GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 360 August 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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Mealworms are Vicious in Bangjin Collective Farm of Chungjin
Damages from Potato Worms are Spreading in Daeheungdan County
20% of the Prisoners at Jeongurrie Re-education Center Died of Fever
Students Burdened with Non-tax Levies for Mt. Baekdu Military First Power Plant
S. Hamgyong Province Dept. of Ed. Bans Collecting Extra Contribution, Parents React with Pessimism

[Investigative Report]
How to Increase School Attendance Rate in North Korea
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Mealworms are Vicious in Bangjin Collective Farm of Chungjin
The Collective Farm in Bangjindong, Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, suffered vast damages as mealworms proliferated. In the case of work unit No.4, mealworms have nibbled away all the leaves, so only the corn stalks were left in 5 Jungbos (1 Jungbo is 2.45 acres) of cornfield. A person from a farm pointed out the lack of agricultural pesticides for its reason. The Farming Management Commission could not provide agricultural pesticides this year, so each farm had to take care of agricultural pesticides on its own. The Collective Farm in Bangjindong had made its own herbicide by using sulfur, but it had almost no repellent effect. It tried to obtain pesticides belatedly but could not plan any particular measure due to the lack of fund. As a stopgap, the City Party began to mobilize the students from Bangjin elementary school and middle school in catching mealworms.

Damages from Potato Worms are Spreading in Daeheungdan County
The farms of Daeheungdan County in Ryanggang Province suffered grave damages as they could not prevent the potato worms in their potato fields. The County Party Committee had dispatched its members to the entire farms within its jurisdiction to assess the farming condition, and it was found that especially the new Labor District, Hongam, and Seodu District suffered serious damages. In the case of Hongam Farm, 7 Jungbos (1 Jungbo is 2.45 acres) were damaged in just one work unit, making it difficult to expect any harvest this year. The immediate cause of the damages was the inability to secure sufficient amount of pesticides this year. A pesticide called Pesticide Bullet requires a substance named hexacloran, and a smoke produced by burning the mixture of hexacloran and sawdust has a pesticide effect. If combined with nitric acid, however, hexacloran can be used to manufacture explosives. Due to the shortage of raw materials and electric power, a chemical plant that manufactures hexacloran was gradually producing lesser amount of hexacloran; as it was provided to the war industry first, the amount of pesticides to be provided to the farms was running short.

20% of Prisoners at Jeongurrie Re-education Center Died of Fever
It has been discovered that a contagious fever at the Jeongurrie Re-education Center killed many of the prisoners from September 2009 to February 2010. The fever killed approximately 20% of the prisoners. There was even a day when 35 people died. Although the Center has to deal with the outbreak of fever every year, the situation puzzles the Center because it has not experienced such a large number of deaths in a short period of time. The Center can accommodate up to 2,000 people, but it took in twice that amount of people. This made the prisoners debilitated and vulnerable to contagious diseases such as the fever. Most of the prisoners sent to the Center last year were not felons but simply sellers of prohibited goods, the so-called, “livelihood related offenders.” Therefore, the families of the prisoners suffer great unfairness and strongly criticize the Center, saying, “It is a death center where innocent people are sent and are subject to physical abuse and mental exhaustion. Then, they finally become dead bodies.”

At 11:00 on May 17, 100 prisoners of about 50 men and 50 women were released from the Center because their jail terms were up. This time, except for the 3 prisoners who died, all 97 were released. Immediately following the release, 80 other people were taken in into the Center. The maximum capacity for the Center is 2,000 people, but it imprisons 4,600 men and women. Although about 2-3 people die each day of malnutrition or some other reasons, it seems unlikely that the total number of prisoners will ever decrease because many new prisoners are constantly taken in. In June, of the prisoners who had two years left in their jail terms, 19 with serious diseases were released on parole on a disease bail. These sick prisoners mainly had tuberculosis, infectious hepatitis, abdominal dropsy, or other serious diseases that even prevented them from working. The Center released those who had possibly contagious diseases because the fever had killed so many people. The released prisoners were to return to the Center and finish their jail terms as soon as their treatments ended. However, they have such serious diseases that are difficult to treat that their release can basically be seen as a permanent one.

Students are Burdened with Non-tax Levies for Mt. Baekdu Military First Power Plant
In the construction efforts for the second power plant of the Mt. Baekdu Sungoon Chungnyon power plant, non-tax payments are levied with an aim of providing money for machinery components needed due to breakdown of machinery facilities that are causing delays in the construction. The brigades of North Hamgyong Province asked the provincial party several times for backup support such as machinery components. As a result, the provincial party gave instructions to its city and county parties. In case of the Hoeryong City, the city collected non-tax contributions for providing machine components not only from factories and public enterprises, but also from employees of elementary schools. The employees collected this contribution from students because they can’t afford it themselves. For example, each individual student in the Kangan-dong Elementary school is levied 300 to 400 NKW. Parents are burdened with continuous non-tax payments and, as a result, no longer send their children to school. As of July 2010, the attendance rate of students in schools in Hoeryong is no more than one third of enrolled students.

The brigades in South Pyongan Province are not much different from those in the North Hamgyong Province. The South Pyongan Brigades take charge of the construction of mine tunnels as part of the second power plant construction. However, the breakdown of a jackhammer has been delaying this construction. Similar to North Hamgyong Province, South Pyongan Province also levied non-tax payments on laborers, housewives, and students.

The special labor brigades suffer more severely because they have to conduct the entire task using their physical labors. Commanders shortened the shift time by forming four teams for drilling holes and three concrete-type teams. On July 4, 2010, five laborers happened to run away together in a day. The head of the brigades reported the escape to the South Pyongan province party and warned laborers that it would impose harsh punishments. It was a warning to prevent additional escapes. It is fortunate that the South Pyongan brigades do not suffer much from food shortage. Although the ratio of crushed maize and unglutinous rice is not one-to-one, each member of the brigades receives 550g of steamed rice which is a mix of crushed maize and unglutinous rice in the ratio of four-to-one. For dinner, one bottle of alcohol for every four laborers is distributed. Although this amount is too small considering the intensity of everyday labor, the situation in South Pyongan brigades is considered to be better compared to the food shortage problems prevalent nationwide.

Department of Education of South Hamgyong Province Says, “Do not Collect Extra Contribution,” but Parents React with Pessimism
On July 4, department of education of South Hamgyong Province had a meeting with educational officials of City or County Parties about students’ low attendance rate. Although they understand that the main reason for the low attendance is the food shortage issue, collecting extra contribution could be another factor that parents gave up sending their children to school. An official of Provincial Department of Education handed down a strict order that bans collecting extra contribution by saying, “Do not collect non-tax contribution any more. There should not be any exception for this rule. Schools and teachers imposing social projects on students should be viewed as unfit to educate people.” The official requested them to put their best efforts to increase students’ attendance by saying, “Increasing the attendance rate is the foundation to develop our future.” As of July, it was observed that elementary and middle school students’ attendance rate is lower than 30% in Hamheung city. Most absentees help their parents’ trades or have a part time job such as luggage delivery service using their bicycle.

However, parents in Hamheung City show pessimistic reactions toward the recent ban of collecting extra contribution of the educational department. An official of the City Party said, “The fact that school may not follow this order could be the issue. Above all, we should not point fingers at school or individual teacher as the real reason for the problem.” He asserted, “This ban on extra contribution means that school should not collect extra stuff for its own operation. It does not mean eradicating extra contributions completely.” For instance, there is no choice but to collect extra contributions to support workers at the construction field such as Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province or the historic battle field at Mt. Baekdu. Each district has responsibility for supporting food for the workers of Special Labor Brigade who are dispatched from the district, but local government does not have enough budgets to support them, so they have to collect extra contributions from companies, enterprises, neighborhood units, and schools. For Hamheung City’s case, it is not possible to stop collecting extra contribution from schools because the city has lots of needs for its own projects as well as continuous requests from the Central Government.

