GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 343 June 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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Nontax Payments Remain the Same Even Though People are Instructed to Supply their Own Food
After Mandatory Fees, 1500 won Salary Shrinks to 300 won
Farms Implore at the Farm Mobilization, “Please Do Not Come.”
Better-off Parents Support Food for Students Mobilized for Farming
“We cannot afford to provide meals to mobilized students,” Onchun County Farms
[Editorial]
Now is NOT the Time to Collect Non-tax Payment

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Nontax Payments Remain the Same Even Though People are Instructed to Supply their Own Food
It turns out that nontax payments were not reduced at all even in a situation where people must supply their own food pursuant to the May 26 Party Directive. Although markets are entirely open, the purchasing power is still weak and markets have not been vitalized due to the small volume of goods in circulation, so it is difficult for residents to make a living by engaging in commerce. Nevertheless, in the case of Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, each area continuously gives its Neighborhood Unit various tasks such as collecting dog skins, skins from rabbit, scrap irons, and scrap papers. Making an earning each day is already tough, and the various tasks aggravate the burden of living. For example, a piece of dog skin is now collected and it takes approximately 250 won per household; considering the rice price which is 550 won for 1 kilogram, one can see that this is a substantial burden. If a woman makes 250 won to 300 won by crouching down in the market and peddling all day, it is regarded as a good earning, so it is as if a whole day’s earning goes to nontax payments. A skin from rabbit is even worse. It takes 500 won to turn in the rabbit skin per household. Sometimes the demand is lowered to the people who claim that they cannot pay and they are asked, “If you cannot pay 500 won, then just pay 300 won.” However, nontax payments are not a one-time deal, and they come one after another in a different type, so it inevitably fuels the residents’ backlash. However, there is a limitation to refusal since their ideology can be accused, so people can not just refuse blindly. So they are compelled to pay and complain: “They do not provide anything to us and they ask us to supply our own food, but they keep taking things off from the people.”

After Mandatory Fees, 1500 won Salary Shrinks to 300 won
Although North Korea does not have an official taxation, several types of mandatory fees to the government take a large chunk away from a salary. Even when a salary is paid it is insufficient to make a living. It is frequently delayed and, when paid, one is left with only little fraction of it after mandatory fees. The Urban Construction Team in Sapo Division in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province received a salary for February on May 9th. Salaries for laborers vary depending on their rank, but regular employees receive 1500 won on average. Yet, the salary shrinks after mandatory fees are deducted, including 500 won for supporting pork to the army, 250 won for oil seed crops assignment, e.g. castor seed and sunflower seed, and 200 won for family events of colleagues and superiors. For a Party member additional 100 won is deducted for the membership fee. After paying these and other fees, employees end up with 300 to 400 won and as little as 200 won in a worst case scenario. People were told that taxation exists only in the capitalist society. With the non-tax burdens they have it is understandable to hear people complaining that socialism is no different from capitalism.

Another thing people are concerned about is lack of transparency and accountability. Mr. Kim who has worked for the Urban Construction Team for more than 10 years complained in strong terms, saying “who doesn’t know that mandatory fees are not truly for the public enterprise but for some individuals? Everybody knows a small number of officials divert the money into their benefit. I can’t see any reason to sacrifice myself for the officials. It is very hard to endure life with the fraction of money after fees.” Mr. Kim is not in isolation. Some people are saying that nobody wants to stay at a company when a salary worth 1500 won is reduced to 300 to 400 won after fees even if they work without skipping a day. Many people express their resentments that “While hard-working employees are trapped in a cycle of poverty, officials pursue only their own interests.” It seems inevitable that people have deep distrust towards the officials.

Farms Implore at the Farm Mobilization, “Please Do Not Come.”
Farms that suffer from food shortage show scary responses at the mobilization of city residents to help out the farm. It is because the respective farm is asked to guarantee the meal for mobilized labors that come to aid the farming. From the outset, it is too much of a burden to guarantee meals for the mobilized labors who are poor at farming and who do not take any responsibilities when even the members of the farm are absent because they do not have food for themselves to eat. Therefore, even if there are some mobilizing labors that can come to farms, the farmers are imploring them not to come.

Sagu-ri, Bugu-ri and Yeonjindong Farms in Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province had a similar situation. When the middle school students from Soonam District and Pohang District decided to go to these areas for farming mobilization, many farming work units implored to reduce the number of students. Although the plenary meeting of the City Party had decided that the respective farm must supply food for the students, some farms have said that they will not accept everyone who had been allocated but will only receive less than 15 people per work unit. 30-40 students, which are the entire members of a class, are supposed to be allocated in each work unit according to the original plan, but they have requested it to be reduced by more than half. However, such requests were not accepted. The chairman of the Farm Management instructed the following: “Farming is not something that you can do tomorrow if you fail to do so today. In accordance with the turns of climate on the lunar calendar, if you miss the spring season, you cannot increase the yields in the fall, and national plans cannot be executed. Therefore, you must accept the efforts of the support groups. You must guarantee meals for the support groups even if you do not have any food, by making a promise to other families who have extra food that you are going to pay them back in the fall and borrowing from them.”

