GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

.

North Korea Today No. 336 March 2010

[“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.]
________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
North Korean Residents Miss the Time of the Great Leader
“Even I Would Not Do It Like That,” a female peddler says about the currency reform – Citizens and officials agree that currency reform failed

[Food]
Kimchaek Steel Mill, 1 kg of Corn Noodles is Used to Provide Lunch for Twelve

[Economy]
Trade Department Delayed Importing 1,000 tons of Provisions for Lack of Budget

[Politics]
The Public Prosecutors Office in North Hamgyong Province is Investigating Trade Companies that Raised Food Market Price
Brutal Beating on a Robber at Mangyangdong Police Substation, Hoeryong

[Society]
Excessive Non-tax Burden on Top of Already Difficult Daily Life

[Women/Children/Education]
More Freshmen Dropping out from Cho Gunsil College of Education, Wonsan City

[Accidents]
Five to Six Robbery Cases Reported in Onchun County Daily

[Editorial]
Save People First with Humanitarian Food Aid

________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
North Korean Residents Miss the Time of the Great Leader

Some residents in provincial cities as well as in Pyongyang yearn for the time of the Great Leader. Bokhee Kang (alias), a resident in Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province commented that “the Great Leader was good at politics,” stating that “in 1960-70s we had many innovators, high economic growth, and good living conditions.” Minbok Kim (alias), a resident in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province also agreed that the time of the Great Leader was better stating that “the Great Leader pointed out 100 consumables items and he even calculated the price of a single needle. He produced a large number of innovators by providing a good mixture of political recognitions and monetary rewards.” By contrast “now we only have political recognitions but no accompanying monetary rewards in people’s economy because of the increasing emphasis and investment in national defense since the 1980s. The current leaders lost the support of the people because they have paid very little attention to and expenditures for the people’s economy. Now we have made nuclear weapons and become a strong military nation, the current leaders thought it was time to take care of the public sentiment and thus executed the national economic measure but they did not prepare well for it,” and thus indirectly criticized the currency reforms at issue.

Meanwhile, the Central Party carefully monitors the public sentiment “missing the time of the Great Leader.” One party official in Pyongyang commented that “in times of the Arduous March, many people yearned for the Great Leader’s time. Since 2000, the Central Party has absolutely prohibited such public sentiment because it means we are doing worse than the period of the Great Leader. Thus, it is a real problem that such public sentiment is arising again.”

“Even I Would Not Do It Like That,” a female peddler says about the currency reform – Citizens and officials agree that currency reform failed
As living standards collapsed following the currency reform, the population, ranging from high-ranking officials to ordinary citizens, had a lot to say. The citizens believe the currency exchange policy was mostly a failure. Many people who were barely making a living from daily peddling income have lost their jobs. While they survive by eating porridge or a ground mixture of corn and corncob, others are dying of hunger.

The state-run factories ceased operating because the price of the raw materials is not right, and the distribution of commodities became even more difficult. The markets and state-run stores are not operating efficiently because prices are too high. As a result, voices of dissatisfaction are growing. The citizens say that “the mere fact that dissatisfaction is rising among the people means that the currency exchange has failed.” A woman who peddles in the market says openly, “Even I would not do the currency exchange like that if someone asked me about it. Whoever did it did a pathetic job”.

Since the middle of January, people were starving to death in various regions, but no national resolution was announced. The officers who organized and managed the currency exchange reform are being severely criticized in these regions. Intensive criticisms have been voiced such as, “The government officials whose lives are provided by the state just have no idea about the lives of poverty-stricken people. These utterly ignorant officials who do not even know the basics of the economy came up with a surprise policy after an armchair argument, took temporary gains and led the economy into a state of disaster, thereby pushing the lives of the people into distress. They cannot rectify the mistake even if they lay down their lives.”

One officer from the Central Party expressed his confusion, “In the past, it used to be difficult for other regions to issue these complaints to the Central Party, but the Central Party cannot disregard them anymore these days. The national situation has become worse, so if the Party disregards or criticizes the complaints even to the slightest degree, it would cause national chaos.” He too believed that the policy failed, saying, “It is true that the Central Party had made an error in judgment. It naively thought that if it announces a currency exchange reform and eliminates markets, the wealthy people will go down and all the commodities will appear in the state-run stores.”

[Food]
Kimchaek Steel Mill, 1 kg of Corn Noodles is Used to Provide Lunch for Twelve
The food situation is still difficult for the workers at Kimchaek Steel Mill in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province. They were supposed to receive corn from the Hoeryong Farm Management Committee in exchange for fertilizer and vinyl, which they received as a payment for exporting pig iron. However, much of the corn was lost because transportation difficulties delayed the delivery of the corn. The executive officials worry about the ongoing food shortage, saying, “More people will die if this food shortage continues.”