[Investigative Report]
How to Increase School Attendance Rate in North Korea
As the food shortage continues, it is not a new phenomenon that school attendance rate is low, and many students simply drop out of school. In July, middle schools in Hamheung City showed less than 50% of attendance rate. The root cause of the low attendance rate is the food shortage, but the biggest impact comes from the non-tax burdens imposed on students.

Poor students who cannot afford eating properly are avoiding coming to school because they cannot afford the non-tax duties the school imposes on every student. The educational authorities know this grave situation; they have made statements that schools should not collect non-tax duties, criticizing schools and teachers collecting money from students as disqualified educators. However, no matter how the authorities criticize it, collecting non-tax duties from students never stops in reality.

The parents’ enthusiasm for education dwindles as they suffer from chronic hunger. For them, all kinds of assignments of non-tax duties are huge burdens. Teachers find this situation very hard as well. When the attendance rate drops, teachers face criticism and their qualifications are questioned. Therefore, they have to visit students’ homes and talk to the parents. The parents do not reserve themselves and argue with the teachers, asking how they could send their children to school when they cannot even eat. Even for the students who manage to come to school, it is practically impossible to run a class properly because the hungry students tend to be sitting languidly and cannot focus on anything.

Education is not a personal matter but a duty of the society to foster the next generation as well as a basic function the nation to fulfill. What should be done to increase the school attendance rate and promote enabling environment for education in North Korea when it is undergoing such a hard economic situation?

First, the non-tax duties should be eliminated. They are the biggest reason of the low school attendance. If it is inevitable to collect duties from students to continue many national projects, such projects should be stopped temporarily or postponed according to priorities. A drastic determination is required to focus on the most important and urgent projects and drop the rest.

Second, if collecting duties are still needed, collect certain amount of educational fee instead of collecting all kinds of items for so many different causes. In this way, schools can raise revenue, and parents can be relieved from the burdensome non-tax duties. When the national plans are made for various national projects, the educational units should be exempted from non-tax duties.

Third, the suggested educational fee should be exempted for those living below poverty line. Such a measure is needed to promote equality in education. Even in the current financial trouble, educational subsidies for poor students should be implemented as the first step to reinstate free education.

Lastly, the national budget for education should be secured. If the state puts priority in education and supports it despite its hard economic situation, all the regions will follow. Allocating national budget in an appropriate manner shows its priorities in national policies. When people see their nation giving high priorities to education even in the hardship, they can have hope and be encouraged for a better life.

Education symbolizes the hope for the future. Despite all the hardships, education should be the first place to sprout the hope for the next generation. Making such effort in education is making the first step for the next century.

North Korea Today No. 359 August 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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Hoeryong City Borrows Corns from Labor Detention Center and Distributes Them to Residents
Sariwon to Provide Food to the Special Protected Classes before the Party Officials
N. Hamgyong Provincial Party Directs Local Gov. to Distribute Rations to Veterans at Any Cost
Families Fleeing to South through Sea Shot to Death in Ongjin County
New Ocean Entry /Exit Guidelines Issued Due to Increasing Number of Sea Escapes
Food Situations for the Battlefield Construction Project on Mt. Baekdu
Mt. Baekdu Construction Meeting to Establish Food Measure Comes to Conclusion of Non-Tax Burden on People

[Editorial]
Setting Priorities among Large-scale Construction Projects
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Hoeryong City Borrows Corns from Labor Detention Center and Distributes Them to the Residents
According to the work attendance survey by the Labor Department of the Administration and Economic Committee in Hoeryong of North Hamgyong Province in June, the average rate of absence in the factories and public enterprises within the city amounts to approximately 40%. Most of them were absences without leave because of the food problem. Even in July, it was found that the distribution to the residents was not made yet, the commerce by the residents was not going well, and the residents’ food condition continued to be aggravated. The dietary life became extremely aggravated as the families who had a steamed corn meal at least once a day began to eat porridges for all 3 times a day and the families who subsisted on porridges 2 times a day could barely eat just once a day. The death rate has also risen as the starving families had evidently increased. So the administrative directors and the officers of the Grain Policy Department of the City Party had convened a series of meeting to establish measures regarding food, and had decided to receive the assistance of the Support Bureau of No. 22 Labor Detention Center which belongs to the National Security Agency. It was decided that on early August, corns harvested from the Labor Detention Center are to be distributed to the residents of Hoeryong first, and that the Grain Policy Department of the City is to return them upon harvesting corns in fall. As soon as the decision was made, the Local Grain Policy Enterprise of the City began to send transport vehicles to the Detention Center and transport the corns. The City Party stabilized the unsettling public sentiments by informing the residents who were gathered in the market of the decision to distribute the rations by early August. The residents are jubilating at the news that they can receive more rations no matter how small they are, since they were currently going through such a difficult time.

Sariwon to Provide Food to the Special Protected Classes before the Party Officials
For the first time in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, the City Party ordered food to be distributed to the special protected classes before the Party officials. Even the elderly, such as war veterans, citizens of merit, and heroes of great achievements, have been pleading the City Party with tears to solve the food shortage crisis. On July 16, the City Party held a meeting with the farm administrative officials to discuss a plan to solve this problem. The Party and the officials decided that following this year’s first barley harvest yield on each farm, the minimum of 3 tons and the maximum of 5 tons of barley will be provided to local grain policy enterprise. The enterprise called all of the farm names one by one and told them how much barley each of them would provide. The barley collected in this way will be distributed first during early August to the special protected classes: old veterans, citizens of merit, heroes of great achievements, families with at least three children, doctors, and teachers. The officials in security, police stations and the City Party will take the surplus barley left over from the distribution. If there is no barley for the officials to take, even they will have to eke out a living by themselves. However, the general residents are not included in this food distribution. So they were quite surprised to find that for the first time, the party and government officials were not the first in line to get the food distribution.

N. Hamgyong Provincial Party Directs Local Gov. to Distribute Rations to Veterans at Any Cost
In commemoration of 57th annual Victory Day on July 27th, the Provincial Party of the North Hamgyong Province directed local governments to distribute rations to veterans at any cost. On July 24th, the high-ranked officials, including the leading secretary of City and County, the chairperson of people’s assembly and the chief of police station decided that the best way to reward for the veterans’ service would be through priority ration starting in August. The Provincial Party reiterated that the distribution should trump any other concerns and stressed that no local government with responsibility and competence would fail to appreciate those who sacrificed for our country. In response to the directive, leading officials at local government level vowed to distribute ration to all veterans in order not to be called incompetent. The secretary in charge of the provincial party asked the officials to demonstrate their ability and competence by securing ration for the veterans, if not for others. However, no concrete measure to implement the decision was discussed among the high-ranked officials.

On the day of the annual Victory Day celebration, Chungjin City invited the veterans to serve them noodles and inquired about the most pressing issues they have. The veterans appealed for help with issue of shortage of food, saying, “We can put up with range of issues except starvation. It would be an enormous help if the government gives us the salary for one month.” The city party promised them, “If you just wait a little longer, we will provide you with rations.”

Families Fleeing to South through Sea Shot to Death in Ongjin County
On May 1st, four people were shot to death and one survived while a family attempted escape in Ongjin County, South Hwanghae Province. The defector, who was a high ranking officer in 425 basic training camp under Support Bureau, attempted to cross the border to South with his four family members, but naval patrol boat foiled the attempt. When the warning shots did not stop them, the naval unit opened fire into the boat, killing everyone except for the youngest son.

On May 28th, a seaman working on a Chinese crab boat made an attempt to defect with his family members. The outburst of gunfire attack was such that the boat, which carried five people, became tattered. The women and child died while the brothers-in-law fell in the water before they were rescued and transferred to the security department in the South Hwanghae Province. As the attempts to defect through sea continue in Ongjin County, officers in charge of border security post, including the heads of naval post and guard post respectively, were summoned to the Defense Security Command on the charges of “a lack of vigilance in border protection and negligence of their duty to prevent defection attempts.”