Better-off Parents Support Food for Students Mobilized for Farming
Farms in Chungam District, Chungjin City managed to provide the mobilized students with crushed maze every five days. However, the amount fell well short of what was needed. The students in growing period have the greatest appetite in their lifetime. Naturally, the shortage of food made some students flee to home out of hunger. A survey conducted by the officials leading the farms in Chungam District revealed that about more than half of the students fled in worst cases. The officials blamed the teachers. Particularly, the teachers in charge of the students who fled had to receive harsh discipline called “ideological armament.” Teachers ended up begging parents who are better off for food support. Middle School (equivalent of High School in South Korea) in Pohang District held a special parent-teacher meeting where they discussed how they could support food for the students during the mobilization period. The parents at the Middle School agreed that three parents are teamed up and deliver corn noodles and other dishes to the students every other day. The teachers at the school expressed relief that they are fortunate to have these parents who are well off enough to give support.

“We cannot afford to provide meals to mobilized students.” Onchun County Farms
Farms in Ryonghori, Ryonggang County and Mayoung Labor District of Ryongwolri in Onchun County, South Pyungan Province gave up their responsibility of feeding mobilized manpower. The reason is that workers do not show up to the farm due to lack of food, so it is clear that they do not have enough food to give out to mobilized students. Ryonghori Farm in Ryonggang County has a total of 11 farm classes where each section has about 13-15 people. Currently less than 5 farmers fully participate in farm work (on a full day basis). About 3-4 farmers attend 3 to 4 times a week and other 4-5 farmers do not attend at all. Each working unit faces the same situation. The reason why only 1/3 of workers participate is due to the food problem. Farmers themselves have nothing to eat so it is difficult to farm and it is harder for them to look after students who volunteer to help.

The County Party had to interfere because the farm work had to be done, but there is not enough food to even help their mobilized manpower. The County released their emergency food supply because they had to finish planting rice. It was not a lot in terms of amount, but it was sufficient to feed the students with crushed maize, cabbage and pumpkin greens as side dishes and seaweed soup. This was an outrage to farmers who were starving due to lack of food supply. They were complaining that the government does not provide any food for farmers but they give crushed maize and various side dishes to mobilized workers who are amateurs for the job. Farmers were not complaining that it is wrong to give food to children but they are protesting that if the government had that much to spare, they should take care of farm workers. Some farm managing officials turned a cold shoulder to this matter. Some claimed that farmers brought this to themselves since they cannot come to work because they mismanaged their food rations and suffer from hunger as a result. They paid little attention to the farmer’s food crisis and even stated “It is none of my business” and “If you think you’re going to die from starvation, then so be it.”

This atmosphere was reflected at the farmers meeting and the officials at the farm announced that farm officials can do the farm work with mobilized manpower even if less than half of regular workers come to work. Their main purpose is to stimulate farmers so that they can participate in farming. However, farmers showed their distressed position and commented, “It is pathetic to see those amateurs come out for rice planting. They do not follow proper procedure so we’re not sure whether we will be harvesting rice or something else. They are just glad to finish up rice planting. I wish them (officials) the best of luck. They better not blame us for not having enough for the fall harvest.”

[Editorial]
Now is NOT the Time to Collect Non-tax Payment
"I, their king, cannot even think of collecting taxes when I hear my people are dying of hunger. Furthermore, now that people had run out of last year's harvest, I fear that distributing the grains stored in the warehouses may not reach them in time; how is it possible to burden the hungry people with taxes? If, after sending an investigator to find out the situation amongst hungry people, at least taxes were not exempted, what else is there for me to do to give benefits to the people?" (From "Annals of King Sejong” January 6, First Year of King Sejong)

The period of King Sejong in Chosun Dynasty was a period considered most prosperous and peaceful in our history, but even then a big famine occurred. It lasted for a long time, 7 years. "People are the foundation of a nation, and rice is their Heaven," said King Sejong and he built a thatched hut in front of the palace and lived there for three years to commiserate with the starving people. In addition, in order not to waste the wealth of the nation, he took away more than 50 gyul of land from his sons' and grandsons' allotments. He ordered the royal property be distributed to the people while making sure that collection of taxes be prohibited as "collecting taxes is unthinkable." If we paraphrase it in a modern way, Great King Sejong regarded people as the foundation of a nation and the starvation of the people as the most serious crisis of national security; he then showed by example that "the task of rescuing the hungry people" is the top priority of his governance. It is wished that the North Korean government learn from it.

North Korea is, nominally, a tax-free society. On March 21, 1974 the principles of complete tax free policy were announced as the taxation had been regarded as a means of sucking blood of the people and exploiting the laborers, and April 1st is being commemorated as the Tax Abolition Day. However, in reality, a nation needs revenue and therefore as an essential source of revenue the government collects income from transactions, national corporate profits, society cooperation group profits, service charges income, etc. North Korean people would be fortunate if that was all.

