GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 395, March 23, 2011

[“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.] ___________________________________________________________________________
This Year’s Food Crisis should be Reported to the Dear Leader

Isn’t Pyongyang Also Lacking Rations?

In Pyongyang, Shelters for the Homeless Appear in Each District

Army Provision Completed 60 Percent?

Residents Disgruntled about Government Exacting Small Business Funds

“Order to Halt Collecting Food for Military Provision” Issued

Military Rice Collection Was Forced, Not Voluntary

Compulsory Gift-Giving to Higher-Ups Makes Life Overseas Difficult _________________________________________________________________________

“This Year’s Food Crisis should be Reported to the Dear Leader even at the Risk of Losing Life.”

An expression saying, “The year 2011 is the year in which bar girls work on the field with a weeding hoe and rats eat stones because they have nothing to eat.” is going around. It is a sarcasm reflecting the ever-worsening food crisis and economic difficulties. As of end of March the news of death by hunger is heard from throughout the country, and it is mostly urban poor and the elderly who are the victims. Although the farmers somehow survived this winter they will also have to suffer when the spring lean season comes just like all the previous years. This is because the amount of food to be distributed has decreased to the extent they won’t be able to get through the spring lean season due to the military provision rice that was taken away after the initial announcement of not to collect it. In February, there was an emergency meeting held in Pyongyang among those who work in the economic sector. The meeting was arranged based on the results of the field survey of food situation that was conducted in January throughout the nation. The attendees were economists, economic officials, and import-export trade officials. The Party demanded answers to the questions of “What is the cause of the difficulties we are facing now?” and “What are the ways to break through the current situation?” There were many people who expressed their willingness by saying, “We will follow the instructions of the Party. We will risk our lives to carry out the Party’s decision,” but there was nobody who came up with a specific plan. As there were no special policy plans the Cabinet ordered to make all efforts to economic cooperation with China and acquiring investment capital from China. Eventually, the meeting ended without much achievement. After the meeting was over it was learned that the attendees who kept quiet at the meeting complained saying, “Why they had to ask us about what brought us to the current situation? Don’t they know better than us?” An economist uttered his frustration saying, “Who knows what will happen if you say a wrong word?” I do not have the courage to say it even when I have a good idea, but it is very dangerous to leave things as they are. I feel that I have to report it to the Dear Leader even at the risk of losing my life, but I still do not have the courage.”


Isn’t Pyongyang Also Lacking Rations?

This year from January 1 to March 15 the residents of Pyongyang have not been receiving rations. Amongst the citizens of Pyongyang there is a rumor going around asking; "Is the rationing in Pyongyang no more?" Of course, the Central Party and City Party leaders are receiving enough rations, but even the leaders of the District Party are not receiving enough to feed their family. "If you do not get food in an unfaithful way, there is no way to live a well-off life” is the saying between the District Party leaders, which means ordinary workers and citizens cannot even dream of receiving proper rations. Although dependent on whether the factory can earn foreign currency, most regular factory workers find it hard to earn food. The Party is giving a series of directives “to earn and make food independently.” In early March in the markets of Pyongyang, rice was 1,600 won per kg, and now on the 20th, it rose to 2000 won per kg. Food is available in stores but people cannot purchase it due to the lack of money. There is yet no news about workers starving to death in Pyongyang, but the older people who cannot earn their own money are unavoidably starving to death. Last Feb. 16, the national holiday seemed empty and gloomy. Along with other provinces, even Pyongyang residents did not receive food supplies either. As holiday supply, people only received 200g of fish per household, which in reality was one pollack or one herring. The 800g fish supply for a family of 4 was 2 pollacks and 1 herring. Even the mid-level officials in Pyongyang were surprised at the meager holiday supply.


In Pyongyang, Shelters for the Homeless Appear in each District

Recently, homeless shelters are appearing in each district in Pyongyang. The City Party has provided such accommodation with food and lodging since the end of last year when the number of old drifters and homeless people rose. The conditions of these lodgings in Pyongyang are much better off than those in the countryside. Nevertheless, those lodgings are also suffering from food shortages and power outages. At the beginning of March, an elderly Alzheimer's patient went out for a walk in a Sun-gyo District and was lost for five days. The family looked everywhere and eventually found him in the Homeless Shelter and took him home. Though the weather had become warmer as it was March, the night was still chilly and he had not eaten well, so the elder was shaking and shivering as they took him home. The family boiled water to keep him warm, but he only survived two days before passing away. The family was regretful and sad at not being able to find the elder earlier and commented that despite the City Party's consideration, the shelters did not actually have much to offer. Their neighbors also lamented that building more futile shelters would be useless.


