GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 372 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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Inhabitants of Pyungsung Express Need to Solve Food Problem after Party Leader Meeting
Social Control Tightened After Party Congress
Harvest Lower than Average at the Cooperative Farm in Sagu-ri, Chungjin
“Officials Abuse Market Control to Fill Their Own Bellies”
Soonchun’s Handicrafts Known in the Nation for Their High Quality
Miners Retort to Officials Who Pushed Them, “Just Look to Yourself!”
Why has the Dukheung, the Best Coal Mine of the N. Hamgyong, Stopped Operating?
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Inhabitants of Pyungsung Express Need to Solve Food Problem after Party Leader Meeting
People of Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province are quietly accepting the results of the Party Congress. However, one official reported that there seems to be disappointments also. This is because, despite the ongoing rhetorical emphasis on raising the living standards of the people, in actuality the 1st Party Congress in 44 years did not address this matter. An anonymous official opined that the reaction of the people was cool because “there was no resolution for the food scarcity crisis for the people. “Neither extra rations nor any consideration from the Young Leader came out as a result of the Party Congress.”

“The result of the Party Congress forced even the people who had been holding to the faith that the government was working for the welfare of the people change their minds. Workers or intellectuals who only looked up to the leader expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of improvement. That sense of dissatisfaction will be transferred to the heir.” “There is no longer a firm faith in the leader, nor any heartfelt willingness to follow him,” and the reason was because the nation did not provide food. Without food, no matter how able the heir is, there will be no warm welcome. An official who worked in the City Party for 17 years expressed that “People still will try to follow the Great General’s order, by hook or by crook, but no telling how they will react when the new leader tries to assert his will.” While excitement and expectations are usually expected with a new leader, there is just more disappointment at the lack of solution for the food crisis. With growing disappointment, there will be the questioning of leadership, and less followers. One official said that “though it is not openly discussed, it is already talked about that without the resolution of the food crisis, no leader will be accepted well.” And that “someone needs to solve the food problem.”

Social Control Tightened After Party Congress
Since the Party Congress, governmental control seems to have tightened. As orders to tighten social control have distributed down to the local police stations, many people suspicious of violating the social order, including past convicts, have been extensively caught and investigated. It has become difficult to receive money or help from relatives from China, due to the strict control of Chinese residents. Among residents, there is more fear than the hope of having a new leader. As secretaries of the provincial parties have been replaced, many officials of the city and county parties have been replaced as well. The deepening investigations into officials in security departments have especially added to the wholesale changes in personnel.

This Year's Harvest Amount Lower than Average at the Cooperative Farm in Sagu-ri, Chungjin
The cooperative farm in Sagu-ri, Chungam District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province began their harvest about one or two weeks earlier than usual, and it was reported that the overall harvest was lower than last year. Together with the District Party members, the farm organized a team to measure this year's harvest, and even though the harvesting is not completely done, the corn crop was estimated about 2.5-3 ton per 1 jungbo (about 2.45 acres). This was lower than the average, 3 ton per 1 jungbo, up until last year. Considering that Sagu-ri farm is a relatively large farm with 8 farm production units, it is expected that other farms would have similar level of harvest or less. One worker listed the chronic shortage of fertilizers and manpower as the main culprit for the crop decrease but also added the abnormal weather to the list. He said, "From the beginning of this year, we encouraged the farmers to work hard and resolve the food shortage problem to become a strong and prosperous nation, but food ran out since early spring and the farmers could not report to work, and the heavy rainfall destroyed some of the cultivated land. Now that we've done harvesting, it seems impossible to meet the production goal, and although we want to distribute food to the hungry farmers according to the number of days they had worked, it's not going to amount to much."

Additionally, the amount of pilferage by the army unit adjacent to Sagu-ri farm should not be overlooked. To stop stealing by military, the officials of the farm strengthened their own security and reported (such incidents) to the military unit, but it was useless. The soldiers were starving like everybody else and unless they resorted to eating stolen corn, they would not survive. Weather was the official reason for the early harvest but the real reason was the military thieves. Because they were hit by the thieves six to seven times a day, they decided it would be better to harvest early. As the farmers did early harvest, soldiers began to look for smaller private plots. The owners of these smaller farms were trying to hold on to their meager harvest, and instead of reporting to their regular job, they were guarding their plots. Almost everyday there are incidents where the farmers who are guarding their plots are assaulted by soldiers and or harmed in various ways. The war of nerves regarding the corn harvest between farmers and soldiers is going to continue for the time being.

