GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 317 December 2009

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics]
Insecurity Persists Despite Series of Meetings for Price Stabilization
Some Residents Have Already Spent 500 won Relief Money
Governmental Market Controls Brings Down the Price of Rice
City Party Officials: “Society is not likely to stabilize until January of next year.”

[Food]
Low Crop Yield at the New Worker Tideland Farm in Yumju County
Failed Vegetable Farming Raises Concern for Kimchee (pickled vegetable for winter) in Chungjin
Party Officials Receive 8 times more Radish than Laborer Heoryung


[Economy]
Kowon Food Factory Built Their Own Soy Milk Production Facilities
Junchun Mine in Jagang Province Suffered Sluggish Production During 100-Day Battle
Struggling at Bukchang Thermal Power Plant during 100-Day Battle
Ministry of Forestry Failed to Meet Annual Log Production Goals

[Politics]
Hoeryung Holds an Emergency Plenary Meeting to Punish Absentees
Hoeryung Publicly Deports a Neighborhood Unit Head for Illegally Housing a Border-Crosser


[Society]
Bribery Needed to Get Divorced
500 Lumber Workers in Russia Replaced in November

[Women/Children/Education]
In Sariwon, University Students Stole Crops While Helping Farmers
Teacher’s College Graduates with Money Avoid Rural Schools

[Accidents]
Lumber Truck Rolled Over on Snowy Road
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[Hot Topics]
Insecurity Persists Despite Series of Meetings for Price Stabilization
In an attempt to stabilize continuously rising prices and supply necessary goods, the Central Party is dispatching officials to Provincial, City, and County Parties. As a result, the Province, City, and County Parties throughout the nation held a series of all-member meetings and discussed the current economic instability caused by price hikes. The Provincial Party indicated that “People still do not seem to have a proper understanding of the purpose of the currency exchange. Law enforcement agency officials must enforce price stabilization measures even if it means using force.” The Provincial Party also delivered a directive to City and County Parties. As such, City and County police authorities have decided to crack down on all merchants who sell goods at prices that are higher than the government-set prices. Each Provincial Party requested that the confiscated goods from merchants be distributed to those who are in need of help.

Some Residents Have Already Spent 500 won Relief Money
Despite efforts to stabilize the market commodity, prices are still higher than those set by the government. In fact, according to the old currency, prices have doubled since the change to the new won. It has been reported that some daily wage-earners have already spent the free 500 won that they have received as support money. Because prices are unstable, it has been difficult to start a new business. People are also experiencing difficulty obtaining food because there are not enough small denomination bills of the new currency, which are necessary for smooth transactions. People in destitute households don’t even have the money needed to process the rationed corn into rough corn flour. As a result, they are mixing corn with beans and eating something that’s neither corn meal nor porridge. There are many households that cannot afford bean oil, raising the risk of serious malnutrition problems. People say that this whole year has been just too painful to endure. Kim Chul-jin (alias) who lives in Soonchun, South Pyungan Province, expressed his negative outlook by saying, “the things we had go through, including the 150-day battle, the 100-day battle, and the negative effect of the currency exchange, have all pushed workers to the cliff. Everything is just so difficult we don’t even know what to do at this point.” The residents of Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province are demanding that “They should stabilize prices as soon as possible and let the new currency flow smoothly. Then, the government should pay at least one-month’s wages to laborers by abolishing private trading and letting everyone work for government. If the government is unable to pay wages to the people, they should withdraw government market controls and allow everyone to do their own trading so that people can make a living.”

Governmental Market Controls Brings Down the Price of Rice
Grain prices are falling as a result of the government’s efforts to strengthen market controls. In Pyungsung, South Pyungan Province, the price of rice was 40 won per kg on December 14, but it went down to 30 won the next day. The price of rice also declined from 50 won to 40 won in Hoeryung, North Hamgyong Province. The price of food is gradually falling in other areas as well. The decrease in prices comes after the City Party convened meetings to respond to excessive price hikes for grains and became involved in market controls. However, the price of rice is not falling below 30 won and it is believed that further intervention will make rice vanish from the market.

City Party Officials: “Society is not likely to stabilize until January of next year.”
The Party officials of major cities and counties have stated in a series of all-member meetings that they expect the confusion caused by the currency exchange to continue for a while. Even though they are making efforts to bring stability to all sectors of society as soon as possible, they cautiously predict that things are not likely to stabilize until January of next year. However, they believe there will be even more chaos and difficulty in people’s lives if stability is not achieved by next January. As such, they have stressed that “Every effort should be made to stabilize prices by January at any cost.” Currently, the price of rice in major cities across the nation has come down from 50-60 won to 30-40 won as a result of forceful intervention by authorities. Nevertheless, rice is still being traded at a higher price than the government-set price, which is 22-23 won per kilogram.