New Ocean Entry /Exit Guidelines Issued Due to Increasing Number of Sea Escapes
The National Security Agency has delivered a set of guidelines, “New Ocean Entry/Exit Regulations,” to all security departments in every province in the nation. During the squid catching season, the number of fishing boats going out into the ocean has increased. Therefore, the following official guidelines have been issued to be on guard of escapees to South Korea.
1. Those who are non-resident of a province are not allowed to aboard a fishing boat in the non-residing province in order to make money.
2. College students are not permitted to aboard a fishing boat for working purposes.
3. No more than two family members are allowed to aboard a fishing boat.
4. The boats belong to enterprises or the organizations that are out of commission should either be taken away or totally destroyed if they are on the shore near fishing guard posts or where there are a lot of boats.

Food Situations for the Battlefield Construction Project on Mt. Baekdu
In Ryanggyang Province, Kim Il-Sung’s revolutionary historic battlefield site is under construction on a national scale. Workers from Mt. Baekdu and other cities were mobilized for this construction project. Even though it is a project for the whole country, the food circumstances are not so great. In April, the food decreased greatly, but the South Hamgyong and North Hwanghae Provinces were in the worst condition. At other brigades food is so scarce that corn porridge is all that is available for all three meals every day. Last winter there was not enough food or daily necessities, causing starvation. Many workers begged for food from neighbors and farmers and some even sold the clothes off their backs to get food. Mr. Lee, Gi-Dong (alias) got a coat to wear during the cold winter from his wife, but he traded it for 5 pieces of bread even though there are more cold winters to come. He thought it was necessary to do so to prevent starvation.

People have been either begging or trading their belongings for food. When there’s nothing else to trade, they steal livestock and goods from other households. There have been so many thefts that people in neighboring villages took turns standing guard at night watching for burglars. More than 20 robberies and thefts were recorded every day. At first severe consequences were strongly enforced, but starting in January there were so many thefts that stealing is now not a big deal and there are small or no consequences for it.

Baekdu Mountain Construction Meeting to Establish Food Measure Comes to Conclusion of Non-Tax Burden on People
On May 17th, provincial brigade commanders, battalion commanders and support bureau workers who are in charge of Baekdu Mountain Battlefield site construction held a meeting for five hours to discuss food problems. The discussion continued until the closing time, but they failed to come up with any solutions. The central command stressed, "Although food ration has ended nationwide, we can't put off the construction. The beloved leader would be visiting again in August. We should show him how hard we are working. We must get through this difficult time. Let's pull through with porridge until May and try to get more food ration from city and county in June. We will try whatever we can so that we receive supporting goods twice every month. Let's just get through the tough time."

After the meeting, the central department sent an official note to each province. The meeting was centered on providing goods to leading secretaries of each city and county. The central party also ordered that the Organization and Guidance Department of each city and county take care of the food and goods for the special labor brigade. Even though this is a national construction project, they can only rely on the people’s non-tax burden. In the end, laborers end up preparing the food and goods for Baekdu mountain construction. The official letter’s "must provide" list include 30 shovels, 10 pickaxes, 4 pairs of running shoes, 20 kg of powdered popcorn, 20 packs of cigarette, 40 pairs of gloves and 40 liter of alcohol. Of course, each factory and public enterprises are required to provide different amounts based on their capabilities. Factories and public enterprises had to borrow 1,500 won against each laborer’s wages in order to provide the goods. Even though they promised to return the money, the workers will end up paying 1,500 in non-tax burden.

[Editorial]
Setting Priorities among Large-scale Construction Projects
The North Korean government has launched many large-scale infrastructure projects such as Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province, Uhrangcheon Power Plant in North Hamgyong Province, Seon-gun Power Plant in Mount Baekdu, Baekdu War Memorial, a 100,000 house construction project in Pyongyang, Mount Baekdu Tour Railways in Ryanggang Province, and the Food Market Street construction project in Hoeryong City. All these are being implemented simultaneously, aimed for completion in 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation. With so many construction projects going on simultaneously, it is understandable that meeting the demand for construction materials like cement, iron beams, and explosives is not easy, and providing food for the mobilized workers is getting burdensome. Even in cases where the government provided some fund for project implementation, it is not enough to cover the costs. As a result, the projects are being executed through nationwide mobilization and support assignment. On top of this, each region has its own construction projects to carry on. The shortage of raw materials and food is getting worse, and the burden of support assignment is growing large for each province, city, county, government business unit, household in Neighborhood Unit, and student.

In case of Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province, the large trucks, heavy equipment and other construction materials are relatively well supplied because it is the national flagship project. Since the central authority has a great interest in it and put a priority on it, the project is being executed by the full support from the military, the Party, and the people. However, it is still hard to provide the soldiers working in the construction site with sufficient supply of necessities. Due to the hardship, the first unit of the brigade made a decision to shorten the work shift from three months to two months. Apart from the construction brigade, there are at least 60,000 mobilized workers in Heecheon Power Plant. If a minimum food ration of 500g is needed per person, the sum total of necessary food supply would be 30 tons per day, which translates into 900 tons per month. This is a huge amount of food needed for a single construction project.

On the other hand, other construction projects are de facto abandoned due to lack of progress. The construction workers’ rights for life are being threatened in many of the project sites with poor and rough work environment. However, halting a project approved by the central authority is hard. With not many other options available, the management of those projects requests each province, city, and county for their support. Those regions received such requests then send out support duty assignments to its business units and neighborhood units.

For business enterprises, already struggling to cover their own operational costs and failing to provide proper salaries and food rations to their workers, this extra assignment of providing food to the workers mobilized for national construction projects is too burdensome. Neighborhood units are also struggling with many kinds of non-tax duties for different construction projects as well as for the People’s Army. For example, the prices of non-tax duties of dog and rabbit hides were 250 and 500 NK won respectively when the rice price in mid July was over 1,000 NK won. When it is hard for a business person to earn 300 NK won per day in the marketplace, higher duty than a day’s earning is imposed on people.

The power plants currently being built will eventually play an important role in providing electricity for the nation. However, forcing the project implementation without a proper budget puts excessive burden to regions, enterprises, neighborhood units and students who received countless duty assignments for project support.

Moreover, the harsh labor condition in the project sites puts the workers human rights in jeopardy. Soldiers and construction brigades mobilized by force are treated worse than slaves. They cannot sleep or eat enough and are treated like dispensable items. Often times, kkotjebis (homeless) and orphans are mobilized to fill the gap of labor shortage. People with already weak health conditions cannot endure the hard construction work, and this leads to many man-made disasters and devastating accidents. Due to the hardship, many run away from the construction sites, and the households nearby suffer from recurring incidents of theft.

Projects executed through premature completion, harsh labor environment and shortage of construction materials end up in a failure in a few years. There have been cases of national construction projects becoming useless after wasting enormous amount of government fund. The vicious cycle continues as they consume huge amount of funds and human labor and halt the operation after the project completion.

The large-scale construction projects aimed for 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation put the people’s lives in misery. Too much cut in the length of the construction cycle leads to faulty construction, and its social costs are enormous. Despite all the needs and right causes, the infrastructure projects should be implemented systematically according to a set of priorities. Project cycles should be normalized and the budgets should be properly allocated to ensure successful results. If the 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation is a promise made to the people, the process of realizing it should be done through their cooperation and support.

Showcase projects impose huge burdens of forced labor and duties on the people. They worsen the people’s livelihood and adversely affect the operation of factories and business units. The impacts of this vicious circle fall on the most vulnerable class of the society. The North Korean government should take note of the precedents of old dynasties whose large-scale construction projects provoked profound resistance from the people and threatened the existence of the regime itself. The government should take the initiative and review the stance of the current projects. It should make a policy decision by incorporating a bottom-up approach, taking people’s opinions into consideration, and setting priorities for national and regional projects.

