GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 370 October 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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One Million Won Required for Obtaining a Position as a Hyesan City Police Officer
Stealing Corns in Field by the Third Corps Are Becoming Serious
Hwaeryung City Party Supplies School Material to Secheon Schools
Dire Food Shortage at Secheon Farm Attributed to Failed Crops Last Year
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One Million Won Required for Obtaining a Position as a Hyesan City Police Officer
Hyesan City police officers in the Ryanggang Province are still doing well amidst North Korea’s economic chaos which has been further exacerbated by the government’s recent currency reform. Illegal trade in Hyesan, which is close to the national border, is rampant and particularly connected to the sale of drugs as well as rare metals, such as gold, silver, copper, iron, et cetera that are under tight government control. While some smuggling operations are managed by individual venders, most are large-scale enterprises. Bribery has thus become customary since sending and receiving prohibited items requires the aid of police or security officers. As a result, obtaining such positions in Hyesan has become very competitive; in particular, many Ryanggang Province officers have been applying for transfers, with bribes being exchanged in the process.

In order to become police or security officer in Hyesan a candidate must offer a bribe of at least one million won in the new currency. This may be a large sum of money; however, it’s only a matter of time before officers recoup their investment by taking in bribes from the smugglers. A smuggling or drug case that may be considered big in other regions can be resolved fairly easily if the right security officials are involved. Last September, a reputed drug trafficker who was arrested on drug related offenses was released within days after being declared innocent of charges. Although an order for intensifying drug regulations had been issued across the country, money clearly had priority.

Such corruption is encouraged by a society-wide permissiveness that doesn’t make a big deal out of anything unless it has to do with ideology issues. Simply speaking, if an incident is not “related to espionage,” then it is not a big deal. Rather, releasing culprits in exchange for money is regarded as a way of surviving during difficult times. Since corruption has become routine, neither officers nor smugglers seems to have a sense that what they are doing is wrong. The same goes for the people at large. For example, although officers are prohibited from possessing and riding personal motorbikes, those who do not own their own are often looked down upon by citizens; they believe that such officers must be slow-witted for not having one being in the position that they are. Along with the jeering is a healthy dose of envy.

If the officers take bribes from smugglers to look the other way, the wives of officers use their husbands’ status to actually join in the fray. They send articles to and receive prohibited items from China; they money they earn from such smuggling activities actually surpass the amount their husbands earn through bribes. Even if the wives are caught, the husbands step in to make the problem go away. The money a husband-wife team earns in this way surpasses the imagination of ordinary people. In Hyesan, there is a saying that only police officers have withstood the currency reform tsunami without breaking a sweat. Others say that “all the laws enacted by the government only serve to fill the bellies of the police officers.”

Stealing Corns in Field by the Third Corps Are Becoming Serious
The troops of the Capital Defense Command that are stationed in Kangseo County of South Pyongan Province are still struggling with the food problem. The food situation was dreadful even with the new crops harvested. From July 29 to August 26, the only meal that each regiment had was corns; the battalions harvested corns by themselves in the side-working field, and ate boiled corns as a breakfast and dinner substitute. Since they could not fill their young stomach by eating only corns, they eventually plundered nearby farms frequently. As they pillaged corns every day, many of the farms within Kangseo County were completely devastated. The angry farm managers raised this issue to the Corps several times, but each incident was hushed up as no one could come up with a way to resolve the situation. One time, the Leading Party Secretary of the local Ri [smallest administrative level of rural government] went to a colonel directly and complained, but to no avail and the farm fields were still looted afterwards. The farm workers who could not endure this anymore even announced in a meeting where the officers of the County Party and County Farming Management Commission gathered that “they cannot fulfill this year’s grain project at all because the soldiers’ attacks occur several times a day.” The County Party reported this to the Provincial Party of South Pyongan Province, and the Provincial Party dispatched a political officer of the County Party to each unit to investigate the situation as well as raising this issue with the commander of the Third Corps. The Third Corps attempted to settle the matter by identifying and punishing the offenders because they could neither provide enough food to the soldiers nor afford to compensate the farms for the damages. Punishing the soldiers was not easy either, however, because so many soldiers had committed stealing as to the point that it was more difficult to find the soldiers who did not steal. Eventually, they selected the soldiers who stole the most and their supervisors and punished only these few as a showcase. In the middle of last September, the corps settled the matter by giving party punishment to some battalion commanders and political directive officers and sending 3 soldiers to the Discipline Center in Jungpyung County of South Hamgyong Province. In spite of this, the soldiers are still stealing corns in the field regardless of the showcase punishment, and the phenomenon is becoming more serious as the harvest season has come in earnest.

Hwaeryung City Party Supplies School Material to Secheon Schools
Hwaeryung City of North Hamgyong Province supplied school material to Secheon Town’s elementary and middle school. The inspection at the start of a new school year on August 27 found many students absent and those who were present not equipped with decent supplies. To assist with the students’ education, the Hwaeryung city donated 4000 workbooks produced from local paper mill, as well as 200 pencils and 150 mechanical pencils. The city party emphasized that “though (Secheon) farmers do not come to work, the government nevertheless guarantees education for their sons and daughters.” Secheon is so poor that not even one student was able to participate in the last Pyongyang tour, although students from Hwaeryung and other areas participated. That’s because too many farmers are starving and barely survive each day on wild plants to care about their children’s education. Instead of going to work on the farms, farmers are instead looking for wild mushrooms to eat.

Dire Food Shortage at Secheon Farm Attributed to Failed Crops Last Year
Farmers of Secheon Labor District in Hwaeryung City barely managed to survive on corn powder and wild greens up until June of this year, when they were able to supplement their meals with potatoes. From July through August, they ate porridge made from ground corn. In September, there were increasing numbers of farmers who eagerly scavenged for Matsutake mushrooms which can be traded for rice at a government procurement office. Picking Matsutake mushrooms is a difficult task, however, so most farmers are still very short on food.

The City Party attributes the serious food shortage to last year’s failed crops. Last year’s harvest only produced 2 tons of corn and 1.5 tons of rice per jungbo (a unit of area). Consequently, less food and cash were distributed. Even before spring of this year, there were people who starved and farmers who, instead of going to the collective farms, were forced to forage for food on their own. The number of farmers who remained on the collective farms was reduced by more than a half. The City Party and the farming management commission blamed the reduction in crop production on the farmers’ attitude and absences. The Nonggeunmang Committee also criticized the absentees who neglected their duty and instead searched for wild greens or grass to eat. Police officers harassed farmers for their absences and attempted to persuade them to return to the farms. Farmers insisted that the poor production was a result not of the increased number of absentees but of the land, which is dry, acidic, and in need of fertilizers.

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