[Food]
Low Crop Yield at the New Worker Tideland Farm in Yumju County

Province workers at the North Pyongan Province and county workers at Yumju County made great efforts to improve the food supply by increasing the arable land by cultivating the tideland and farming with proper tideland soil. In order to properly farm the tideland last spring, they mobilized farmers and farm volunteers to plant and fertilize the rice field. However, due to the concentration of salt at 0.8% and the mixture of sand in the soil, the seeds are not budding or spoiling, making it difficult to plant the seeds. Without any complementary measures of advanced agricultural technology, the farming has been poor for the past three years. The mobilization of farmers and volunteers during the 150-Day Battle and investment in the fertilizers has been fruitless. Even though the government provided special consideration by securing agricultural materials and chemical fertilizers, the production for this year has been only 2 to 3 tons. As a result, the Province Party and the Province Farm Management Officials criticized the researchers at Shinuiju Agricultural Institute for poor experiments. They also declared that the crop yield would have been larger if additional labor force, agricultural materials and fertilizer have been given to other farms other than tideland farming. Farmers, who only received three months’ ration last year, are worried whether they can receive proper ration with such poor crop yield. However, the North Pyongan Province Agricultural Institute and the Province Farm Management officials have announced that crop yield from the tideland has increased.

Failed Vegetable Farming Raises Concern for Kimchee (pickled vegetable for winter) in Chungjin
Chungjin, in North Hamgyong Province, is troubled once again for Kimchee due to this year’s failed vegetable farming. There are 670 laborers at Chungjin Bus Factory, and each laborer can only receive 8 to 9 kg of radish. Vegetable farm Factory at Jikhari in the Chungam District received six tons of radishes. The enterprise workers had to give up their share in order to provide 10 kg of radish to individual laborers. Following this practice, supervisors, cell secretary, and the elementary laborer also conceded their share to their laborers.

Party Officials Receive 8 times more Radish than Laborer Hoeryung
The party officials at Heoryung City in the North Hamgyong Province received 80 kilograms of radish, a large amount compared to the 10 kg of radish received by the laborers. The officials units are farmed by the wives of the party officials, and they have much better crop yield than the regular unites, because they have more time to spend at the farm and more fertilizer. In August, during the dry weather, members of the district offices of the Democratic Women’s Union and middle school students were mobilized to bring water to the officials unit. Although the field could not be watered due to lack of water at the pump, units belonging to family groups of the party officials were watered. As a result, their field flourished with radish and cabbage while the rest of the field crop dried up.

[Economy]
Kowon Food Factory Built Their Own Soy Milk Production Facilities

A food factory in Kowon County, Kangwon Province makes a wide variety of food products while encouraging technological innovation. Namely, they built their own food production facilities to provide soy milk to places like schools, daycare facilities, and orphanages located within Kowon County. Workers including the general manager tried to resolve the technological issues and material shortages in constructing the facilities on their own while emphasizing the creative collaboration with other professional researchers.

However, the soy milk production facilities built on their own stopped functioning properly in less than three months in service. There also were many discussions among the City Party officials in Danchun City, South Hamgyong Province regarding issues with respect to building their soy milk production facilities on their own. They agreed on the option of building it on their own because the cost of importing the facilities would be prohibitively expensive. However, the option of building it on their own had major technical and financial issues that prevented successful launching of the production facilities. Some places could not make the soy milk due to the lack of soy beans, but many other places such as Kowon County and Danchun City, could not produce soy milk because of difficulties in building their own soy milk production facilities.

Junchun Mine in Jagang Province Suffered Sluggish Production During 100-Day Battle
At Junchun mine in Junchun County, Jagang Province, competitive coal production was encouraged by assigning ambitious production goals during the 100-Day Battle period. As a result of such competitions, the amount of coal production has increased. However, the coal transportation encountered difficulties due to frequent failures of railcar accessories such as bearings. Moreover, the work environment for coal mining is poor. For example, water would rise up to the waistline if a water pump did not run for 3 hours. Despite such a poor excavating condition, workers only recite slogans such as "self-reliance and self-renewal is the only way out." Guiding officers focus their attention only on increasing the coal production yield; they do not resolve coal miners' basic needs. In spite of this, they criticize coal miners as not working hard; and creating too many machine and facility failures because they lack the spirit of ownership. As a consequence, coal miners' absenteeism is increasing, and their spirit for victorious 100-Day Battle is declining.