“Army Provision Completed 60 Percent?”

The Army Provision Relief Project that began in January is reported to be near completion. The Central Party reported that about 60 percent of the grain needed was collected. However contrary to the report, one Central Party official said that only half of what was reportedly collected was actually collected, and that the civilians were not very supportive of the relief project. The Army provision relief project launched in January as the Army’s food supply began to dwindle. As a result, civilians had their crop share drastically cut down. Well-to-do farms were usually rationed seven to eight months worth of grain, and normal ones only four to five months. But with the relief project, grain that could sustain them for two to three months was taken out of their ration. Farmers in South Pyongan Province tried to hide their supply of grain to the best of their ability, burying them in the ground or selling them to faraway places. Because farmers don’t have cash, they used to sell grain to the market in order to buy their necessities. But now they are selling them to the trade officers in large amounts; feeling more inclined to exchange grain for money than give them to the government as Army provisions. This is the reason why rice can be seen in nearly all sales booths at a market, although those living in the city cannot afford to buy any.


Residents Disgruntled about Government Exacting Small Business Funds

Residents of Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province are angered by the government’s recent action of tapping into the business funds of the small businesses and mom and pop establishments in the area. The district office of Cheongnam in Soonam District had ordered the Secretary of the district party, members of the Democratic Women’s Union, and low-ranking officials to contribute 50kg – 100kg of food per person and asserted that everyone should passionately support the food drive for the military. The government even sponsored a lecture entitled, “Let’s Participate in Food Contribution for the Military in the Name of Patriotism!” and officials tried to induce action by inciting guilt among the residents. Namely, by reminding those with sons enlisted in the military that their sons could starve without their support, and going as far as to say that those who have son’s serving in the military should be the first to contribute. Despite the government propaganda, people were not easily compelled to donate food unless they were eventually forced to contribute. Ms. Myung-sook Kim who is a 38-year-old merchant at Soonam market refused to contribute claiming that her eldest child was only 8 years old and cannot yet serve in the military. She explained that she could barely afford 1 kg of corn a day even while working in the severest of weather. Given this reality, she claimed that it was impossible for her to contribute any food to the military. The officials continued to criticize her for her “bad ideology” saying it was unacceptable for her not to donate because her son is not in the military. She pleaded with the officers one last time by promising that she will donate to the cause once she earns enough for her own survival. However, these low-ranking officials would not have any of it and proclaimed in a loud voice that her sacrifices will be rewarded once the country recovers from the current crisis. To this she brought out 5 kg of corn and gave it to them with her business funds for the following day. She cried with her infant in her arms and revealed that with this money she and her family could survive for ten days. People who have witnessed this event sharply criticized the officials for not exempting the poor from this collection and rather collecting more from the rich. Many wondered how they could call themselves the Mother Party if they do not even consider the poor people. Workers at Chungjin City’s irrigation center also complained about the military food drive. Myung-soon Cho (alias) raised his voice against the company’s official who had criticized those workers who have failed to fulfill these obligations: “How do they expect us to contribute any food to the military if we have not even been paid for the work we are pushed to do day after day? We expected our situation to get better with time, but very little has changed and workers like us have yet to sustain ourselves under the current circumstances. Can the ordinary people survive without there being a miracle? While the rich receive accolades in all their treacherous actions committed against the state, the ordinary people get criticized for not fulfilling obligations simply for survival. I can’t understand why our country is poorer than China. Who created this situation?”