Expenses for Three Great Revolution Evaluation Operation, Support for the Retired Veterans, Loyalty Resources, Compost Expenses, Foreign Exchange Earning Expenses, Items to Support the People's Army, Support for Farms, Expenses for Fish Hatchery as well as Goats Pen Repairs, etc. -- the non-tax payment list is getting longer in order to secure finance and raw material. The raw materials collected for this purpose include dog skin, rabbit skin, old/scrap metal, used paper, compost manure, peanuts, etc., etc. They are countless. People must pay either the actual item or cash. Even the holiday gifts, called the General's kind consideration, one must pay something in order to receive it nowadays. No taxes were only rhetoric; the increasing non-tax payments had long squeezed people's livelihood.

To find the items or to earn cash in lieu of them, residents work until their back hurts and students were afraid to go to school. The situation that provided the reasons for tax abolition, "During the Japanese colonial government, they squeezed the working people with 58 kinds of anti-people taxes and countless other taxes," is happening exactly in today's North Korea.

North Korean authorities indicated in their New Year statement that, "In this year of 65th anniversary for the establishment of Party, let us again escalate the development of light industry and agriculture which will lead to the determinative turning point in the livelihood of people." However, the North Korean authorities, through the May 26 Party Directives, proclaimed recently that, "The government can no longer supply food and commodities." And yet, the non-tax payments continue and the dissatisfaction of the people had hit the sky.

Now is NOT the time to collect non-tax payment but to rescue the starving people. The authorities should not be complacent simply because they told the people to be self-sufficient in food stuff. There are still a lot of things government could do. The easiest thing would be to get rid of policies such as non-tax payment that terribly burdens the people. The revenues needed to carry out the national plans must be secured from other sources. Suspending projects that are not immediately necessary might be a way to deal with the situation. In addition, the government should continue to endeavor to secure food supply by requesting international assistance or by importing grains.

In the long run, it would be necessary to establish the principles and types of taxation and to organize the legal system to enforce them. It is imperative that the tax policies reflect the principle that every citizen pays taxes in proportion to their income. As there are a number of high level officials that use their position to avoid paying non-tax payments while transferring the burden to the people, this (systematic) approach would reduce the abuses. Otherwise, the haves do not pay while the poor starving people continue to pay more non-tax payments, and it would not be much different from the terrible oppression of corrupt Chosun officials and Japan's colonial governance in the past.

North Korea Today No. 342 June 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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Central Party Instructs, “Party officials are to give up some food for the laborers”
Shinpo City Collects Food from Primary Officials to Distribute to Farmers
Field Officials Struggle with Orders from Department of Agriculture, "Supply irrigation water to rice field"
Corn Farming in North Hamgyong Province Troubled due to Unusually Cold Weather
Women Angered by Starvation, “How can I go for farming mobilization without eating…?”
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Central Party Instructs, “Party officials are to give up some food for the laborers”
Until last May, it was reported that provincial party officials took the initiative and contributed food and money to alleviate the food shortage problem. According to a source in Pyongyang, since last February, the Central Party instructed that party officials in each province, city, and county as well as law enforcement officials in each public prosecutors office, security department, and police station must contribute food and money in order to alleviate the food shortages of the laborers. As a result, officials contributed corn or cash once a month since last March; 140kg per person allocated to prosecutors, 110-140kg to city officials, 70-100kg to county officials, and 200kg to provincial and security department officials. An official of Pyongsung City, South Pyongan Province reported that the reduction in death toll by starvation in March after the rise in prevalence of death by starvation in February was because of this reason. However, he also reported that they find it difficult to explore the source of food and thus food could not be purchased even with money. An official of Pyongyang expressed concern that “the Prime Minister Young Il Kim asked for three months (to solve the food problem) but the time is up. Now is the beginning of the most busy season (June, July, and August), and if we still cannot secure food in June, we may have a serious national crisis of death by starvation.” Similar concern was raised at a provincial officials’ conference of North Hamgyong Province; since Chairman Kim Jung Il’s visit to China, they are anxiously waiting for news of China’s food aid.

Shinpo City Collects Food from Primary Officials to Distribute to Farmers
At farms in Shinpo City, South Hamgyong Province, it was reported that farm officials contributed food to prepare for the food distribution when starving farmers did not come to work. Now is the busiest season to work on a farm, but there are about 9-10 families of starved farmers that do not come to work in each work unit in a cooperative farm at Yanghwa-ri. Students and residents are helping during the farming mobilization period, but considerable setback in farming is inevitable because many professional farmers are not coming to work. As a result, Shinpo City Party and the Farming Management Committee instructed to the officials in a collective farm at Yanghwa-ri and other similarly situated cooperative farms in the city that they need to at least temporarily support the minimum living conditions for the families of starved farmers that do not come to work. In response, each village party secretary and the farming management committee chairperson delivered the message to the primary officials and instructed them that each person must contribute at least 15kg of corn.

