comments:

There was an error in this gadget