“Officials Abuse Market Control to Fill Their Own Bellies”
Market control on certain items is currently in effect in Soonchun City, South Pyongan Province. The market in Soonchun quickly became the largest one in the province after Pyongsung market was closed. Although it is only open from 2pm to 6 pm during the current autumn harvest season, the stalls are quite active. Even though the Soonchun market replace the role of the former Pyongsung Market by serving as a wholesale market at the national level, a steady supply of small items made by individual craftsmen meet the demand in the market. Retailers who had left the market due to a shortage of money and supply are gradually coming back with items from cottage industries. Residents are in the firm belief that the market is the only way to survive the food and economic crises exacerbated by the currency reform. Factories remain idle, salary and rations are not being distributed, and small land-patch farming has been destroyed by the abnormal weather and floods. Market is the only mean for sustenance that is left.

Not taking into account the situation faced by the residents, the city security authority have resumed market control in the name of restoring order. It wants to slow the merchandise production by individuals, which has been proliferating beyond control. The police are confiscating illegal counterfeit items and issuing fines to the merchant. Ingrained prejudice against items made by individuals and the serious side effects of fake food and medicines are also stated as reasons for the control. There are indeed cases of people who take medicine made by individuals and become more ill or even die from it.

Merchants argue that control over counterfeits is needed but the prohibition of all trading is not the solution. They admit that items made by some individuals are of poor quality, but those made by the Soonchun craftsmen are good and curbing their production is problematic. Moreover, banning all products made by individual craftsmen because some are deemed fake will leave the market empty. Chinese imports continue to dominate the market, but the imports are not as abundant as before due to the currency reform and the ban on foreign currency notes. Domestic light industry is still lagging.

However impoverished the residents may be, they still need basic items to live. Even if the cottage industry products are fake or merely copies, they fill the gap created by the shortage of supply. Some people even argue that the ban on cottage industry products equals a complete ban on selling and the ban should be removed. Ordinary people favor pragmatism over principles. People are not naturally against principles per se, but they know that many public officials and security officers take advantage of situations for their own benefits by misapplying certain principles to justify their actions.

People are suspicious about the control. Kim Ye-Ryung (alias) asks, “For whom are they enforcing the ban? As people’s lives worsened, the security officers were also affected negatively. Because they have less to eat, the security officers are trying to strip from the residents their market products and put them in their own pockets.” Criticisms against security officers who use the ban on the market for their own benefit sometimes turn out to be true. Some security officers sell the items they confiscated to another merchant or give to their wives to sell them in the market. It is therefore widely thought that public officials and law enforcement and security officers “use the law to rob others and break the law to fill their stomachs.” Not surprisingly, no one really trusts the authorities or abides by the law. The prevalent perception is that the market ban is for the benefit of public officials and security officers.

Soonchun’s Handicrafts Known in the Nation for Their High Quality
There are many large factories producing medicines, chemicals, cement, Vinalon, compost and other products in the city of Soonchun. These factories are nationally renowned for their large capacity. It is not too much to say that half of the population in the city are workers at these three major factories. The productivity has allegedly dropped recently owing to the shortage of resources, electricity and technology, but its national renown is not worn out easily. Even if the factories do not run normally, individual workers still produce some commodities and medicines using factory facilities and resources available. There is a lack of commodities in the market place. The reputation of the Soonchun products is quite good, especially the medicine. It is known to be of high quality. The factory also has many other products except for metal products. There are many laborers from big enterprises, so domestically produced goods are also of superb quality. The handicrafts made in Soonchun have gained popularity because of the products’ excellent quality and lower prices compared to Chinese goods.

Antibiotics such as penicillin and mycin are also produced in large amounts. Individual manufacturers sell their medicines using second hand medicine bottles, and these have been deemed acceptable for several years. Nevertheless, there have been some medical accidents owing to the worsened resource shortage, and there is also a possibility of problems originated from the way goods are processed. Furthermore, sometimes we see some counterfeit of Chinese goods. However, consumers can easily tell the difference between domestically manufacturing products and goods and Chinese made products. Thus, the current crackdown of the markets in order to spot counterfeit products or medical accidents is not a very persuasive. It is considered as stemming from the officials’ personal attempts to help their own interests, not of helping the people’s livelihoods. It is also problematic to try to regulate the market without making efforts to produce more Sunchun goods, particularly at this time of daily necessity deficiencies.