North Korea Today No. 358 July 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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“Restoring international trade is crucial,” Cabinet Officials Say
Laborers at Unsan Mine Sabotage as they get no Rations
Eunsan Mine District Residents Survive on Corn Porridge
Shinpo Cooperative Farms Worry about This Year's Harvest
People’s Safety Dept. Orders, “Make sure those who evade mobilization come to work.”
“Don’t force us to work if you can’t feed us,” Laborers of Kim Chaek Shipyard
County Party Demands Secretaries to Secure Food for Urangchun Brigades
Urangchun Special Labor Brigades Told to Resolve Food Crisis on Their Own

[Investigative Report]
Skyrocketing Prices and Market Trading
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“Restoring international trade is crucial,” Cabinet Officials Say during Working-level Meeting on Economy
On July 5th, economic officials in the Cabinet held the 7th working-level meeting since the 5.26 party directives were announced. The meeting sought to address several economic issues raised following the currency revaluation measure. Officials said the key issue was “to stabilize people’s lives.” Some working-level officials pointed out that light industry and local industry need to be developed to provide sufficient amounts of consumer goods for distribution. They also suggested focusing on items popular with consumers. Domestic production should focus on items in high demand in order to increase the proportion of domestic products in the market. Currently, 80% of daily necessities are made in China. The officials also stated that greater development of science and technology is needed to make mass production possible using only domestic raw materials. To tackle the urgent food crisis, officials said international trade need to be revitalized and “the best way is identifying all exportable resources and trading them for food.” The meeting concluded by emphasizing that “it was the Party’s firm promise to the people when the Party guaranteed a better life and a Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012. The world is watching us. Everybody needs to work hard to keep the promise that was made to the people.”

Laborers at Unsan Mine Sabotage as they get no Rations
The worker sabotage situation at Unsan copper mine in South Pyongan Province is deteriorating as the food situation worsens. Until August 2009, imported corn was distributed and then discontinued. In January and February 2010, half a month's supply of corn was distributed. The monthly salary was paid only until March. Laborers made attempts of achieving the planned goal at least on the surface in February when ration was provided, but in March they explicitly engaged in strike. Mining work operates in shifts between morning and afternoon, and laborers sabotage the mine vehicle wheels by derailing to slow down the work. When the first vehicle is derailed, there is a delay and the rear vehicles continue to be delayed. This is how laborers pass the time. Workers claim that “Why should we bother to work hard when no food is distributed? We don’t have energy to work even if we tried.” They attribute the sabotage incidents to hunger. Officials such as shaft captains, company commanders and platoon leaders tried to set example by working hard, but workers were not affected in any way and tried to pass the time.

More than Half of Eunsan Mine District Residents Survive on Corn Porridge
Small plot farming in Eunsan mine district in South Pyongan Province is not easy because the land is covered with excavated pebbles. The condition is not good to open a market either. As such, people would die of hunger if food rations were not provided. More than half of the Eunsan mine district laborers survive on corn gruel. Some wealthy officials consume corn rice or unglutinous rice, but their numbers do not exceed 20% of the whole household. The mine officials, law officers, support bureau officials, and fuel oil management office workers eat rice while the rest live off gruel. Even then, the lowest level miners eat porridge made of wild edible green and corn powder.

In the past the Eunsan copper mine was a leading mine and considered a pillar of the second economy (military economy). Because of the high copper content as well as its use as a raw material for cannonball, the second economy did not hold back on assistance. With production came rice and other provisions. How did the Eunsan mine workers fell to such an extent that they have to prolong life with the gruel? A Central Party official said that miners had only dug up from the easy side without digging in greater depth. Boring the mine requires a substantial amount of time and decreases production. With supply decreasing, bores were not the first priority. The official lamented that the abundant copper reserves would be rendered useless, and he blamed poor management of the second economy for the decline of the Eunsan mine.

Shinpo Cooperative Farms Worry about This Year's Harvest
People at village cooperative farms in Shinpo town, South Hamgyong Province are already raising concerns about this year's harvest. That’s because transferring of rice seeding has not been done well. When the transplanting of rice seeding was in full swing last May, the work unit 2 and 5 could not do irrigation properly because soldiers from the neighboring army base stole the water pump. The women mobilized for rice seeding transplanting did not do a thorough job for the task that requires time and effort because they had to finish the field work in haste so that they can do trading at the market in the afternoon. Concerned farm members looking at the situation said, "Judging from the past experience the harvest yields drops by 30-40% when transplanting is done with immature rice seeding. The harvest yield is likely to be even worse this time."

The Yanghwari farm in Shinpo town also had problems with transplanting of rice seeding and decided to re-cultivate the field in the case of work unit 5. They planned to use compost to enrich the soil of the transplanting field during the transferring of rice seeding to the field. However, they could not supply the compost due to a delay in making and transporting the compost from the mountain. Rice seeding infected with disease spread and mature seeding ready for transplanting was hard to find. As such, the Shinpo town farm management committee, South Hamgyong Province agricultural researchers, and Hamjoo field farmers in Hamjoo County conducted field investigation and examined the condition of the diseased rice plant. The result of investigation indicated that "In case of a good harvest the rice grain will be premature, otherwise even harvesting a single grain will be difficult." As a result, they have decided to re-cultivate the whole 20 jungbo (2.45acres) of field. The rice field will be drained and dried up and it will be reconditioned to plant cabbages and radishes beginning mid July.

People’s Safety Dept. Orders, “Make sure those who evade mobilization come to work.”
Department of People’s Safety ordered provincial police stations to establish measures to deal with a recent phenomenon where people who make living mainly by trading are evading farming mobilization for weeding by bribing. In North Hamgyong Province, each local police station visited every household and took those who stayed home to district administration office to question the reason. Those residents who were not officially permitted to stay at home were sent to police substations. The substation called supervisors of those who were caught. The supervisors promised to keep their workers at work and brought them back. Most of the merchants who were caught are members of DWU (Democratic Women’s Union). They express discontent with the repressive treatment saying “it is very annoying that they drag us out as if they caught a big criminal.”

In Shinheung 1-dong, Sungchun River District, Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, the chair of DWU strongly called for participation in the full mobilization at a meeting of heads of Neighborhood Units and members of DWU. The chair emphasized, “Have a clear understanding of the full mobilization. No matter how serious the food situation is, you should show up at the mobilization. Take a strong measure to allow all women to be able to participate.” However, the chair also added, “Those members of DWU who are absent for even one day should contribute some money to feed those who show up,” since in reality, there is a high number of absenteeism for reasons such as trading. To be exempted, people should pay 500 won a day, but women pay 200-300 won on average saying that business is slow. The money is collected regardless of the reason for absenteeism, and economically disadvantaged women are suffering. In the first week of July, about 4,000 won was collected for 5 days, and the chair of DWU and the primary party secretary took and spent 2,500 won and 1,500 won for themselves respectively. Members of DWU are raising questions saying, “They told us to pay money for feeding people who are working, but they use it for making propaganda materials or the money goes to the chair’s pocket. I don’t see a reason to pay.”

“Don’t force us to work if you can’t feed us,” Laborers of Kim Chaek Shipyard
Laborers at Kim Chaek Shipyard are suffering because of a food shortage so severe that it prompted workers to say, “Do not force us to show up at work if you cannot provide food.” The situation appears quite serious because the shipyard is pressuring laborers to rush its renovation project so as to invite Kim Jong-Il this year. Out of 550 total laborers, as many as 300 are absent. Most of them are absent without notice or pay their supervisors 5,000 won so that they can earn money through a sideline job. The shipyard is in an awkward position because its leaders lack an immediate solution to tackle the food problem despite the need to raise the attendance rate. The laborers are firmly resisting, saying that they will not return to work until food provisions are resumed and any attempt to control them will fail.

