GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 379, December 1, 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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Party’s Decision to Settle 1,000 Retired Soldiers in Paekam County

Unsuccessful Mass Housing Program for Retired Soldiers in Daehongdan County

Residents of Daehongdan County Demand Permission for Small Land Patch Farming

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Director Praised as a Hero Engaged Exploiting Child Labor

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Need Support from the Government

“Kim Jong-Eun’s Birthday—A Holiday to be Widely Celebrated”

“What is the Use of having a Strong Military When People are Starving?”

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Party’s Decision to Settle 1,000 Retired Soldiers in Paekam County

The Paekam County Local Party, which will accommodate 1,000 newly retired soldiers, is busy constructing new residential developments. The edict came from the Central Party, and Ryangkang Province officials have assigned each local party with the responsibility of constructing a minimum of 10 to 20 buildings. While Province officials have not explicitly voiced their concerns, there is a growing unease concerning how the project will be funded.

This situation is comparable to the 1999 measure that ordered the Daehongdan County Local Party to accommodate 1,200 retired soldiers. It began in 1998, when Kim Jong Il, the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, mandated that Daehongdan County officials enlist a group of retired soldiers for potato farming. Under Chairman Kim’s command as well as the instruction of the Ryangkang Province Party Commission, each administrative district, including that of Hyesan City, Paekam County, Samjiyon County, and Samsu County, built 10 to 20 residential buildings. The total number of buildings constructed amounted to 190 for 350 households, with each complex designed for one or two families.
In addition to housing, each retired soldier was also provided with food rations, a television, medical supplies, a dishware set, two blankets, bedclothes, formal suits and confectionary products. Other goods, generally unavailable to average citizens, were allocated to the retired soldiers in state-run stores. The Party even ordered that retired soldiers be given priority considerations for managerial and administrative positions. Moreover, officials took the initiative to depict retired soldiers as heroes and promote their eligibility for marriage with urban bachelorettes. Accordingly, in April and May of 1999, two groups of wedding ceremonies were supported and arranged by officials.

However, support for these retired soldiers eventually ceased. Although there were announcements that food rationing would resume in the latter half of 2005, the national situation became worse over the next year. Ryangkang Province’s circumstances were particularly severe since citizens of the region relied on potatoes for their main form of sustenance. As a result, the standard of living for these retired soldiers and their families dropped and those who had the ability to leave Daehongdan County did so.

The retired soldiers were also afflicted with high divorce rates. One factor explaining the situation was the lifestyle incompatibility between the spouses. Yet, the more critical reason placed blame on the difficulties retired soldiers and their families had to face due to the cessation of food rationing. This issue led to many women pleading with their husbands to agree to divorces. However, their requests were both largely rejected by the husbands and forbidden by the Party. As a consequence, many wives ran away and left their husbands alone to raise two or three children. In light of this failure, local residents are skeptical about the success of the Party’s decision to again relocate a group of retired soldiers in Paekam County.

Unsuccessful Mass Housing Program for Retired Soldiers in Daehongdan County

In Daehongdan County, residents are worried about the news of a mass housing plan to send more than 1,000 retired soldiers to Paekam County in April next year because they had previously experienced a very hard time from a similar plan. Although it was hard for the retired soldiers who were forced to relocate to Deahongdan County in 1999, the residents in the neighboring areas also suffered from the resettlement.

Since the government favored the retired soldiers and treated them much better, residents of Daehongdan County used to say, “We are not human beings. Only those 1,200 retired soldiers are deemed to be human.” Farmers in the collective farms also expressed their frustration, saying, “The government gives food ration only to those 1,200 people. We must not be needed here, so we will not work.” The government’s favoritism paved the road for a conflict between the residents and the retired soldiers.