“Order to Halt Collecting Food for Military Provision” Issued after Feedback from Overseas Offices

On March 1st, a cabinet order to halt collecting food for military provision was issued to each overseas office. This was a result from the overseas office conference in Pyongyang convened last month, where some representatives submitted their feedback to the Central Party. They felt the pressure they received from the headquarters for many kinds of non-tax duties was extreme. According to an official working at an overseas representative office, he had planned to meet the requests by showing a moderate sincerity because he was asked for a voluntarily contribution. However, when he heard that this was not just a recommendation from the Central Party but the policy set by Kim Jung-il, the Chairman of the Defense Committee, he began to show a real sincerity because he thought this was a good opportunity to show a good result and records to gain political recognition. The problem was that this was not the end. Higher units in the headquarters, despite the rhetoric of voluntary contribution, forced him to show his royalty referring it was “an important political duty upon which the national survival is dependant.” Out of competition among departments and units, higher units grilled their subordinate units for more goods. Officers in overseas country representative offices complained, saying “every country has different economic condition, and those at the HQ seem to be mistaken, thinking that all “overseas” offices can easily earn foreign currency.” Those posted in countries of difficult economy that allowed little trade opportunity had a very hard time. An officer stationed in Eastern Europe said, “I went out overseas all by myself because our nation’s financial condition was bad. Those who had already settled there before me helped me out with living expenses. Without expecting any support from my country, I worked to get a business opportunity in trade. So, I could send money to the HQ and some gifts to the senior officials. I worked hard to fulfill all my duties ordered from the HQ for the construction projects of Heecheon Power Plant and the 100,000 households in Pyongyang. Now, even though I have responded to the request of voluntary contribution for military provision as well, they are pressing again for more, referring this as a political duty. The situation here is very hard too, and I do not see any trade opportunity. Their forceful requests really bother me because there is no source of income. Those who are very good at trade might not have any difficulties, but people like me dispatched to countries where the economy is depressed do not even have sufficient fund for our own living expenses. After all the contributions I have made, I got another request and could not stand it anymore. I had to raise my voice this time.” The review of feedback given in the Pyongyang conference revealed that the hottest topic was the second round of collection for military provision. There were a lot of accounts where people explained how hard their economic situation and their own personal living condition were. Some listed all the assignment issued under various causes. Some said “it is unbearable that there were 13 rounds of collections of non-tax duties in a year.” The Central Party listened to the feedback from overseas officers at the conference, decided to halt collecting for military provisions, and ordered to issue a cabinet order.


Military Rice Collection Was Forced, Not Voluntary

A majority of Overseas Representative officials and trade officers selected having to pay non-tax payments as the most difficult part about living overseas. While the government says it just ‘encourages’ workers to pay these non-tax contributions voluntarily, the reality is that workers are coerced to pay. According to one official in Pyongyang, “Representatives Officials in Europe for trade are having a difficult time completing the job they were sent there for. Telling someone that has only been out of the country for one or two years to continue sending money while they have a job to do has made it hard for them to perform.” “However, there has been no direct order from the Central Party to pay the fees unconditionally,” he continued, explaining why the government had ordered to halt the import of rice for the military. “At the end of the day, if there are reports from somewhere about how many tons of rice was collected, while a report from somewhere else says that somebody was not able to bring in any rice at all, the unlucky department higher-ups lose face. This loss of face leads them to reprimand those below them. No one purposely tries to compete with each other, but this kind of atmosphere develops naturally nonetheless. This atmosphere causes more pressure to produce results among lower-ranking officials. However, lower-ranking officials are unable to stand the pressure after realizing that there is no end to it and explode. When this occurs higher-ups tend to lighten the pressure they have imposed. Department heads communicate with each other so they try to lighten the pressure on the lower officials.”


Compulsory Gift-Giving to Higher-Ups Makes Life Overseas Difficult

One thing in particular makes life difficult for officials overseas: the ‘duty’ to send gifts back to higher-ranking officials in North Korea. “I had no qualms whatsoever when I was ordered to work at the Heecheon Power Plant because it was something I was asked to do for my country,” said one overseas trade officer. “However, if we do not send a large amount of gifts back to the officials at headquarters in Pyongyang we either get sent back to Pyongyang or are pressured to send gifts through other methods. This situation is very stressful,” he said, while also saying that the actual buying and sending of gifts was very difficult. He said it was strange that the recent military rice collection had at first been strictly voluntary, but then suddenly became something everyone had to do, no questions asked. The Central Party has now begun an investigation of the consul general of the Overseas Bureau and other high-ranking diplomatic officials who were in charge of collecting rice for the military. The government has ordered that any officials who coerced others to collect rice for personal reasons will be punished and any collected items outside the national plan will be investigated.
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