GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 367 September 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.]
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Kkotjebi Increase in Shinsungchun Station in July and August
Murder by Homeless in Sinsungchun Train Station
Increasing Absenteeism of Women in Rural South Hwanghae Province
Official’s Family Farm Work Units in Jaeryong District Face No Food Shortage
Farmers Complain about Privilege of Gimchaek City Officials’ Family Work Units
Hoeryong Factory Run by Retired Soldiers Closed and Reopened due to Heightened Protests
4000 Won a Month for Breeding Rabbits, Ranam District, Chungjin
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Kkotjebi Increase in Shinsungchun Station in July and August
The number of Kkotjebi at the Shin-Sungchun Station in South Pyongan province has significantly increased from July to August. Last February, the number of Kkotjebi dramatically increased because of starvation then subsided for a while when authorities cleared them out of the station. However, the number has been rising again because of flood damage, which just occurred in the region. According to a survey conducted by North Korean authorities, there were approximately 25 Kkotjebis wandering around Shinsungchun station until last April. However, during July and August, there were 40 to 50 Kkotjebis. Constituting 80% of the Kkotjebi group, the number of adults has increased the most in contrast with the past. The train station employees continue to report these problems to Songchon County Party committee and the security authorities, but state officials are only handling the young members of the Kkotjebi group. Caring for adults is much harder because they depart for two to three days as soon as Kkotjebi control is enforced. These adults gather around places like the train station, where there are many travelers, and steal from travelers in order to survive. They attack merchants, go begging in neighborhoods, and eat food left on the ground. Security officials said that Kkotjebis wander around because there are many travelers at this station, which serves as the major transit point for people traveling east and west. The Kkotjebis are contributing to a higher crime rate. The current method of control implemented to restrict Kkotjebis by sending them to kkotjebi shelters or Youth brigade fails to deal with the problem at hand.

Murder by Homeless in Sinsungchun Train Station
In mid-August, a woman who was waiting for the train was killed in the bathroom at the Sinsungchun train station. The victim was identified as Ms. Kim, a salesperson at the market regulation office in Taetan County, South Hwanghae Province. Ms. Kim was murdered on her way to Wonsan City, Kangwon Province, by two adults and two younger homeless people. The attackers were caught approximately 21 hours after the incident at a nearby village while attempting to sell the victim’s clothes and belongings.

According to investigators, the attackers wanted to steal Ms. Kim’s valuables such as her watch, cash, and handbag. When Ms. Kim resisted, the assailants struck her and murdered her unintentionally. The attackers responsible for the murder were dead because of a severe beating they received after being transferred to the police station.

A police officer reported that the police did not conduct a proper investigation because the attackers were homeless. Even though they committed a serious crime that could lead execution by firing squad, they were not executed publicly but were killed in the police station because police were conscious of potential public criticism which may say, “This incident happened because the government could not provide minimum living standards for the homeless people.”Many people who heard about this incident were sympathetic to the homeless people even if they committed the murder. People said, “We cannot solely blame this incident on the homeless people. It is an indication of poor societal administration by the government. Our lives became dismal after the currency exchange measure. Families were broken and the number of homeless people increased because it is difficult to eat and survive. If people were able to eat enough corn, there would be no reason for broken families and homeless people. Then there would be no incidents like this one. There is no doubt that the murder is bad, but it is sad that homeless people who suffered and must beg for food to survive were beaten to death in the police station.”

After the Sinsungchun train station murder incident occurred, the South Pyongan Provincial Party informed the police stations in Sungchun County that all homeless people must be strictly controlled. Accordingly, the county police stations sent young homeless children to a school and adult homeless people were sent to a rural area. Despite such efforts, the measures were not sufficient to prevent crimes and reduce homelessness because the police handle control of the homeless just to impress the upper management units. The police in Sungchun County reported that they just pretend to do strict homeless control and complain about how the county could resolve the very issue that could not be resolved even at the provincial party level last June.