Workers are supposed to go home for lunch, but few do so because there is nothing else to eat at home. Thus, most of them eat corn noodles at the company-run cafeterias. When 1 kg of corn noodle is soaked in water, it can feed up to twelve people. However, the Kimchaek Steel Mill calculates the amount of lunch tickets a worker used and deducts that amount from the worker’s food ration. Workers don’t even eat for free, nor is the meal sufficient enough. Yet, they feel that eating the corn noodles is better than starving at home. After the workers finish the meager meals, they lie down in the break room and try to hold their hunger. They resume their work at 2:00 p.m. and finish at 7:00 p.m. They complain that their situation is no different from prison laborers since they work long hours and suffer from hunger.

[Economy]
Trade Department Delayed Importing 1,000 tons of Provisions for Lack of Budget

A high-ranking official from the Trade Department has disclosed that the Department is planning to import 1,000 tons of unglutinous rice, but is facing serious financial issues. It will be unable to purchase the rice, imported into Nampo, at the price the Chinese have offered of 410 dollars/ton. However, if the unglutinous rice is imported, it will be distributed to poor families first.

[Politics]
The Public Prosecutors Office in North Hamgyong Province is Investigating Trade Companies that Raised Food Market Price

The Public Prosecutor’s office in North Hamgyong Province arrested trade companies which had stored food during January and February until the market price increased. The companies investigated had conspired with the wealthy to increase inflation. Six trade officers were arrested in Chungjin in total. The officers had not released food even though they had tens of tons in their warehouses. Residents of Chungjin City said that “even the people who had money could not buy food because trade companies were not willing to sell them” and “they are guilty of just looking at people starving to die even if they obviously knew how people had hard time getting food.”

Brutal Beating on a Robber at Mangyangdong Police Substation, Hoeryong
Recently, the number of robberies and murders has sharply increased mainly because of food shortage. A robbery occurred in Inkyeri, Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province around 10 p.m. on February 27. A robber beat a police officer, who was riding his bike home, with a stick and attempted to steal the bike. However, the officer, who was fortunately not severely injured, could easily catch the robber by firing warning shots.

The robber was a worker at the `July 7 Factory’ in Eunduk County. His wife fled to China two years ago, and left him with an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. His harsh livelihood drove him to commit the robbery in order to feed his children. While interrogating him, the Mangyangdong Police Substation severely beat and injured him. He, who already starved so long and thus weak, could not even move because of the brutal beating. The Mangyangdong Police Substation notified the Eunduk Police Station to take him over but only heard from the Station that because he can’t even sit by himself, they will take him once he recovers enough to walk on his own. He can’t even eat because of the severe beating. Even if he swallows some food, he throws it up and passes out two or three times per day. His condition is getting worse. Those who hear the news feel rather sympathetic towards him, saying that “He is out of luck. How unfortunate he is for trying to rob a police officer! Though the officer was robbed, the police should not have mistreated him that much. It is the police who have been committing so many robberies. Now they have almost killed another person who committed a robbery. The poor are getting more pitiful.”

[Society]
Excessive Non-tax Burden on Top of Already Difficult Daily Life

People are struggling and suffering greatly because of non-tax payment assignments imposed on them on top of the difficulties to make daily lives. The non-tax items and quantities differ according to the area and unit, but generally every family has to get 2 tons of human excrement soil, 42 kg of scrap iron, 250 kg of corn-sized gravels, 3 kg of scratch paper to earn foreign currency (monthly), and 500 NK Won in cash to buy pork to support the military for one year. If it is less than the assigned amount, each family has to pay in cash. Thus, all the residents feel great pressure. Some people collect more than assigned human excrement soil or small gravels and make money by selling them. Yet, there is little doubt that these assignments are too much for most of the residents. For example, many people in Pyongsung City, South Pyongan Province who were pressured with non-tax payment grumble about currency reform and lament their misfortune. Kim, Hwa-Sun (alias) in Pyungsung Dong said “Although there was a news report in media that the light manufacturing factories achieved the production goals of commodities in excess of the target, prices of the basic goods, such as tooth pastes, facial soaps, and laundry soaps, are much higher than the government-set prices. With already soaring rice price, most people have to endure these endless non-tax payments. After the currency revaluation the government could not regulate the price of these necessary goods and created confusion in the society. What are the newly set prices for? There have to be more products in the market first before carrying out the currency reform. With not enough amounts of the products, newly announced prices are meaningless. No one is willing to take the responsibility for the miseries created by the reform. Now, we would not trust them no matter what they say.”