Miners Retort to Officials Who Pushed Them, “Just Look to Yourself!”
The Dukheung Mine in Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province has not distributed food to workers for two years. Managing unmotivated workers is a problem. Even though officials encourage and force them to work, these workers are not concerned about the officials. They openly criticize officials by saying, “Don’t force us to do difficult work. You should lead us by setting good examples.” Once a worker responded to an official who criticized the worker for his idleness by retorting, “Just look to yourself!” A fight started when the official answered that by saying, “How dare you preach to an official?” Lee, Young-soo (alias) described the shift in the climate, “When officials cursed us before, most workers just endured. But now some workers do not stand for these humiliations.” Kim, Geum-cheol (alias) reacted cynically by saying, “I don’t care about their cursing. No matter how severely they curse and criticize me, I don’t care about that because I am at rock bottom. We are among the poorest.” Although party members try to propagandize workers to increase productivity with a new resolution after meetings of the national party, workers seem indifferent now because surviving is harder than during the period of Arduous March.

Kim, Geum-cheol describes the situation by saying, “Party members and officials can feed themselves and their families by taking from here and there, but how can the poor and hungry people work? Can you work hard for a company which does not give you food when your family is starving? In fact, we could not work with limited food even if we wanted to.” According to Lee, Young-soo’s statement, the situation in the mines has drastically worsened since last year. When a coal bed ran dry, they stopped work and closed the mine since February of last year. Before long the superior authorities ordered them to dig new shafts, but it was not easy to complete because the old mine was shut down due to a lack of electricity and mining equipment as well as worn out support beams. To add insult to injury, miners did not come to work because they did not receive any food. The mine has several safety issues. It cannot drain water because of the lack of water pumps. The wooden support beams are so old that there is high possibility of accidents. And workers do not go to work. To dig new mines, they should handle these issues. However, how can they develop new mines when they cannot even maintain current mines? Workers go to work because they have to. But they just kill time by hanging around. Although they have their daily duties to accomplish, they spend time shirking their duties. The higher up pushed officials of the Dukheung Mine to increase productivity, but officials did not seem to find any solutions. An official complained about the difficult situation by saying, “If they want miners to work hard, they should give them food and proper equipment first. We have requested to the higher party office to give us proper mining equipment, but they ignore our requests. So how can we do our work? They said that everyone is having a hard time right now and you should complete your duties with the spirit of self-reliance and revolution. We would like to oblige, but cannot.” Fortunately, they gave workers some corn last June and distributed potatoes harvested on a small patch of the mine from July to August. But the workers have not received anything since then.

Why has the Dukheung, the Best Coal Mine of the North Hamgyong Province, Stopped Operating?
Dukheung coal mines produce high heat-rate coal, reputed to be the best coal quality among coal mines in North Hamgyong Province. Why have the pits been closed and the operations stopped? Mining operations are largely divided into two workstreams; a gallery-making workstream and a coal-extracting workstream. A gallery-making workstream creates a gallery to a mining pit. Administrative officials of the Party Committee must coordinate this well. They must create a new gallery to a mining pit that contains a lot of coal, but they instead allocate too many workers to the coal-extracting workstream for short-term productivity and profits. For the purpose of achieving a production goal set by the upper management, they assign too many workforces to “easy” pits that require a short or no gallery-making operation, and thus coal deposits are exhausted too quickly. Then, they must look for new mining pits, and they are forced to assign workers to gallery-making workstreams; during gallery-making, coal miners do not receive food rations as they extract no coal. Also, there are many difficulties to confront, such as no electricity, no wood support, and various malfunctions of mining equipments. These are the main reasons that the productivity in coal mining is low for many famous North Korean coal mines, despite the existence of significant coal deposits. Dukheung coal mine suffers from the same issues. They are conducting gallery-making operations in order to find new mining pits, but no one wants to work anymore. As the gallery-making operations have taken more than a year, support from the Provincial Party has been discontinued. Upper management and coal mining officials blame coal miners for not working. But it’s really the fault of the administrative officials, due to their lack of long-term production strategy and their focus on short-term goal-making and profits.


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