Struggling at Bukchang Thermal Power Plant during 100-Day Battle
In response to the call for “Provision of sufficient power to people’s economy during the 100-Day Battle for the construction of Strong and Prosperous Nation,” the workers at the United Enterprise of Bukchang Thermal Power Plant in Bukchang county, South Pyongan Province are making efforts to provide good maintenance of equipment and enhance the combustion rate so as to produce more electricity. Although maintenance work was performed on power generation boilers, they could not meet the target efficiency rate of the boilers due to the shortage of the materials and parts. The Ministry of Electricity officials severely criticized the power station technicians. However, the technicians responded by saying that the problem is unavoidable. They said, "We need materials and parts. There is not much we can do without them. The problem is with the boilers, not the power generator."

Ministry of Forestry Failed to Meet Annual Log Production Goals
The officials at the Ministry of Forestry were severely criticized as it was revealed that twenty forest public enterprises under the Ministry of Forestry failed to reach the log production goals. The Ministry of Forestry dispatched officials to 20 forest public enterprises as soon as the 100-Day Battle started because the local coalmine enterprises addressed difficulties of mining during the 150-Day Battle. The purpose is to achieve the goals of log production during 100-Day Battle by reinforcing the Party leadership as well as administrative leadership.

[Politics]
Hoeryung Holds an Emergency Plenary Meeting to Punish Absentees
In the afternoon of November 25th, Hoeryung City in North Hamgyong Province convened a City Party Plenary Meeting in order to assess the attendance status of every factory and enterprise, and discuss solutions to the problem. Many residents have left in search of a relative or a sibling in other regions, many have just disappeared without stating their reason, and several cases were discovered in which an entire family has fled due to bankruptcy. During this meeting, officials reviewed the case of Kim Chul-jun, who is a construction worker of the Urban Construction Team. Kim Chul-jun stated that he did not have anything to eat since March, so he worked a small plot of land for a farmer in Wonsan-ri and received 2 kilograms of corn each day for wages. He was absent without leave between the early spring and the harvest time of autumn; on November 13th, primary officers from the enterprise caught him and sent him to the Mangyang Police Substation. He will be subjected to legal sanction because of his absences without leave for the half year during the 150-day battle. It is said that Kim Chul-jun protested by saying, “If I had participated in the 150-day battle instead of working a side job, my whole family would have perished from hunger. Is it a crime to try to make a living?” Even though he was told that the punishment could be mitigated if he admits fault, he still resisted, saying, “There is not much to do at work anyway, so why is it a crime to try to feed my family members?” He did not stop his protests even when people began to kick him with their boots. The City Party made a reference to Kim Chul-jun’s case and delivered its decision to every factory and enterprise. The decision prompts factories to send every worker who has been absent illegally for more than 15-20 days during the 150-day battle and since then to the municipal re-education center. However, the City Party did not produce a solution that will decrease the number of illegal absentees in the future. The meeting ended with a discussion of how to prevent people from leaving their assigned areas.

Hoeryung Publicly Deports a Neighborhood Unit Head for Illegally Housing a Border-Crosser
These days, as the river has begun to freeze over, there are signs that the number of defectors may increase near the National Border Area, so authorities are tightening regulations in the area. On November 27th, a head of the Neighborhood Unit in Nammoondong, Hoeryung City, was deported for illegally sheltering a peddler from Saebyul County. The Unit Head let Mr. Choi live in his home because he had completed a deal with the peddler from Saebyul County on November 18th. It was his understanding that Mr. Choi was supposed to stay in Hoeryung for 3 days and was going to Chungjin on the afternoon of 21st, so he had no idea why he was arrested by the police all of a sudden. It turned out that Mr. Choi from Saebyul County was caught by security officers while attempting to cross the border near Mangyangdong, and he allegedly confessed that he had stayed in Nammoondong before crossing the river. As a result, the head of the Neighborhood Unit who allowed him to stay the night was considered an accomplice and was subjected to a People’s Trial on the 27th. To set an example, the Safety Authorities ordered that the head of the Neighborhood Unit be deported to Changdaeri, saying that even if he did not intend to help the peddler, he nevertheless abetted the peddler’s crime. Changdaeri is the farm village farthest away from Hoeryung, located in a hilly area where it is difficult to farm. Residents felt sorry for the misfortune that befell the head of the Neighborhood Unit.