Field Officials Struggle with Orders from Department of Agriculture, "Supply irrigation water to rice field"
An order was delivered nationwide that directs to thoroughly prepare for the spring farming season to ensure proper rice seedling and ample water supply for the rice seeding bed. The instructions included maintenance of water pumps in case of power shortages and repair of broken pumps that are necessary for continual water supply for the rice seeding beds. On May 2nd, the Department of Agriculture issued these instructions to each of the province offices, who in turn relayed the instructions to the corresponding cities and counties the following afternoon. Technical advisors and the leaders of each working unit held a teleconference to enforce these commands and stimulate the farm management officials. The farm workers, however, began to complain of farming difficulties. Rice often dried up and withered, and even deid from an illness borne in the farms due to problems with water pumping facilities and electric power shortages in the farms of Baechun County, Yeonan County, and Taetan County in South Hwanghae Province and Wonsan in Kangwon Province.
In Sinryung-ri, Nampo City in South Pyongan Province, the farm was unable to provide water to the crops because of broken water pumps as well as power shortages. Most of the rice plants dried up and died from an illness, and the situation was worst in work unit numbers 3, 4, and 7. The farmers tried hard to save them, but they ended up throwing the withered rice plants out. As this depletion of rice plants spread nationwide, the Department of Agriculture criticized the manager officials in charge of the respective farms and warned that officials who failed to properly manage their famrs would be legally accused of ‘acting against the agricultural revolution policy.' The farm manager workers were stunned by the criticisms and fell into despair as they could not find a solution to the problems.

Corn Farming in North Hamgyong Province Troubled due to Unusually Cold Weather
Big concern has emerged at local collective farms and small-area-farming due to cloudy and rainy weather of mid-May. North Hamgyong Province, well-known for its cold weather, has been especially cold this year and the sunshine has been very little. Many of corn seeds failed to sprout or rot under the ground, so farmers are very disappointed saying, “There’s no need to wait for the harvest.” Due to this fact, the demand for ‘Hwa Sung no.1,’ which is a seed known for its durability in the cold, has increased sharply along with its price. Farmers, who work on a small plot focusing on securing the seeds, are even paying 7kg of corns to 1kg of ‘Hwa Sung no.1’ seeds. Farmers who obtained the ‘Hwa Sung no.1’ seeds are busy sowing them again.

Women Angered by Starvation, “How can I go for farming mobilization without eating…?”
It is busy time of farming mobilization for planting, but what you hear is people clamoring for food. As of June in Gowon County, South Hamgyong Province, the number of households that are unable to go to work due to the hunger is increasing. According to an official of the County Party, the deaths by starvation which happened between last February and May occurred mostly in these households.
Soonchun City of South Pyongan Province is attempting to reinforce ideological work when the majority of Democratic Women’s Union members did not attend the mobilization, but it is not working. They only hear, “How can we participate in the mobilization when we have not eaten anything?” In the case of a primary group of Ryeonbong dong, Soonchun, only 8 to 9 people out of 25 participates in everyday mobilization. Although officials of City Party and Women’s Union forces people with ideological work, people do not care and leave for peddling. On last May 26th, officials of Propaganda Department of City Party and Democratic Women’s Union in charge of ideological work criticized members of DWU who refused to follow their order with swearing only to be met by angry reaction from them. The officials said they felt intimidated as the atmosphere turned into a kind of public trial by a mob as the DWU members responded with anger saying, “You dare to criticize us when you can’t even provide food to us?” An official of the Union complained about the difficulties with mobilizing people saying, “Empty words don’t work any more. The government should be able to provide for people’s lives, but they are telling people to survive on their own. Who would trust and follow the Party’s propaganda in this situation? We have nothing to say even when people miss the mobilization.”

North Korea Today No. 341 June 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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“The grass porridge season is back.” - Starting of Spring Lean Season in its Full-swing Puts Farmers at Hightened Risk of Death by Starvation
The Starvation Crisis in Big Cities Spreading Out to Farming Areas
Farm All-out Mobilization Troubled due to Absence of Starved Farmers
14 Residents of Hoeryong Nursing Home Died of Starvation
More than One-Third of all Residents in Chungjin City Live Daily on Watery Gruel
Seriousness of Coal Miners’ Starvation Reported Several Times as “No. 1 Report”, Woonjun County, North Pyongan Province
[Editorial]
You can give up on providing food, but you can’t give up on people’s lives also.
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“The grass porridge season is back.” - Starting of Spring Lean Season in its Full-swing puts Farmers at Hightened Risk of Death by Starvation
Now it is the season for farmers to go to the mountains, not farm field. The spring lean season started and they need to survive by making the best out of food shortage with wild greens and grass. In Yanghwa-ri Cooperative Farm in Sinpo City, there are 8 households currently suffering from starvation and the total of 70 households ran out of food across the whole farming work group. The number of starving household is likely to reach over 200 in July without outside food aid.

