GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 404, May 25, 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.]
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Editor’s Note: “You Survive by Breaking the Law”
Pigs Raised in Apartment Buildings in Pyongyang
Pyongyang High Rise Apartments Used as Livestock Farms
Off to the Re-education Center for Repairing Stolen Bicycles
Protection from Judges Provide Drug Dealers with Stable Income
Even Judicial Officers in Moonduk County are Corrupted due to the Food Shortage
Not Easy to Find Criminals with Money

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Editor’s note: “You Survive by Breaking the Law”
Like the previous edition, the current edition looks into the lives of city residents. Either better-off or worse-off, North Korean people in the cities are living breaking the law. Poor people tend to commit a crime to survive, such as stealing and robbery; people with money are secretly engaged in unlawful activities under the protection of law officials or general officials. The officials make living by receiving money and bribery from watching the wealthy offenders’ back. After all, the officials, who execute and implement the law, and the residents, who need to observe the law, are in the same boat. However, the authorities are regarding the phenomenon as the matter of individuals’ conscience and intensifying the level of punishment and political education. The problem originates less from the individual factors than from the social structural problem. Since people cannot make a living within the boundary of the law, they cannot help becoming an offender. Unless the authorities can solve the food problem, they should not at least stop the residents’ efforts to find their ways to survive.


Pigs Raised in Apartment Buildings in Pyongyang
The noise, nasty smell, filth and clogged drain caused by secretly raising pigs in an apartment have been provoking a stream of complaints from neighbors to dong (the lowest administrative unit) office in Subok-dong, Soonchun City, South Pyongan Province. Repeated warnings not to raise pigs in apartments were to no avail. For the pig raisers, suffering from nasty smell from pig waste is better than being damaged in theft. They also brew alcohols at home, because they can use the residues from brewing to feed the pigs. Home-brewing can be done secretly but raising pigs inevitably affects the neighbors. The pig raisers usually put their pigs in balconies or bathrooms, and they leave pig waste in the drain pipe. The clogged drain exacerbates the already destitute water supply condition.

Jung Soon-young (alias) living in a fifth-floor building complained, “People persistently raise pigs at home. I hate the filth and smell. I made several complaints to the dong office and the head of the dong office came out to give warnings, but they were to no avail. People start raising pigs again two or three months after such warnings.”
Kim Ok-hwa (alias) who has two baby pigs at home said, “I feel sorry about the nuisance to neighborhood. We don’t want to live together with pigs, either. We do it because that’s the only option we have to survive. There is no business out there. Raising pigs is our life line. If you want us to quit, give us ration.”

Kim, Young-mi (alias), a resident of Soonchun dong, raises pigs in her apartment bathroom. Her household has relied on her husband’s income from repairing electronics, such as color televisions and refrigerators. He could make as much as 4,000-5,000 won a day, but the business is going very slow these days. Ms. Kim started home brewing using corn. Before the currency reform, she could make decent amount of money by home brewing. Now, the corn price soared to 700-800 won per kilogram and home brewing is not quite profitable any more. However, Ms. Kim still continues it to feed the pigs hoping to make some money from selling them. Ms. Kim said, “We cannot make enough money by home brewing and repair business. Getting food is our priority, so we decided to continue to raise pig secretly although I’m aware of the complaints from the neighbors.”

Pyongyang High Rise Apartments Used as Livestock Farms
Livestock are being raised in the 40-story skyscrapers in Pyongyang’s Joong (Central) District as well. Chickens are preferred over pigs because they are smaller and easier to look after. Apartment residents in the peripheral districts tend to raise pigs more. In some cases, several households collaborate. Usually one household raises the pigs and the other households deliver their food wastes to them.
“The stench is unbelievable. I can’t open the windows because of the smell, even in the hottest days in the summer. The place is infested with flies and maggots. But even one pig makes a lot of money, so we have no choice. The household that raises the pig receives half of the share, and the other households divide up the rest,” said Chung, Myung-hwa, a resident of the Sonkyo District.