[Society]
Bribery Needed to Get Divorced

Although many couples file for divorce, it is not easy to have a court hearing. More young couples decide to get divorced as their business becomes more difficult and food situations worsen. Financial hardship and subsequent stress on marriage is the main reason. However, the courts are not even accepting divorce applications. The Province court ordered lower court officials to “make efforts to the best of their ability and educate the couples so that they can preserve marriage.” Some couples bribe court officials to get a divorce. Offering a bribe of 200,000 NK won can get you a divorce trial, which takes at least 2 months after the filing. Smaller bribes, such as less than 200,000 NK won or cigarettes will not get you a court date even after 6 months to one year. It is not an overstatement to say that court officials live on bribes as the amount of bribe money they get is quite substantial.

500 Lumber Workers in Russia Replaced in November
About 500 North Korean lumber workers who had cut logs in Primorsky Krai area of Russia returned to the country in November. Pyongyang Forestry Business spokesman announced that about 500 new laborers would be sent as replacement. Those who returned this year had been dispatched in November of 2007. It was reported that about 70 of them ran away. Selection of lumber workers to Primorsky Krai is managed by officials of city and County Party. One has to pay the official at least 200,000 won in old currency in order to be selected for the job.

[Women/Children/Education]
In Sariwon, University Students Stole Crops While Helping Farmers

Students and staff from Lee Gye-Soon Sariwon First College of Education in North Hwanghae Province went to Goksang County to assist the corn harvest, but they had to suffer from food shortage in three days. The farms tried to provide newly harvested grains to the students after threshing the grain, but it couldn’t be done due to a power outage. As a result, the starved students could not go to work. So, they had to rest in the farm dormitory. The Province People’s Assembly officials, who came to monitor the autumn harvest, learned about the situation and strongly criticized the managing officials. In the end, ears of rice that were not counted on the record were provided for food.

Meanwhile, farm officials requested withdrawing of the student volunteers, complaining that not only does it take too much grains to feed the student volunteers, but the students stole too much of them as well. There were many cases where the students return from the work with 5 to 6 stolen corn ears and exchange them with corn noodles or alcoholic drinks. The farm officials kept raising the issues at the staff meeting and tried to educate the students but to no avail. The students could not stop stealing as they felt that they should fill their stomach while they can during the mobilization period because they would end up suffering from the food shortage again when they return to school. Some skillful students make money by diverting stolen food. The farm officials worried that the bad yield would decrease even further because of the pilfering of the students.

Teacher’s College Graduates with Money Avoid Rural Schools
Graduates of teacher’s college and professional school show an increasing tendency of avoiding assignments to positions in difficult and tough areas of society. Government officials or rich people utilize their resources and make arrangements ahead of time so that their children can avoid being assigned to rural areas. Even if they are being assigned to a rural school, the parents skillfully take them out of the list or bring their children back to their home later. Thirty-seven graduates of Wonsan Teacher’s College were assigned to a rural town in Bungye border area last April. Twenty-four graduates of Sungchun Teacher’s college were assigned to remote islands, but those with affluent family background returned to their home within 5 months.

The Party is encouraging the new generation of students to “make righteous and sincere commitment and actively volunteer for assignments in difficult and remote areas,” but those with affluent family background are the first ones avoiding them. As such, there are many difficulties in education in the mountainous areas and agricultural areas due to insufficient number of teachers. Teachers who lack proper qualification and ability being assigned to rural areas are a problem, but in reality even finding such teachers is very difficult. This problem was raised as an issue at the Ministry of Education and spurred serious discussions about how to assign college and professional school graduates to difficult and remote areas in March and April. In the mean time, there are students who wish to be assigned to schools in agricultural areas which affluent students avoid. They are the children of farm members. They want to be teachers rather than work in the farm like their parents. They try everything they can to avoid becoming a farmer because they can achieve upward mobility and change their background (songbun) to laborer. As such, they do their best and work hard no matter where they become assigned.

[Accidents]
Lumber Truck Rolled Over on Snowy Road
In early December, a truck came to load material lumber in a forest products enterprise in Rokya-ri, Eunduk County, North Hamgyong Province and fell from the mountain due to brake failure. The truck from Roksan store in Soonam Division in Chungjin City slipped on the ice at a corner on the mountain while carrying 12 cubic-meters of material lumbers. One soldier and two Rokya farm workers died at the scene. The driver, the only survivor, was arrested at Rokya police substation, as he was being held accountable for the accident.
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