County Party Demands Secretaries to Secure Food for Urangchun Brigades
On June 19th the County Party leadership of North Hamgyong Province which is in charge of construction at the Urangchun Hydroelectric Power Plant demanded for the eleventh time that the County party secretaries secure all food and commodities for the Special Labor Brigades. Special Labor Brigades are sent from cities and counties, with those cities and counties also providing the Brigades with food and supplies. The County Party asserted that the Special Labor Brigades must be fed in order to work and that secretaries of the cities and counties take responsibility to provide the construction site with food and other goods. It demanded that the Brigades be fed with rice and corn mixed in 50:50 ratios, provided with pork soup two times a week and 100g of liquor every two days and constantly supplied with bean oil. The County Party warned that food and supplies for the Special Labor Brigades will be strictly evaluated starting July 1st. The city and county secretaries who fail to meet the requirements will be penalized.

Urangchun Special Labor Brigades Told to Resolve Food Crisis on Their Own
The County Party Leadership ordered the Special Labor Brigades of Urangchun Power Plant to secure food on their own as the responsibilities of the cities and counties to provide food and supplies were not met. The Brigades were provided with 2.5 acres of land each, and began to grow various crops including corn and potatoes. However, working for 10-12 hours, and cultivating crops at the same time was too much for the workers. They complained that although they were grateful for the plots of land they were too hungry to work. The County Party grilled the City and County secretaries again, and the City and County secretaries responded by imposing duties on factories, businesses, the Democratic Women’s Union, Neighborhood Units and schools. Residents of Songpyong, Chungjin City showed strong dissent. They said, “It is ridiculous to impose duties on the people after seeing what has happened after the currency revaluation. The government is not taking any action to relieve people’s hunger, but instead demands they give money to some project that was started to satiate the authorities’ own greed.”

[Investigative Report]
Skyrocketing Prices and Market Trading
Recently, the rice price at Chungjin Market went up by more than 400 NKW, the prices of corn by 270 NKW, Chinese Yuan by 52 NKW, and Dollar by 480 NKW respectively. People are anxious about how much the prices would go up as food and commodities become less affordable on top of difficult livelihood due to skyrocketing foreign exchange rates and food prices. In the midst of all this, a lot of people are dying of hunger. The rumor of July-September Crisis is fast approaching as a reality.

On the surface, the sudden increase of food price and foreign exchange rate appears to be a function of rising of food price and market prices triggered by skyrocketing prices of foreign currencies. In reality, foreign currency is needed to purchase goods from foreign countries such as China due to lack of goods. Accordingly, the price of foreign currency skyrockets due to a high demand and short supply, and this in turn affects food price and market prices as a chain reaction. Since importing is inevitable the foreign exchange rates are not likely to stabilize for a while. As another reason, it appears to be an inflation effect caused by government’s excessive release of currency during a short period of time in terms of providing fund directly to enterprises, releasing 50 to 100 million NKW to city and county banks to assist enterprises indirectly, and making payments for the money people were required to save at the banks during the currency exchange period. Since the merchants cannot set the prices due to rising foreign currencies they either stop selling or arbitrarily set the prices. The market management office employees and the police officers stationed at the market enforce the activities of merchants who inflate prices by confiscating the goods and charging 500 NKW fine.

However, it should be understood that price hike due to lack of goods in a way is a principle of supply and demand in the market. Lack of supply leads to price hike and excessive supply leads to price drop. Despite price hike those who can afford the goods will make the purchase and that allows market to function. The merchants who made profit from high price make procurements for other items and bring them to the market to sell. Interfering with market price and enforcing price hike will discourage merchants even more and they would refuse to engage in market trading as their motivation to make trading is likely to decline. Market can function when there is supply of goods even at high price. As a recent example, with the aggravating food situation the authorities have issued a directive banning importing of non-food items through the customs. It looked like a reasonable measure in the sense that it can discourage purchasing of luxury items or consuming of non-food items when there is not enough food. Nevertheless, this measure resulted in lack of supply for various goods and subsequent contraction of market.

For the sake of national economy officials ought to seek ways to secure goods and supply them in the market rather than engaging in market crackdown. Once goods are supplied to the market those who have money, those who make things and sell, and those who provide porter service can make living in their own way. The government and officials should take the initiative in securing goods that will stabilize the market and they need to understand that it is as important as making efforts to stabilize the soaring prices. Already the government provided funds to the enterprises and banks at cities and counties throughout the nation so that laborers’ and residents’ lives can be stabilized. Officials must understand the cause of price hike and seek ways to lower the prices through securing goods rather than relying on market crack downs.

North Korea Today No. 357 July 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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White Rice Given as Special Reward for Completion of 2nd Stage of Samsuk Apple Farm Renovation
Two Hundred Apple Trees Damaged on Samsuk Apple Farm
People’s Safety Agency Pardoned Unregistered Residents
“Punishing a potato thief to death justified?” Punishment of Prisoners Too Harsh
Difficulties with Punishing Art School Students Watching South Korean Movies
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White Rice Given as Special Reward for Completion of 2nd Stage of Samsuk Apple Farm Renovation
As of last June 19th, 2nd stage of Pyongyang Samsuk Orchard expansion project was completed. Much work is remaining, including building houses for farmers who were evacuated due to the construction. However, people were celebrating the completion. Special provision was granted to Special Labor Brigade under People’s Safety Agency mobilized for the project. The Brigade visited Geunsusan Memorial Palace, which commemorates Kim Il-sung, and had a consideration meal at a famous restaurant in Pyongyang. Each platoon received underwear and medicine and medical supplies. They will also receive white rice till September for food provision, which is a special treatment compared to corn. After a break, the Brigade resumed the project on July 1st and started the third stage. People’s Safety Agency newly incorporated Student Special Labor Brigade from the College of Politics under the Agency’s supervision.

Two Hundred Apple Trees Damaged on Samsuk Apple Farm
On July 5th, before the day of late Kim Il-sung’s 16th death anniversary, an incident involving the damaging of 200 apple trees occurred in the Samsuk apple farm. The destruction of the apple trees caused massive uproar amongst the Security authorities. The problem was that the incident occurred just before the Kim IL Sung’s death anniversary, and the apple farm business has been under Kim, Jong-il (the chairman of national defense committee)’s special directions. Therefore, the North Korean government interpreted the incident as an anti-revolutionary political one committed by a person who is discontented with the government. In order to track down the culprit, the Security authorities have taken the initiative in comparing fingerprints found at the trees with those of the local residents. To prevent the same incident from happening at other apple farms, the Special Guard Headquarters have quickly stationed their battalion near the Samsuk apple farm area. Some local residents exhibited a strong distrust, saying, “The purpose of stationing the soldiers is no other than to prevent local people from picking even one apple when the trees are full of apples”.

People’s Safety Agency Pardoned Unregistered Residents
Some married women who had moved to other cities upon marriage or some retired soldiers who had been located to other regions returned to their hometown and have stayed without registration. They did not report the move, thus they became unregistered residents in their new residence. After the currency reform, it was hard to survive, so they went back to their hometown. When each city or county examined residents to issue new registration cards, they found the unexpectedly large number of these people and reported it to the central government. Since a lot of people have starved to death in every district, some voiced an opinion that it is not appropriate to send unregistered residents back to their previous residence.

Last April 12, residence registration office of People’s Safety Agency reported this issue to the Central Party. After the party examined this report, it issued 4.14 measures, saying “Find unregistered people and allow them to live where they want to stay.” Thus, every district organized a 4.14 committee and helped unregistered people with the removal process. People positively reacted to this measure because the procedure was difficult and they used to pay a lot of money, but they now need to pay comparatively little to register the move. In Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, 350 out of 570 unregistered residents were benefitted. 110 out of 260 residents of Hoeryong and 210 out of 350 in Gimchaeck became registered. The committee plans to continue this project for the remaining unregistered residents.