The death toll from starvation in cooperative farms is most rapidly increasing in rural areas of South and North Hwanghae Provinces. Situations are particularly severe in Taetan, Byeokseong, Jangyeon and Ryongyeon Counties in South Hwanghae Province and Eunpa, Seoheung and Bongsang Counties in North Hwanghae Province. In addition, reports are being delivered to the Central Party saying that death from starvation started to occur in farming households in Pyungsung and Sooncheon in South Pyongan Province and Jeongpyeong, Gowon and Hamjoo Counties in South Hamgyong Province. Even other cooperative farms in a better condition show signs of worsening food situation. In Chollima County in South Pyongan Province, with the largest cooperative farm nationwide, approximately 10% of the farmers were having food difficulties in mid-May. Ten in 100 households survived on wild greens and 2 to 3 farmers were absent per team unit. However, beginning in June, the number of absent farmers has increased to 3 to 4.

The Starvation Crisis in Big Cities is Spreading Out to Farming Areas
The absentee rate among farmers has been noticeably increasing. The rapid increase is due to the fact that the farmers have nothing to eat and thus are unable to go to work. The number of people dying from starvation has been increasing as well. Due to the currency exchange policy, the number of starving people in the cities has continuously increased during January and February. Now, this situation has spread out to the rural areas. According to the Hwanghae Province Party Investigation Report, approximately 60% of the farming families in Ohyun-li, Poongchun-li, and other areas in Yeonan County and Chungdan County are suffering from food shortage. Last year, these areas produced low harvest yields due to poor weather conditions. Moreover, the amount of food rations residents actually received was greatly reduced because so much of the rations, including 3-4 month military food ration, was taken out from the original food rations. However, with 15,000 won provided by the government during the currency exchange policy period, some residents could manage to live during January and February without selling their food stock. On the other hand, those households that already ran out of the money had no other choice but to sell their food stock. The farm households that received the smallest amount of rations last year were the first to run out of food this year.

The farms in the South Hwanghae Province are experiencing the same circumstances. At a workplace, one team consists of 13 to 15 people. However, the number of people who come to work in the team including the entry-level official is about seven or less. Kim, a worker at a cooperative farm in Baechun County, says, “The difference between the full-day worker and the regular farmers is that the full-day workers are people who already saved every bit of food by using any means possible.” Kim says that most regular farmers are unable to come out to work. “There are twelve people in my work group, but not even four people show up for work. Four people alternate to come to work three times a week. The rest of the farmers are suffering from starvation and are roaming around to collect grass for food.” If such absences continue to increase, the amount of ration at the end of the year will be subtracted. Therefore, Kim adds, “the poor will continue to be poor while the rich will continue to be rich.”

Farm All-out Mobilization Troubled due to Absence of Starved Farmers
Many farms including the ones in Jaryung and Baechun counties in South Hwanghae Province are experiencing difficulties in farming because more than half of the farmers are not coming to work due to starvation caused by food shortage. Currently, it is the farm all-out mobilization period. So, many urban laborers or students came to farm villages in large numbers, but there are not enough farmers who can guide them through farm work. A cooperative farm in Baechun County has 15 members, but only 5 people are working while the other 10 are absent. As many farms are unable to provide food for mobilized workers the plenary meeting at the South Hwanghae Province Party assigned college students and professional school students who could provide their own food. However, their farm work skill is very clumsy because they are from relatively well-to-do families. Farm members are assigned in every rice field so that they can work together with students and transfer the farm work skills, but there are not enough farmers who can teach the students so things cannot be corrected even when the work is not done correctly. Students do not really care about the quality of work because all they need is filling the time assigned to them everyday. The farms are deploring that this year's harvest won't be a good one because in many areas corn seeding and rice planting have not been done very well.

14 Residents of Hoeryong Nursing Home Died of Starvation
Amidst food shortages throughout the country the nursing home in Wonsan-ri, Hoeryong city, North Hamgyong Province has already experienced 14 deaths last May attributed to starvation. Before the currency exchange last year, the nursing home housed a total of about 50 residents. However, after the last survey which took place on May 3 only 35 people remain. Up until last year the nursing home had served porridge of grain flour mixed with corn and rice to its residents. As the food shortage worsened due to last year's currency exchange measures, rice porridge was replaced with thin soup almost to the level of plain water with a small amount of crushed maize and ground corncob. Moreover, even this was rationed to two scoops per person at a time. Hungry and desperate, the elderly with their stomachs clenched, are forced to go begging around town. This has become a very common scene. Wonsan Nursing Home had placed multiple requests for food to the People's Committee and also to the City Party for them to be rejected every time. All they received were corn flour, soybean paste, and soy sauce; in very small amounts that are never enough to cook anything. The situation gets even worse as no medicine is supplied. Considering the people have to eat wild plants and food from begging, it is not surprising that they suffer from digestive disorders, but they lack the simple pills for even settling indigestion. Aside from the lack of food and medicine, the shortage of drinking water is an even bigger problem. People drink dirty water, and therefore many suffer from colitis. The worst part is that the elderly and the young are the ones who pay most dearly for the general lack of what are basic necessities for survival.