Off to the Re-education Center for Repairing Stolen Bicycles
Park, Sung-ha (alias), who lives on Baeksa Street of Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, makes a living by repairing bicycles. Park’s handiworks are famous for their quality, even among veteran bicycle merchants. People in Pyongsung, Nampo, and Sariwon even mistake Park’s bicycles for second hand ones newly brought over from China. Park’s works became increasingly well known, and Park sometimes got requests to remodel stolen bicycles so that the original owner could not recognize it as his own.
Although Park turned down the requests at first, he eventually gave in since the clients were mainly soldiers. Park didn’t want to provoke the soldiers and he himself had immediate needs and a family to feed; there was a decline in the number of bicycle merchants last year due to the currency reform that devastated their businesses. The soldiers sold the bicycles to Park for a cheap price, and then Park renovated them and resold for a higher price. The business wasn’t great but it helped put bread on the table.
But the soldiers got caught by law enforcement, and Park got involved as well. The soldiers were sent to the military security department and Park was handed over to the police. During the interrogation, it was found that the number of stolen bicycles Park had repaired was approximately thirty, which resulted in Park being handed over to a re-education center. The seven bicycles that were in the middle of the repairman’s home were confiscated. The merchants who made transactions with him were disappointed by the news, for Park was considered the best repairman of all.

Protection from Judges Provide Drug Dealers with Stable Income
For the last several years, Ryu, Gonryong of Hamheung City, Hamgyong Province, has been earning a living dealing drugs. Ryu buys drugs concocted by university medical students in Hamheung City, and his wife sells them. They have been working as drug dealers since 2005 and have had a few brushes with the law; however, their days of ducking from the law are now over. The couple's long friendship with local judges and cadres, who make up the bulk of their buyers, has helped them avoid punishment when the central government inspectors crackdown on domestic drug trade. Ryu says that many of the judges coming to him are buyers, but some sell drugs to him as well. Officials coming to sell drugs are typically trying to get rid of their own stash of drugs from a crackdown on the drug trade. The drugs they bring, however, tend to bring Ryu a scant profit. As a rule, Ryu tells the judges that he will sell the drugs for them, but in reality he ends up buying the drugs himself. There are many times when Ryu must provide drugs with his own money, even if he doesn't make any profit. In order to keep in good terms with the judges, he buys the drugs the judges bring at higher than normal prices. Normally, this would not be in the interest of someone trying to earn a profit; however, Ryu believes that it is a small price to pay for the protection that the judges provide him and his wife.

Nevertheless, Ryu does not involve himself directly in the day to day selling of the drugs. He knows that preventing himself from becoming the talk of the town is the key to his own survival, and he leaves the work of selling drugs to his wife. Whenever his wife is caught in a roundup of drug dealers, however, Ryu seeks out judges he knows and greases the wheels to secure her release. When Ryu was asked how much he earns from his work, he hesitates and makes an effort to say as little as possible. He reveals, however, that his income depends on the amount of drugs he deals, but when he sells a large amount it has to be calculated in dollars. He then changes the subject. "In addition to big drug dealers, we also get people wanting to buy a couple grams," he says. "We tend to sell about 10 grams worth of drugs a day. Thirty grams on good days. That alone leaves about 25,000 to 30,000 won in our pockets. Selling more than 30 grams earns us more than 40,000 won." He refuses to talk about how much he earns for larger amounts. "It's true that we earn considerably more than most other people in other business," he concedes. "This business, you know, is watched closely by the state so the amount of money and drugs going into the hands of the judges is no joke. The fact is that most of the money I earn is spent buying protection."

It is clear that judges and cadres buy drugs because they have money, but when Ryu is asked why poor people come to buy drugs, he plainly considers it a silly question. "That's simple. They are buying drugs to ease the pain they are enduring. Drugs here are considered a cure-all for all kinds of ailments like colds, headaches and diarrhea. People say we are selling opium, but we are really selling drugs," he says, providing a glimpse into a society where many people buy small amounts of illicit drugs as they would household medicine at a pharmacy.

Even Judicial Officers in Moonduk County Are Corrupted Due to the Food Shortage Moonduk County in South Pyongan Province is a famous granary area even within South Pyongan Province, and is known as a ‘rice region’. Moonduk County is also known as ‘100,000 tons County’ because it produces at least more than 100,000 tons by receiving urea fertilizers produced from Anju Chemical Factory. When Moonduk County Residents complain of hardship, residents from other counties consider it as an exaggeration.