“Punishing a potato thief to death justified?” Punishment of Prisoners Too Harsh
On July 6th 2010, one male prisoner in his 50s died in the Auro Re-education Centre in South Hamgyong Province. While carrying logs, he passed out after tumbling down a slope due to sudden dizziness. He breathed his last while receiving first aid. The cause of death was falling down. However, behind this death are more stories. This prisoner was caught eating potatoes that he had stolen. The officials in the re-education centre ordered the head of prisoners and the group to assault the thief. The centre denied him any kind of food, stating “only hunger can correct bad deeds.” Beating and starving were imposed as punishment.
But the official in the re-education centre stressed that the death was caused by the fall. The official belittled the fact that the thief was beaten by the inmates and starved for two days, saying that “he paid the price for violating the rules of the re-education centre even after being imprisoned because he committed a crime.” The official assessed that it was not a harsh punishment. Rather, the official mentioned that the superior authority gave an instruction of “maintaining tensions in order for the life-imprisoned criminals not to feel loose and make them abide by the rules.” He stated that the centre is just following the instruction from the superior authority. However, another official in the centre told a different story. He stated that the higher authority ordered the intensification of tensions rather than the maintenance of tensions. Therefore, the centre purposefully produces one or two scapegoats among the prisoners and makes them fight among each other. The center intends to make the prisoners who witnessed the deaths feel fearful. The officials in the centre step back when fighting is going on among prisoners. In those strenuous struggles, it is inevitable that some inmates die. The re-education centre generates new scapegoats and maintains orders thus by keeping prisoners from getting lazy and being tempted by other thoughts. One official in the central party said that “the prisoner was sacrificed as an example of a punishment of the violation of the centre’s rules, rather than having died just of eating early crop potatoes.” The official commented that the re-education centre is maintained on the basis of continuously requiring the blood of prisoners.

Difficulties with Punishing Art School Students Watching South Korean Movies
Police officers of 109 division investigating illegal media recordings in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province caught three students of Province Arts School who were watching South Korean movies. The investigation revealed that over 30 students and teachers of this school have shared these movies. The police authority reported this incident to the Department of Education, and the department immediately fired teachers involved in the illegal conduct. However, they faced problems with punishing the students. It was not easy to punish them because they were teenagers and their parents were rich or high-ranking officials. It has been a custom to allow students of Provincial Arts School to experience Western movies and music, so it was not easy to ignore this custom. Some pointed out that it is unreasonable to restrict only South Korean movies because students were allowed to watch American or Japanese movies or listen to Western popular songs. The rational was that sharing the movies with ordinary people could have been a problem, but it should be excused because the students shared them among themselves. Considering these circumstances, leniency of punishment is expected for the students.

North Korea Today No. 356 July 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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Market Prices are Soaring due to Steep Rise in Currency Exchange Rates
[Table] The Exchange Rate and Food Price, July 15-19, Chungjin
Anxiety Spread among Residents over Skyrocketing Price
Currency Exchange Savings of 500,000 won, Finally Issued in New Currency
Officials of Public Enterprises Secretly Hoarding and Embezzling Operating Funds Provided by Banks
People in N. Hwanghae Province Doubly Suffer due to “Price Bomb” and “Water Bomb”

[Editorial]
To Revitalize Markets, First Allow for Necessary Conditions
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Market Prices are Soaring due to Steep Rise in Currency Exchange Rates
Since July, currency exchange rates are skyrocketing. In Chungjin city, North Hamgyong province, the Dollar-to-Won exchange rate is 1,600 won as of 19th, rising from 1,100 won on 15th, and the Yuan-to-Won exchange rate jumps to 220 won now. Market prices such as food are soaring because of the sudden rise in currency exchange rates. The price of rice in Chungjin city was 800 won per kg, but it is now 1,200 won per kg on 19th, a 400 won increase. The price of corn jumps to the 700 won range from the 400 won range. Soaring prices disturb the entire market. Merchants are mulling over how to price their goods. Goods priced at 1,500 won when the Yuan-to-Won exchange rate was 140 won jump to 2,800 won when the Yuan-to-Won exchange rate rose to 220 won. Some merchants even stock their goods expecting that currency exchange rates will continue to rise and the prices will soar as the amount of goods in the market decrease. Stocking the goods is a problem but no trade is a bigger problem. People cannot afford to buy goods as the prices soar. Given that domestic goods are virtually not available, some state-run stores that sell goods consigned from private individuals close their shops and no trades are occurring even though they open the stores.








Anxiety Spread among Residents over Skyrocketing Price

There are increasing level of anxiety spreading among residents with soaring foreign exchange rate and rapidly increasing price. It is already hard enough for people to make living and now it is more difficult to buy food and daily necessities. Business owners themselves are complaining that their products are not selling. Residents and some rural officials are angry at worsen economy and complain, “What is wrong with this? Is everyone at higher authority stupid and brainless?” Businessmen at Chungjin sighed and commented, “People with no money cannot survive because they can’t afford to buy anything. Businesses are doing badly after the currency exchange and nobody buys food anymore. Only officials can manage to live with increasing price now. I don’t know how many people can survive this. How do you expect residents to survive when businessmen are doing this badly”? Some businessmen are hopeless because it would be difficult to afford soup at this rate. City officials are closely watching the food price and foreign exchange rate because Chungjin City will have increasing number of starving population at current pace. Half of population currently eat corn prridge but the numbers are increasing recently in Ranam District and Songpyung District at Chungjin City. With worsening food situation, smile on residents’ faces vanished.

Currency Exchange Savings of 500,000 won, Finally Issued in New Currency
The old currency of 500,000 won people were forced to deposit at the bank during the currency exchange is finally started to be distributed in new currency. The currency exchange measure allowed up to 100,000 won to be exchanged at 100:1 ratio and issued a certificate of deposit for the old currency in excess of 100,000 won up to 500,000 won. Because there was no announcement about the exchange date at the time, people had doubts and suspicions. Finally, the payment of 5,000 won in new currency for the old currency of 500,000 won has been issued. A Central Party Official explained that the reasoning behind the distribution is due to “fear of increasing number of deaths from starvation and the government storage with no food left”. The government lost popularity with increasing deaths from starvation since last January so they began to pay overdue and ordered on 5.26 measures to all regions and organization to save the residents as much as they could with their own creative way of management skills. Subsequently they gave out new 5,000 won to residents who had doubts in their mind on when they would receive it. These are some of the solutions by the government regarding the situation. However, concerns are arising that these actions might do more harm than good because the current price hike is caused by the government’s releasing of currency and this may further aggravate inflation with more influx of money.

Officials of Public Enterprises Secretly Hoarding and Embezzling Operating Funds Provided by Banks
It turned out that the officials of the public enterprises secretly hoard and divide the operating funds provided by the banks among themselves. The Central Party, after the Supreme People’s Assembly is over on June 7th, provided each public enterprise with operating funds ranging from 50 million won to 100 million won through the city and county banks nationwide. Operating funds were provided to pay the wages of laborers first and to pay other operating costs. However, some public enterprises did not pay the wages of their laborers despite the fact that they received the operating funds from the banks. Upon hearing that news, an executive of the Central Party was not surprised because he was expecting such kind of outcome, but he expressed anger toward the corrupted officials proclaiming that they should be all caught and be severely punished. He also commented that the government distributing money through various means – albeit some expected corruptions like this – indicate the severity of our food and economic crisis, and we have to wait and see how and to what extent we can resolve the crises at issue. On the other hand, the Central Party is preparing to pay back the government bonds issued on August of 2002. They decided to pay back the bonds at face value, but it may take more time to properly implement it because the value of money has been changed due to the currency exchange measure.