Increasing Absenteeism of Women in Rural South Hwanghae Province
In South Hwanghae Province, one of the most important tasks for opening the doors for “Strong and Prosperous Nation” is resolving food problem. So, priority was placed on having extra sets of hands on the farms. Following the provincial party’s orders, the Democratic Woman’s Union was told to send 150 women to the farms located in Anak County, Baechun County, Ryongyeon County, Ongjin County, Taetan County and others. However, due to lack of volunteers, incentives to give rations in advance were offered. For every one woman, 50kg of rice and 160kg of corn were given. Although this is a small amount to cover for the period of February to November, women who were barely keeping alive after the currency exchange were the ones volunteering for the span of three years as an agreement with the state.

Out of these women, none of them were wives of those in the Armed Force Party, Committee of Armed Force Party, Police, public prosecutor’s office, National Security Agency, or any workers, but wives of laborers who were barely making a daily living. The women said, “If it wasn’t for the currency exchange, I would not have volunteered to work on the farms. Last year, we were able to get by as merchants, but because business has become so bad, I volunteered only for the food.” As food has decreased, the rate of absenteeism has steadily increased. By May, many homes had already run out of their food supply and despite the busy season, the women did not go out to the fields to work. The chairman and members of the county party tried to persuade the absent women and even bullied them, but the situation has not improved. The officials are threatening by saying, “How can they take the food and not come out to work? If you can’t work, return the food” but the women are not budging and responding by saying, “There is nothing to eat even if we go out and work. Since there is nothing we can fill our bellies with, we must sell things to get by.” In August, the situation improved a little from eating grass porridge as early crops of corns become available. But, because South Hwanghae Province suffered from the flood this year, there are many corn plants that went bad. Also, besides food, other expenses in order to make a living have driven these women from volunteering on the fields and into the streets in order to sell something to make a living. The general consensus is that the women “have to buy the children’s clothes and other school supplies to get ready for the beginning of the school year. Also, there are many things the school expects from the students to contribute and the neighborhood unit also collects quite a lot. Either don’t give us nontax burdens or don’t collect fees for this and that when we have no money at all.” It is not that the county parties did not expect this to happen, but because they cannot be more aggressive, they are pressuring the women to go back to work by saying, “Make contributions to the ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’.”

Officials’ Family Farm Work Units in Jaeryong District Face No Food Shortage
In February agricultural work units consisting of families of government officials were formed in Jaeryong District, South Hwanghae Province. The theory behind the initiative was that “the wives of government officials must set an example for the people by working on the front line of the agricultural revolution.” The work units might resemble other agricultural groups initially, but they are vastly different. First, those who do most of the farming are members of the Democratic Women’s Union, who are the ordinary housewives. The wives of the government officials just participate in “Friday labors.” Yet, they enjoy greater benefits. Whereas the ordinary family work units need to shop for their necessities because they cannot keep their harvests, the families of officials do not. Their share of the harvests is much greater. The families of the officials each took 20kg of barley during June and July, and 30kg of potatoes. Such disparity incited anger among other farmers.

Farmers Complain about Privilege of Gimchaek City Officials’ Family Work Units
Wives of officials of the Gimchaek City Party, in North Hamgyong Province, also organized and operated work units. A similar measure forcing officials’ wives to work at the farm was issued in 2008 and this measure was ordered again on January 8, 2010 when people’s living conditions nationwide worsened as a result of the currency reform. Gimchaek City maintained these units organized with family of the City Party officials since 2008. The units were expanded following the measure that was adopted in January. Wives of officials of the City Party, police officers, and public prosecutors also joined the organization. Most family members of officials avoided joining the organization in the past because working on the farm is difficult.

Although the purpose of this measure to set an example seemed acceptable, most farmers felt frustrated because every possible privilege was given to officials’ wives. Before harvesting new crops, especially from May to July, many farmers starved and did not go to work. Compared with ordinary farmers, each household of these units received 38kgs of early ripe potatoes on June 25. They also received 30kgs of thrashed barley in July. However, ordinary farmers received only 15kgs of green and poor potatoes during a later phase of distribution. They could not even imagine receiving thrashed barley, so it was natural for the farmers to complain about this situation.