More than One-Third of all Residents in Chungjin City Live Daily on Watery Gruel
According to the provincial party in North Hamgyong Province, it has been reported that one-third of the population in Chungjin City live on one to two meals of watery gruel which consists of corn powder and wild greens. From a recent survey conducted in Chungjin City, it has been found that on average 15 to 17 people die from starvation each day. Merchants operating in the Ranam and Songpyong areas can at least afford to eat crushed maize soup for breakfast and corn noodle for dinner. However, many of these merchants have reported that even if they were to sell all of their goods, it would still be impossible for them to earn enough money to buy 1-Kg of rice. Moreover, residents of Northern Chungjin put all their efforts in small plot farming by going to mountains just to farm on small plots of land, which they desperately depend on since they have no other means of living. At an emergency meeting, the executive members of Chungjin City harshly criticized the party for having fed the crisis with their passivity and failure to respond promptly and properly. Gimchaek Steel Mill, which is still operating, is not able to acquire enough food for the residents; and even if they were most of the food would not be distributed efficiently. Although, some food support is provided for the more needy families in each neighborhood by the executive members to rescue people from near death; these efforts only cover on average two to three households in each neighborhood unit and are not vast enough to lessen the ordeal for the majority of the starving residents. More than half of the residents are starving in each neighborhood and the impact of the food shortage is rapidly reaching more people throughout the country.

Seriousness of Coal Miners’ Starvation Reported Several Times as “No. 1 Report”, Woonjun County, North Pyongan Province
In early April, there was a serious hunger crisis in Woonjun County, which was reported as ‘Number 1 Report’ several times. Many coal miners had died from starvation. Thus, the Central Party urgently distributed corn for the early April food ration. The coal miners and their children received food rations, but their wives were excluded. However, the rations had run out by late April. Even during the food distribution, many families had to rely on porridge as the main source of food. But when the distribution stopped, the absentee rate in the workforce drastically increased. The government attempted to encourage people to return to work by claiming they will give 15 days of rations toward the end of May, but to no avail. Laborers who were infuriated by the lack of food are saying, “If you’re going to punish us, then punish us. The most miserable and lowest-class job is coal mining. What other job would be worse than this one?” They protested that they would be happier if they were sent to rural farms.

[Editorial]
You can give up on providing food, but you can’t give up on people’s lives also.

“… Ah, we can’t let these flies die. That’s because the poor people who died of starvation turned into these flies. Ah, the tragedy of being born in these unfortunate times. Huge famine left behind its sad devastation last year, followed by the cruel winter cold. Disease ravaged through the people, already victimized by brutal exploitation. Countless people died. Mounds of corpses dotted the roads, while straw mats used to wrap them covered the entirety of the hills. When spring came and warm winds blew over these bodies without coffins or even burial clothes, frozen flesh thawed into decay. Little rivers of water streamed out of mounds of melting flesh, kneading and congealing until they transformed into maggots at least ten-thousand times more numerous than the sands on the river beaches yonder. Maggots developed wings and, turning into flies, took flight and promptly flew back into those houses from whence their previous incarnation came. How could anyone deny that these flies are us? I cry over your lives. Now that I prepared this food and invited all the flies far and wide, please come and partake in my humble offering…”

This was written in 1810 (10th year of King Soon Jo of Yi Dynasty) by Dasan Yak-yong Jung while living in exile. It is a part of his work called, “Condolence to Flies,” expressing his deep sorrow and heartfelt wish to console the untold deaths of everyday people who suffered greatly in the famine of 1809 and 1810. He was describing in unconventional, poignant terms the horror of the swarm of flies that sprouted from the litter of untended bodies of the victims of famine and disease. And he makes the point of condemning the corruption of the officials and their brutal exploitation as reasons for the pitiful deaths of the people.

Unfortunately, this is also the reality of North Korea today. Although millions of people died during the Arduous March in mid-1990’s, the survivors at least could make their living – however tough it was – by doing everything they could to find food. But now in 2010, due to the failure of the currency reform and deterioration of the North-South Korea relationship, they are once again facing the end of the line. We have already heard that the 2008 famine situation – due to the consecutive annual floods of 2006 and 2007 and stoppage of inter-Korean aid – had resembled that of the Arduous March. However, we are now hearing the alarming news that 2010 will be even worse than the Arduous March years. North Korean authorities went as far as admitting on May 26th that “for a while, the government cannot solve the food problem at the national level,” and urging the local units to provide for themselves.

This has never happened before. No matter how bad the food situation became, the North Korean government would always tell the people to hold on because it will soon get better. Well, not this time. This time, the government is telling the people to take care of themselves in whatever way they can. The May 26th announcement is de-facto admittance by the government that they are giving up when it comes to food shortages. That is how serious the food shortages are, which also means that, unless there is some extraordinary development, many people will inevitably die. The desperate situation calls for urgent humanitarian intervention by the international community.