[Women/Children/Education]
More Freshmen Dropping out from Cho Gunsil College of Education, Wonsan City

Recently, the number of freshmen dropout is rapidly increasing in Cho Gunsil College of Education in Wonsan City, Kangwon Province. The college began its winter break on December 5 due to H1N1 and resumed on January 10, but many students have not returned. It is because more parents felt burdened to support college attending children due to rapidly aggravated living condition after the currency exchange measure. The number of students who did not return or dropped out was 27 in January and 22 in February.

[Accidents]
Five to Six Robbery Cases Reported in Onchun County Daily

At Onchun County, South Pyongan Province, crime is growing rampant and public anxiety is spreading as people are suffering from weak law enforcement. There have been five to six cases of robbery on a daily basis during February in the Onchun jurisdiction. On February 26th, two households were each robbed of 100 dollars and 200 dollars in cash, a VCR, and a bike. The two families were known to be wealthy. According to an eyewitness, the burglars carried knives and entered the houses casually. They threatened the women and children, demanded money and household goods, and left as soon as they had acquired those items. A woman from one family was hospitalized after she fainted from the shock. Similar cases are happening daily, but the Onchun County Party and the police stations have not been able to find an adequate solution for this problem.

[Editorial]
Save People First with Humanitarian Food Aid

Public sentiment is becoming shaky. It is not easy to determine the extent from outside the country, but the situation appears to be worsening based upon news reports. The expression "I miss the days of the Great Leader" which circulated during the Arduous March is spreading openly now. There were times when people said they would not trust the government no matter what it says. Now, the explanation that the problem is "because of the US and South Korea's attempt to isolate our country" doesn't seem to convince anyone. Even those who know nothing about the economy are criticizing the act of closing the market without plans for supplying goods after the currency reform.

Declining public trust in government is something the North Korean government should be worried about. The reputation of being an "ideologically strong country" is crumbling. Last year's harvest was bad because of a drought, and the winter was freezing cold. Moreover, all the money saved up became worthless paper after the currency reform, and the new currency is unable to catch up with the inflation rate. Because prices are unstable merchants are not selling food in the market, so people are unable to buy food even with money in hand. Starving people are collapsing because they have nothing to eat and die silently. The central government realized the severity of the situation and is trying hard to resolve the food shortage by putting pressure on lower-level government units, but individuals who went to Dandong and Shenyang China are struggling as they are unable to secure even one ton of grain. The seriousness of the government's economic measures ended up pushing people who were already struggling over the cliff.

The North Korean government should take responsibility for the problems it caused. First of all, they should acknowledge the urgency of the current situation to the South Korean government and the international community and ask for humanitarian aid. The United Nations third guiding principle clearly states that "humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of an appeal by the affected country."

Nobody will be aware of the current situation without an appeal from the North Korean government, and even when someone breaks the news it will be treated as a claim and not enough to draw real aid. The so-called "humanitarian aid fatigue" which attests to the sentiment that nothing has changed despite more than 10 years of humanitarian aid to North Korea is not something that should be dismissed easily. No matter how strong one makes in an appeal that people are dying of hunger, it is not taken seriously unless the actual situation is revealed and the appeal is heard. The typical reaction from potential donors is "North Korea always has a food shortage, right? They all figured out how to survive, so it won't progress into a mass famine." However, North Korea will be able to obtain humanitarian aid from the South Korean government and the international community if it complies with the international community.

The South Korean government should respond actively to the North Korean government's appeal for food aid. The South Korean government's prompt humanitarian assistance to the North during the H1N1 flu outbreak established a good example for aid policy to the North. The South Korean government needs to engage in a fact-finding mission to determine if the current food situation is an urgent humanitarian crisis and help North Korean citizens even though the North Korean government is unable to provide detailed explanations.

North Koreans are not residents of a foreign country. They are our own people whom we will be living with together one day. Rescuing them from death and starvation is an important responsibility of ours. We need to let them know that there are people who are concerned about them and want to help them when they are suffering enormously. Giving one ton of food right now rather than giving 100 tons of food in the future is one way to help North Koreans and win their hearts and minds. As such, the South Korean government should act decisively to provide humanitarian aid and give hope to those who will be our fellow citizens in the future. This is not the time to calculate political gains and losses. This is the time to save people.
There was an error in this gadget