People in N. Hwanghae Province Doubly Suffer due to “Price Bomb” and “Water Bomb”
Damages are escalating because of the 5-day heavy rain during the third week of last July with the loss of the crops and the inundation of the farmlands. In Seohung county and Bongsan county in North Huanghae province, vehicle and pedestrian traffic are limited because of the severe damages on the concrete bridges that were newly constructed in June of last year. At the collective farms in Bongsan village, 20 acres of corn fields became useless because they were submerged in water for three days. Many granaries in North Hwanghae Province were completely ruined owing to the “water bomb” (i.e., heavy rain) in the midsummer. Moreover, people’s living conditions are further deteriorated due to soaring prices and currency exchange rates as well as the shortage of goods. It is getting more difficult to find goods because many state-run stores closed their shops. People’s sentiments go out of control into chaos with concerns that the situation may lead them to real big troubles.

[Editorial]
To Revitalize Markets, First Allow for Necessary Conditions
Through the 5.26 declaration, the North Korean authorities decided to get rid of the various restrictions on the markets and allow them to operate freely. Operating hours and age restrictions were lifted, as well as ban on selling manufactured goods. All goods can now be traded. Although it’s been a long time coming, it’s nevertheless a welcome decision needed to overcome the difficult economic and food crisis. However, it’s not enough. To truly revitalize the markets, the authorities have to allow for the necessary conditions.

First and foremost, restrictions on movement must be lifted. One of the key reasons that the people could live through even the Arduous March was their ability to trade on the road. They would buy goods from a cheaper region and sell them at a profit in a higher-priced region. For example, a trader in Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province would diligently wake up at dawn to buy goods in Chungjin to make an extra 10 won. This was the genesis of “middle-man” trading. As some people accumulated capital through such middle-man trading, they would use cars and trucks to move more merchandise, thereby creating the so-called “trading-on-wheels” or “race trading.” Eventually, these people would separate into wholesalers and retailers, with some fulfilling the role of the moneylender.

To revitalize the markets, you need the movement of both people and goods. However, the North Korean authorities, fearful of information outflow, are increasing their watch over the cities, counties, and provinces. In the case of North Hamgyong Province, they set up extra checkpoints along the roads connecting Hoeryong and other points, especially in the interior locations, to Chungjin. It takes an average of 30 minutes to an hour for a typical bus operating the Chungjin-Hoeryong-Onsung route to pass through a checkpoint, since the guards examine not only the documents (travel permits, resident proofs) but also search carry-on bags and other goods, even doing pat downs of the passengers. There are three checkpoints along Chungjin-Hoeryong route, with three more along the Hoeryong-Onsung road. The goods piled on top of the buses are unloaded and examined; even women’s underwear is searched. Although people desperately want to trade, they are reluctant because they fear the crackdown along the checkpoints. So they are forced to trade within their local area only. A region with an abundant harvest of potatoes only has potatoes to sell. With such limit on merchandise variety, markets do not spring forth. Only when goods can be traded across local regions will money circulate and markets form.

Especially now in the aftermath of the failed currency reform, all the market capital have turned to waste and merchants bankrupted. Add the rising prices and movement restrictions, you are left with very few who are willing to even move around. Before the currency reform, there were 8 buses plying the daily route between Chungjin-Hoeryong-Onsung, but today, there are only 2 that are having difficulties in getting enough passengers to fill their seats. The same goes for railroads. The station porters who used to earn an average of 8,000 won per day up to a maximum of 20,000 won are lucky to earn 300 won these days, which is not enough to buy even 1kg of corn. The situation has gotten so bad that even the cell secretary of Hoeryong Railroad Drivers - who actually was getting some rations - starved to death. This was the result of the steep decline in the number of traders traveling between different regions.
The general chaos that occurred post currency reform showed incontrovertibly that North Korea can no longer do without markets. If that is the case, then the authorities should not only stop their crackdown on the markets but develop a strategy to revitalize the markets to improve the nation’s economy. It’s time to allow markets by law and look for ways to manage and boost the markets.

The first should be to guarantee the trader’s freedom of movement so that they could move merchandise. Second should be to allow profits to be made through market activities. A market is a place where consumers choose the best products that are in competition to one another. Get rid of the policy to allow only the state-owned stores to sell manufactured goods – allow all manners of trading from street vendors to grasshopper merchants, taxing them appropriately to maintain a certain order in the market system. Since people who engage in these unorthodox way of trading are those too poor to even pay for market space, they should also be allowed to trade as long as they are managed so as to maintain some order along the streets. The manufacture and distribution of general consumer goods that are in high demand should especially be ensured. But extra care should be taken to prevent a monopoly or speculation over essential goods, including rice.

Additionally, residents who work as daily laborers to survive should be protected in a specific and systemic way, especially in the absence of regular rationing and salaries. Only when profit-making through markets is protected will the quality of people’s lives improve. The only way to stabilize people’s lives is to allow trade and profits. If profits are allowed and accumulation of wealth protected, then people will begin to bank their money. Only then will the state will be able to use the capital for public good. Until now, it has been the case of the state disallowing any profits made through trading, confiscating merchandise, and forcing bankruptcies through audits on wealth. The most recent currency reform, especially, had the effect of disallowing individual wealth wholesale, resulting in both the individuals and nation becoming poorer.

While it’s fortunate that the authorities have allowed markets again, it’s more important to allow the necessary conditions for the markets to reemerge. While it’s understandable for the authorities to strengthen inspection regime for fear of information leaks to the outside, it’s like burning down a house to kill a flea. Once the necessary foundation for markets is ensured and legal oversight of trading activities are managed, illegal activities will naturally decrease. We urge the North Korean authorities to enact wise policies for the good of the people.

North Korea Today No. 355 July 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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Soonchun Heads of Neighborhood Units Making Efforts to Stop Starvation Deaths
Crackdown of Illegal Recordings in Hoeryong Reminds of a Battleground
[Table] Exchange Rates and Prices of Food in Chungjin and Hoeryong, July 15

[Investigative Report]
A Clue to Solution for North Korean Food Crisis through Small Land Patch Farming
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Soonchun Heads of Neighborhood Units Making Efforts to Stop Starvation Deaths
Five people died from starvation in three regions in Ryunbongdong, Soonchun, South Pyongan Province during the ten days from the end of June to the first week of July. The number of deaths due to malnutrition will increase if the deaths in other regions are added. After the City Party received the report on the number of starvation deaths in the Ryunbong-dong region, it instructed the District Administration Office to prepare relief measures to stop such deaths from occurring. The District Administration Office has concluded that it needs to clearly identify how many households are starving and how serious the starvation crisis is. However, since the Office does not have a clear plan on how to come up with the relief measures, it has decided to let the District Administration Office officials set an example for others such that each official chips in some food as relief food for those who are starving. Hereafter, the heads of neighborhood units and the District Administration Office officials have begun to donate at least 1 kg of food to donate and support the hungry.

However, there are some people who have doubts about the District Administration Office officials’ gathering food. Some say, “How long can they gather food? The food gathering can be done once or twice. However, even if they can generously donate 1-2 kg of food, it is not as if the starving people can quickly recover. Also, because the number of hungry families continues to grow, such an effort seems to be meaningless.” Although it has been helpful that the executive leaders have been donating their own food and giving it to the poor since the beginning of March, many people argue that the fundamental food problem hasn’t been solved. The argument is that there is a limit on helping the starving families because the situation of poor households, who will not be dying right away but have already reduced their three meals a day to just two and are eking out a living on porridge instead of eating rice, will become worse after they donate food to save the starving 2-3 families.