However, the good times for the retired soldiers did not last long. When the country was hit by the food crisis in 2006, and the government’s food rations dwindled, the family of the soldiers had to sell everything they received from the government including dining ware, bed linen and comforters, various household items, and TV sets. As their livelihoods severely deteriorated, many began to steal agricultural crops, pesticides, fertilizers, and other agricultural supplies from the collective farms to sell in the market. If caught, ordinary farmers would be severely punished, but retired soldiers only received light punishments or warnings, which aggravated farmers even more. A collective farm member Kim Haeseong (alias) said, “The retired soldiers are always pardoned by the special order of the Dear Leader. They only get very light punishments or are put in an educational session and that is it. They couldn’t be treated more differently from us.” Although the solders suffered through hard times in those days, residents who had it even worse felt bitter. The mass housing of retired soldiers is remembered as a nightmare to the soldiers as well as the residents.

Residents of Daehongdan County Demand Permission for Small Land Patch Farming

Small Land Patch Farming is not allowed in Daehongdan Country, Ryanggang Province. The Party prohibits it because of the geographical peculiarity of the region with its high mountains and the high possibility of fire on the hillsides. Another reason for the prohibition is that it can promote selfishness and encourage the farmers to neglect the work for the nation. Residents disagree: “The government is not providing us with food and prohibits us from farming too. Do they want us to just die?” The residents’ discontent grew even greater when they received news from traders who travel between Musan and Hyesan that farming is allowed in those places. Shin Hyundeok (alias), who lives in Sambong labor district, has a relative in Onseong. He heard that Onseong County allowed private farming by the County Party’s own measure last year even when it was prohibited nationally.

At first, the Party prohibited farming as in everywhere else, but it withdrew the measure when it faced an intense opposition from residents and the worsening food crisis. As a result, Onseong County didn’t have anyone starve to death even while the rest of the nation was suffering from severe food crisis after the currency reform last year. Shin told this story to his colleagues, and the news spread to everyone. Some residents started criticizing their County Party for not taking measures like the Party of Onseong County. Petitions to “allow small land patch farming to old people and chronic patients who cannot work in their designated work areas” were only met with a firm “no.”

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Director Praised as a Hero Engaged in Exploiting Child Labor

Hee Sun Lee, an orphanage director in Poongseo-ri, Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province was recently honored by the government as a maternal hero. Lee and her husband have raised orphans since 1994, when their son died while serving in the national army.

At the time, which was during the Arduous March, the number of orphans significantly increased due to the ongoing famine. Lee subsequently met her first orphan at a train station who she claimed reminded her of her deceased son. Since taking this child in, the number of children under her care has reached 170, but has decreased to 150 in 2008, and currently remains at 100.

Due to the softening of North-South relations at the time, as well as the publicity Lee and her husband accumulated through Chosun Central Television and other written sources, the Poongseo-ri Orphanage received major support from South Korean organizations as well as international aid associations. When World Food Program (WFP) workers came to evaluate aid distribution in Onsung County at the end of July in 2008, the county proudly introduced the orphanage as the location to check on the status of its children’s health and living conditions.

Despite their praise from the media, the Lee’s reputation among local citizens is troubling. Locals, who are aware of the internal state of the orphanage, claim that orphans are often forced into labor, ill-treated and sexually abused. They also claim that orphanage workers siphon off donated items.

“The children are treated cruelly and not as humans. They are almost treated like how the slaves were treated by their owners in the old days. Everyone here knows of the couples’ behavior and their sexual abuse of the orphans,” assert villagers who live in the vicinity of the orphanage. Their criticisms continue, “With the country honoring such a couple, there is not one person who is not laughing at the irony and hypocrisy of the situation. The government is doing nothing to stop the praise of the orphanage’s work because it is recognized as part of our national pride. Some Party leaders must have been heavily bribed by the Lee couple to stay quiet. But ultimately, the primary concern of the state should to be to secure proper treatment of the children.”

Poongseo-ri Orphanage Need Support from the government

In the midst of the notorious doings by the director couple of the childcare center at Poongseo-ri Onsung-gun, Geumsun Cho supports Director Lee saying, “Without any support from the government, anyone will end up being like that. I have seen her for a long time and she is a nice person. They started bringing a few kids without parents with a warm heart, but then the government pushed them to raise more kids and the number of the children increased up to 170. This uncontrollable condition made them go through hardships. The government supported them with nothing but a small farmland for their self-support.