In light of the fact that the North Korean government has officially abdicated its responsibility to feed its own people, it falls to the shoulders of the international community, including South Korea, to help the North Korean people survive. The choice is stark, but it is our choice to make. Do we provide food aid and try to save as many people as possible from starvation, or do nothing and watch as countless people die of starvation? We cannot save the people by blaming the incompetence of the North Korean government. That is why the international community, including South Korea, must quickly provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea.

Although inter-Korea interaction has screeched to a halt over the Cheonan sinking, we need to reiterate the long-held principle that humanitarian assistance not be linked to political considerations. Granted, North Korean authorities have in the past used South Korean humanitarian aid as propaganda to burnish its domestic image by spinning the aid as the result of negotiations with the South. But at the same time, South Korean aid also brought about a fundamental shift in how North Korean people viewed South Korea. Further, the days are long past when North Korean government could use humanitarian aid for regime propaganda purposes. South Korean humanitarian aid to the North today represents a key opportunity for the South to show its moral superiority to not only the people of North Korea but also its officials. It could also provide the impetus for inter-Korea dialogue to resume more in line with the South Korean agenda.

As for the North Korean government, it must not give up its diplomatic efforts to invite international humanitarian assistance no matter how difficult the food situation becomes. The most important work of a government is to safeguard the lives of the people. Although in-country food has run out and food imports are difficult because of lack of foreign currency, the door to international humanitarian aid is still open. If the North Korean government were to proactively seek out international assistance, it will be helped. It must not equate request for international humanitarian assistance to begging. North Korean government must understand that its regime becomes more secure the better off the people’s lives become.

Now is the right time for the Koreas to come together, not to argue over past faults and lay blame, but to come up with a peace-building plan to lessen tension on the peninsula, agree on a humanitarian effort to stave off famine in North Korea, and concur on a plan to allow the divided families to come together before more of them die of old age without seeing their long-separated families.

North Korea Today No. 340 June 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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[Source Summary Statement]
The information sources of this newsletter are North Korean people who reside in North Korea. Validity of the information is limited to the sources' localities and their level of accessibility to the information. The sources provide information based on what they observed or heard. As a rule, Good Friends limits its own editing to explicating unfamiliar North Korean words in South Korean and for the purpose of translating Korean to English for English version. Exceptions to this rule are Editorials and Investigative Reports where Good Friends expresses its own opinion.
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May 26 Party Directives, “The Country has no immediate solution to food situation”
Details of Directives Handed Down to Each Ministry
Blanket Permission to Open Markets, “Everyone can do business”
“Do not regulate commerce by people”, Safety Authorities Instruct
The City Party Makes a Discussion Based on Market Price Instead of Official Price

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May 26 Party Directives, “The Country has no immediate solution to food situation”
On May 26th, the Party stated that there will be no immediate government support and announced, “The government cannot take any immediate measures due to the worse than expected food situation.” Accordingly, the cabinet and all sectors delivered ‘the current North Korea’s Food Situation’ command to affiliated organizations. The attitude has changed radically from last January 31 when the cabinet minister Kim Youngil announced written apology during the cabinet meeting and asked to wait three months for a resolution. The May 26 announcement surprised the officials because there had been many announcements to ‘Trust and follow the Party even though the food situation is getting worse. Be patient,’ but no statements like this one where they announced that ‘the government cannot help immediately’. This is especially shocking to the Central party officials, prime organization workers who were receiving special distribution benefit, and Pyongyang residents. Some central party officials commented that “5.26 Action” is a real definition of the major incident. However, there are a small number of positive voices. They claim that “at least they are being honest by announcing that the government cannot help the situation. This is better than those times where they only promised food and asked us to wait with no carried out results.” An official commented, “I think this action is an improvement. People who only look up to the governmental distribution will die waiting. Instead, the government is being considerate and states that people need to find their own solution”.

Details of Directives Handed Down to Each Ministry
Central Party and Cabinet issued thorough directives to such department as trade, industry, safety agency, and security agency.

1. To Ministry of Foreign Trade, “Revive foreign trade at any cost”
In the case of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, it was given a directive to “revive the inactive companies by getting help from relatives in China if that is what it takes” since it suffered a huge blow in the beginning of 2010 as some of the trading companies had to go through dissolutions, mergers, and acquisitions. Thus the directive to the Ministry of Foreign Trade was to restore the business ties that were cut as a result of currency revaluation at any cost.
Previously, individuals who made a personal deal while belonging to a unit or company were given stiff penalties when caught. Now, the new directive allows individuals to engage in foreign trade if they belong to a trade company. Regular companies not doing foreign trade are encouraged to form a partnership with trade companies. It went further to suggest an incentive bonus for a person at a company, whatever his position may be, if the person can make a substantial contribution to a trade company by making a business deal. Even forcibly dissolved companies, some of which are military related, are allowed to be involved in trade if they can attract foreign investment.
On top of all of that, state controlled companies were given subsidies of at least 150,000 won with the new currency issued by the central bank. The subsidy, which ranged from 400,000 won to 600,000 won on average, was the government’s intention to place the responsibility on the enterprises, whereby the company has to take care of salaries and all other responsibilities. In a nutshell, the new 5.26 directive was designed to encourage companies to stand on their own with a minimum level of subsidy and sends a clear message that the government will not exercise control so that companies can revive themselves.