On this situation, the Ryunbongdong Dong official says, “Now is the time when even the food in one household needs to be used to save another. The situation would be different if only one or two people were starving to death. However, more than eight people have died in our region in less than ten days. I don’t know the situations in other District Administration Offices, but the number of starvation deaths in Soonchun is probably much higher. The City Party’s plan is to prevent any more starvation deaths from occurring, and we are doing whatever we can to follow the Party’s plan. The food gathered from the Unit No.3 will be given to the starving people in the Unit No.2. Likewise, the food gathered from the Unit No.2 will be given to the starving people in the Unit No.1. The plan is to keep the food moving.” The official said the plan can’t be a fundamental solution to the starvation crisis, but asserted that the plan is the most realistic. However, the official did not clearly mention how long the food collecting process will continue.

Crackdown of Illegal Recordings in Hoeryong Reminds of a Battleground
Recently on July 10th, the Propaganda Department of the Provincial Party in North Hamgyong Province sent the joint censor teams to regulate the illegal recordings in Hoeryong City. It did not give any prior notice to the Hoeryong City Party. According to the expression of an officer from the Provincial Party, they “just barged in.” It was on the pretext of regulating illegal recordings including movie CDs from South Korea, but it was actually an ideological censorship on the residents with the series of recent political affairs in mind. The censors of the Provincial Party began to wield the power of regulation from the moment they entered into.

In Nammoondong of Hoeryong City, because the censors barged in suddenly without any notice, the residents were harassed in various ways since the morning of the 11th, such as bringing out every electric appliance in the house to be inspected. The censors examined whether the VCRs in which the residents brought out were registered, and thoroughly checked whether the televisions and the radios had fixed channels. In addition, they examined one by one whether there are CDs, and if so, how many and what kind, and they collected every small equipments such as MP3 and MP4. Other Dongs (districts) had a similar situation. On the first day of the regulation, total of 9 households were detained for possessing South Korean movie CDs.

The residents are outraged by this censorship saying that this is “a shameful robbery that belittles the people.” Lee Kum-Hee (alias) who lives in Saechundong raised her voice, “I heard that the Propaganda Department of the Provincial Party has commanded to regulate everything to get rid of the elements of illegal crimes, because the political affairs have occurred recently and the residents in the city are allegedly problematic. Nevertheless, I never knew that they would ruthlessly sweep out everything like this. A law like this grinds the people and compels them to live in a steel-barred prison.” Although the number was a few, there were some residents who expressed their opinions even more enthusiastically by saying, “Unless they are trying to transform the people into dummies by shutting off from the circumstances of other countries, shouldn’t they allow these things at least?”

However, the residents’ complaints do not appear on the outside because there is a dreaded fear in the inside. It is because the entire residents of Hoeryong City are suspected of ideological problem due to the series of recent political affairs, and they are under great stress as they are watched by the superior party. There is a rumor going around that many families are dumped into a vehicle as a whole and transferred to somewhere in the middle of the night without knowing why, and many residents are shaking with anxiety and fear as they have actually witnessed such occurrences in their neighborhood. The regulation of mobile phones has tightened up and the lodgings are censored more frequently; as the overall censorship has tightened up in Hoeryong City, the pressure in which the residents are feeling are likely to be continued for a while.







[Investigative Report]
A Clue to Solution for North Korean Food Crisis through Small Land Patch Farming
During the Arduous March (the massive famine of the mid 1990's), patches of farming land on deforested mountain hills were one of the major symbols of North Korean food crisis. For those who survived the famine, small land patch farming was the greatest resource for their food supply. Upon the celebration of the Party Foundation Day in 2005, however, the North Korean authorities, despite having condoned it thus far, started the ban on selling food in the market and initiated land reform as part of a plan to resume the national food ration. Although the measure was meant to reinforce the socialist order by providing regular food ration, it failed due to the lack of food supply. In the summer of 2006, the food basket areas of North and South Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces were devastated by severe floods caused by rainstorms, which resulted in a dramatic decrease of yields.

The rumor of the ban on the small land patch farming had been circulating since 2006, and it finally materialized in 2007. In the cause of restoring forests and preventing deforestation, the order was issued to “confiscate and revert private small farm lands to collective farms and restore forests.” As the authorities took the farm lands they had cultivated, residents expressed their discontent; some people in the border region even set fires on the mountains. In order to curb the unrest, the authorities intensified the ideological education while raising land tax to discourage people from private farming. The land tax soared from 10-12 NK won per pyong (1 pyong is 3.954 sq. yds) to 50 NK won, enough to force people to give up, who were already facing the high cost of fertilizer.

Meanwhile, another big flood overwhelmed the country in July 2007. The crop yields sharply dropped due to consecutive floods, and it became quite difficult for the authorities to force the confiscation of private small farm lands. In result, deaths from hunger broke out in the spring of 2008. North Korean government tried to ease the problem by releasing the army provisions, but the amount was far from enough. Consequently, the ban on private farming was not well forced; on the contrary, the authorities began to condone it.

The consecutive floods in North and South Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces, the greatest food basket areas of North Korea, seriously challenged the security of the army provision. In the food basket areas, the priority always had been to secure the army provision. Therefore, the farmers suffer from food shortage when the yields are low. The food crisis in 2008 was different from that of mid 1990 in that farmers suffered most from starvation and many of them died. However, due to the remote location of the farmers, their calamity was not easily noticed by outsiders. On the other hand, private farming tended to be overlooked in border areas due to the worsened food situation. Some factories collected the harvest from individuals and made it look like they executed regular rations to the workers. In 2009, the North Korean authorities strictly prohibited private farming as they launched the 150-day and 100-day battles. Mobilized to the campaigns, people simply did not have time to do any farming. The reduction of private farming resulted in the worsened food crisis in 2010 and became one of the major causes of hunger deaths.

This year has seen many deaths from hunger across the country since January. The blockage of food circulation due to the ban on the market prompted the outbreak of hunger deaths in urban areas. The authorities were baffled by the unanticipated events. In addition to the extremely tight control on farming, the closure of markets, and the severe controls on trade, the currency reform almost completed the deprivation of the people’s rights to live. Domestically, North Korea suffered from the previous lean year; internationally, it suffered from the decreased food import due to the halt of humanitarian food aid and trade. The domestic food stock in North Korea was extremely low in absolute terms. On top of that, the ban on food circulation exacerbated the food crisis from the beginning of the year. Incidents of hunger deaths were reported nationwide.

The small land patch farming, one of the facets of North Korean food crisis, has multiple problems. It exacerbates deforestation and thus causes floods and droughts. The skewed labor investment in those poor and barren remote land patches instead of rich and fertile lands at hand is doubtlessly a loss, also from the national point of view. However, people do that only because they can claim the yields as their own. If the amount of labor wasted in the barren hills was invested in collective farms, the yields might double or triple. Despite all these problems, the small land patch farming is the only possible way for ordinary North Koreans to survive on their own in the current food crisis.

In this context, the case of Onsung County in North Hamgyong Province is noteworthy. Last year, the country made an exception and condoned small land patch farming to soothe the resistance of the people strongly voicing against the confiscation of small farm lands after the serious food crisis in 2008. The Party organizations and County People’s Committee went further to allocate small patches of land to workers by their units. They encouraged fertilizer and farm equipment imports from China. In result, the harvest was relatively good compared to other regions. All these factors contributed to the fact that there is no hunger death outbreak in Onsung County so far despite the worsening national food situation and increasing number of deaths from hunger nationwide since the currency reform. The food prices also are kept at a relatively low level.

Then, can the problem of chronic food deficiency be solved by allowing private small land farming? It is not easy to improve the fundamental agricultural system, and the current problem cannot be solved by improving agriculture only. That is why the food crisis is repeated annually. The only way to solve the problem of chronic food deficiency and deforestation is to allocate the land belonging to collective farms to individual farmers, let them grow whatever they want to on their land, and allow them to sell excessive produce freely. The old maxim says “Farmers are the foundation of the world.” Providing enabling environment for farmers to grow freely and safely is the way to resolve the problem of food shortage and reduce the harmful effects of small land patch farming.

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