However, such a reputation gradually began to falter since 2006. It suffered consecutive flood damages in 2006 and 2007 and in addition, the flood also hit the County last year and resulted in decreased yields. The situation is such that even the party officials and judicial officers who never worried about the food so far began to worry about the food shortage this year. Of course, the ordinary residents will laugh at the fact that the party officials and the judicial officers would worry about the food. The residents say that since these officials are prioritized in distributing the food, there is a world difference between their worries and the worries of the officials. “For them, it will be like from having a bowl of white rice three times a day to mixing some crushed corn for just one meal. They do not worry like us, who worry over whether to make the crushed corn into a bowl of meal, noodles, or porridges,” says Kim Dong-Ho (alias), who works at the factory which produces basic commodities. The officials agree at this to some extent, but they still say the problem is serious.

One official who works at the People’s Assembly in the County Party describes the situation: “The supply of food began to decrease since last fall. It was like only 10 days’ worth of food was distributed in lieu of 15 days’ worth of food in the beginning of the month, or the distribution for the end of the month came rather late. Currently, however, the rice is not distributed anymore and the crushed corn is usually distributed instead. Something like this did not occur in the past. There is a rumor that in no time, the distribution for the officials will also be terminated.” Another police officer also says that the food situation of the judicial officers is not smooth, “Although this region is called the granary area, we too, can hardly eat the bowl of rice these days. There are more instances of siphoning off using their authorities.” It means that the corruption of the judicial officers is worse. “It is simple. The officers enforce regulation more frequently and thoroughly interrogate people who may have some money. They forgive these people after receiving money or other bribery,” he says.

Kang, Myung-Sung (alias), who became wealthy by engaging in the wholesale rice trading, conveys the condition of the judicial officers: “I have always been close with the judicial officers. I frequently offer them goods because I need their help if I want to engage in illegal activities. They have visited me particularly often this year. Since they have been visiting me to ask for money so many times, I said with a smile, ‘Chang-Suk (alias), give me a break. This is too much. Should I even take off my briefs and sell them so I can pay you? Should I even take off my belt?’ When I said that, he said, ’By Jove, dear brother, I am suffering to death, too. Again, there was no distribution this month, so we are about to starve. We walk on eggshells around our superiors, and we do not even have a travel expense when they direct us to transfer a criminal from Sinuiju. Please help us.’ I told him it did not make sense that even the judicial officers did not receive the distribution, no matter how difficult the situation was, but he said he could not figure it out either.”

Not Easy to Find Criminals with Money
Judges, though ready to receive bribes, have difficulty finding a case where defendants can afford pay-offs since most crimes are motivated by the immediate need to survive.
One police officer said, “Despite the sharp increase in crime this year, offenses are, for the most part, thefts or market activities prohibited by regulations, committed by those who fail to manage livings. Offenders are normally released after paying nominal fines because they are too poor to be expected to offer bribes and did nothing deserving long imprisonment.” Since law enforcement officers arrest too many to be detained, the arrestees are released after several days of detention. “We release detainees for very small sums of money, in part, due to our lack of resources. Only those who do not at all show willingness whatsoever to offer bribes are sent to re-education centers to make an example.”

Judges acknowledge that they arbitrarily exercise their power and manipulate the interpretation of the law. One judge said, “The government does not support me any longer. To feed my family, I have no other option than to receive bribes while in office.”
Kim Soon-Hee (alias) has ventured into many sorts of businesses to feed her four family members. She even went into the metal business last year, involving the black market trade of discarded copper and aluminum, an offense which carries a maximum penalty of death. To reduce the risk of being caught, she limited her participation in the trade to connecting a supply chain in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province. She has also been careful to avoid large-scale transactions. The business brought crushed corn to her family until she was caught last month. In response, her husband attempted to bribe the judge with a large sum, but was told, “I know it would be worth it for everyone for me to release her for a sum of money. She would be freed and I would earn some money. But, my hands are tied, as this case has been reported.”

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