2. To Each Ministry of Industries, “Do the best you can to prevent workers suffering from hunger.”
A directive asking to “take measures to ensure livelihood for laborers at each agency and enterprise” was issued to each Ministry including the Ministry of Light Industry. The main message was to inform that the government is unable to provide food distribution and ask them to revive the factories so that they can handle the food problem on their own for their workers. It said that since the worker’s livelihood is in a dire condition, “Do the best you can to prevent workers from suffering from hunger.” The directive also urged to help laborers who are unable to come to work due to starvation.

3. To People’s Safety Agency, “Confiscate what can be used as weapon” in Response to Rampant Increase in Homicide
The People’s Safety Agency was cautioned against ominous sign of crime as food crisis may lead to social unrest. The directive includes, as a preventive measure, “confiscation of what can be used as weapon.” The biggest reason was because of a sharp increase in aggravated crime amid social panic exacerbated by food shortage. A knife, if longer than 9 cm, is considered as a potential weapon and, thus, should be confiscated. So is a saw, though for domestic use. Besides that, the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department ordered the Security Department to expel those whose family defected to South Korea and send those who had a phone conversation with family overseas, including China and South Korea, to re-education centers. Officials at the Central Party and officials under the Cabinet were urged to maintain exemplary behavior as a Party member. Provincial Party officials were asked to “find out a way of addressing food crisis on their own using all possible means and get closer to the public by setting an example for ordinary people.”

Blanket Permission to Open Markets “Everyone can do business”
Authorization of public market is included at the core of the 5.26 Party directives. The North Korean authorities decided to allow everyone to have access to markets and overturned their original plan to close down the general market and exercise strong control over market. They announced that there will be no time restrictions, product control or age limitation. In reality, they allowed Democratic Women’s Union’s weekly prohibition from market operation during official work so people can work at market regardless of Democratic Women’s Union hours. Their only condition was to participate in labor mobilization. Pyungsung City, which suffered the most since last year’s decision to prohibit general market, is now allowed to open business and cancel other market regulations. A city official described the background on allowing of the market, “The living standard drastically decreased since the currency exchange and the government cannot provide distribution so they have to bring market back up.” He added, “There are increasing deaths from starvation so opening market is a reasonable resolution. Death due to starvation has gone out of control.” However, although the market doors are open wide, products are not being distributed and there is no cash flow. Market has shrunk that a businessman who used to make 3,000 won a day is barely making 200-300 won a day.

“Do Not Regulate Commerce by People”, Safety Authorities Instruct
Pursuant to the notion to deregulate the entire market, the Safety Bureau instructed the safety authorities in each region not to regulate commerce from now on. The instruction was that even though they should continuously carry out the role to maintain the market order, they should not confiscate the commodities from the merchants nor make an unreasonable demand in the pretext of regulation. It was conveyed because people will be starved to death one after another if commerce is banned where the national food situation is extremely fragile. In Hoeryong City of North Hamgyong Province, the sales booths were reorganized according to the orders of the Leading Secretary of the City Party. The instruction was that age or other limitations were lifted and anyone may come in the market to conduct a trade because people who were unable to enter the market used to open a street stall in the outside and thereby promoting disorders. Moreover, they decided to expand the size of the market again, which had been expanded but inevitably reduced in the past. Two years ago, Hoeryong City had reconstructed the market and increased the food booths; it demolished everything last year, handed over the place to the Fuel Department and utilized the place to produce coal briquettes. It is planning to retrieve the place, make sales booths again, and accept the entire merchants in sales booths. On the other hand, as of June, the safety authorities have decided not to regulate commerce nationwide, so each region has started to expand the size of the market. This is the measure to maintain the market order and to guarantee that even the residents who were thrown out from the market and conducted a trade by peddling or opening a street stall can make ends meet by commerce.

The City Party Makes a Discussion Based on Market Price Instead of Official Price
A food policy was discussed based on the market price of rice and corn for the first time in the City Party Meeting in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province. This is the first time where a market price, instead of official price or declared price, was mentioned in an official meeting. An officer from the City Party explained: “The state cannot allocate rations any more. Since we have received an instruction that there is no resolution, the City Party is determined to prepare a countermeasure based on the civil transactions.” In addition, he said that “The residents who do not receive wages are engaged in commerce, but the price of rice is 500 won/kg and the price of corn is 270 won/kg in the market these days, so people who were able to buy 10 kilograms of rice in the past cannot afford to buy even 1 kilogram”. He evaluated that although it was mentioned while diagnosing the current situation, it is still a meaningful change compared to the past where some foolish discussions were made with unrealistic official price or declared price.
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