The members of the officials’ family units also received vegetables that they grew. As a result, they did not need to buy side dishes at the market. Some wives of officials said, “We did not like working at the farm, but we really like it now because it is better than trading at the market. It helps our family, and the work is not so hard.” A few farmers complained about this issue to the City Party or Province Party by saying, “Why do you provide only for the family of officials with food and side dishes? Give us the same distribution level, or do not distribute anything to anybody.”

The City Party responded to the complaint by saying, “The wives did not have time to trade at the market because they worked at the farm, so we gave them some vegetables as compensation. You should not complain about this treatment.” The Party ostracized people who made complaints by critiquing their ideological commitment. One observer said the other farmers cannot complain openly, but grumbled in secret by saying, “Officials are totally unfair. They take credit for themselves for having their wives work at the farm. They take every possible benefit and privilege for themselves.”

Hoeryong Factory Run by Retired Soldiers Closed and Reopened due to Heightened Protests
Hoeryong City of North Hamgyong Province closed a factory, which was shortly reopened by the Central Party’s decree. The factory produced basic commodities and it was run by retired soldiers who were either relocated to Eunha Clothing Factory or primarily neglected after the shutdown. Approximately 140 out of the 240 of these retired soldiers were assigned to alternative posts outside of the city, which raised massive complaints directed at the City Party and the City People’s Assembly. The factory was closed after the City Party Committee determined that it was not contributing to overall social progress. Since many of these soldiers have disabilities, the burden of accommodating them greatly outweighed their low productivity. Despite the reason for closing the unit, due to inadequate follow-up measures taken, this problem was escalated to the Provincial Party and even to the censorship of the Central Party thus politicizing the issue. The City Party’s poor management of this shutdown left numerous soldiers unemployed.

Consequently, the City Party Committee held a plenary meeting on August 3rd and decided to resume the operation of the basic commodities factory, restoring the employment of the previously displaced soldiers. An officer from the City Party explained, “At first, the City Party decided to close the basic commodities factory because the physical challenges of many of these retired soldiers have prevented them from effectively contributing to the economy and were viewed as unnecessary.” He continued, “The City Party was compelled by the Central Party to reopen the new public enterprise as complaints ensued.” The reopening of the factory also required new appointments to oversee the operations. Since the factory consisted mainly of retired soldiers, the officer positions including the Party Secretary and manager positions had to be filled by these same retired soldiers employed at the factory. However, this would also be a challenge considering that many of the retired soldiers do not hold university degrees to qualify for these positions. Despite these limitations, the City Party continues to distribute at least corn in consideration of the livelihood of these soldiers. According to him, the Leading Secretary of the City Party and the Chairman of the City People’s Assembly personally went to the newly established factory of the decorated soldiers on August 6th, and asked them not to be disappointed anymore and to work hard. In short, they were appeasing them so that this problem would not cause another disruption within the Provincial Party or the Central Party. The City Party promised that it will continue to provide food as usual regardless of the productivity of the factory.

4000 Won a Month for Breeding Rabbits, Ranam District, Chungjin
In Ranam District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) started a project of breeding rabbits earlier this year. This requires giving of one healthy female rabbit to the Union every month. If all 30 people in the newly formed Union would provide one rabbit every month, it would exempt them from other kinds of burden or service required by the state. Also, some women, who have enough money to simply purchase the rabbits for the exchange, can freely trade it at a favorable price. Until the 15th of April it was in the form of making donation to the army. However, for some reason it was changed to 4,000 Won every month from each and every group. The DWU stated that money was necessary to meet the seasonal funding requirements of the army. They also claimed that the varied needs of the army call on them to make greater efforts, like capturing rabbits. However, some DWU members are suspicious about collecting of money instead of rabbits. Many are even suspecting the district DWU officials of intercepting the money in the middle for their own use.



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