However, without any farm managers, there was no one who takes care of the land. The couple could not find a way to cultivate it so that they couldn’t help but to make the children work on it for the survival of all. So that’s how the criticism of abuses got started. International organizations have aided them but it is still hard to care a large group of children only with the aids. Supposedly they have siphoned off some of the aid supplies, and that is certainly not a desirable thing but everyone does the same thing in this country, starting with the officials. The orphanage directors are not inherently bad; it’s the system that should be blamed. Cho also added that part of Lees’ conducts appeared to be bad, but that was only because of the burden that overwhelmed what they were able to do. He also claims that “if they ended up with 3 or 4 children, it would be totally fine. But having more than 100 children is not easy at all. Constant interest and support from the government is necessary for it to be successful. Otherwise, the problems that Lees have faced will be raised again, no matter who takes the job.”

“Kim Jong-Eun’s Birthday—A Holiday to be Widely Celebrated”

Since mid-October, the Department of Propaganda of Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, has held lectures for party secretaries at each factory, workplace and public institution for the sake of implementing policies created at the Fourth Party Representative Conference. The lectures mainly emphasized abiding to the teachings of the late Great Leader by honoring the Party Central Committee with a resolute spirit and endeavoring to create a strong and prosperous nation in 2012 at all costs. The lectures also mentioned the accomplishments of the “Young General” Kim Jong-Eun as well as the honor and pride the people will have to serve another great man.

During the lecture, the Director of the City Party Propaganda Department surprised a public enterprise secretary sitting in the front row by asking him to list the national holidays. Although flustered, the secretary managed to list 2.16 (Kim Jong Il’s birthday), 4.15 (Day of the Sun, Kim Il Sung’s birthday), 10.10 (the Party Foundation Day), New Year’s Day, Cheongmyong (a seasonal subdivision) and Chuseok (Thanksgiving Day). In response, the Director sighed and said, “You still have a lot to learn. January 8th, the birthday of the ‘Young General (Kim Jong Eun),’ is also one of our biggest holidays. You should not forget this.” Other Party secretaries who did not know the birthday of Kim Jong Eun, the Vice-Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission, took out notepads and wrote this information down. Watching this, one official clicked his tongue and called them slow-witted for not knowing about it already.

“What is the use of having a strong military when people are starving?”

The residents of Hamheung city in South Hamgyong Province are complaining about not being able to sleep because of the bone-chilling cold temperature as cold weather continues as falling temperatures plummet below freezing point. Although officials and the wealthy can stock up plenty of coal and firewood at home, the ordinary citizens can only obtain them as needed. They try to get firewood when they are unable to obtain coal and collect leaves and twigs when firewood is not available. On the days when none of those are available they cannot even dream of heating, so they use fuel only for cooking rice only for a minute. The children who are not mature enough to understand the situation whine about being cold, and old people groan in pain instead of complaining verbally. It is so cold that frost and water droplets can be seen along the inner walls of the house, and white steam out of your breath is visible even inside a room as you wake in the morning and talk. People sleep with their clothes on because of the cold temperature. For that reason many people keep the same clothes on throughout the day and night. They keep the outdoor clothing while living in the house during the day and then go to bed wearing the same clothes because the temperature inside and outside is not that much different. People would be able to stand the cold weather if they can fill their stomach a little bit, but the days of cold and hunger are continuing because there is not enough food. As such, the Party’s propaganda of being world’s strongest military power with the development of long-range missiles, launching satellites, and having nuclear weapons are likely to fall on a deaf ear. Many people cry in resentment, “What is the use of being a military superpower? People's lives over nearly 20 years remain the same without the slightest improvement. Only the officials are being treated like human beings while the ordinary people are dying with hunger. If this is what a powerful, strong and prosperous nation is all about, we don’t need it.”
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