GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 422 September 28, 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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[Intro] End of Officials’ Inspection? Loosen Control over Citizens First.
Inspection of Central Party’s Guard Command in the Final Stage
Young Generation Officials Charged with Loyalty Put Social Stability as Top Priority
Residents’ Tepid Reactions to New Officials
Overseas Representative Officials Agitated by the Generational Replacement
Hwanghae Province Residents in Desperate Need of Food
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[Intro] End of Officials’ Inspection? Loosen Control over Citizens First.
It seems that the much talked-about Central Party inspection has reached its final stages. With up to 70-80% replacement rates in some party divisions, that an extensive generational replacement had occurred would hardly be an understatement. These new figures will take the lead until a stable party leadership is inducted and will be feeling the heavy burden of responsibility upon them. One must realize, however, that the problem lies in the present system. Without a drastic change in the current system, a personnel change will not mitigate the severity of food shortages and economic hardship. It is already expected that crop production rates will be lower than that of last year. Since global warming is expediting the food crisis all over the world, importing food items will become more difficult. Only liberalization of agriculture, whereby the citizens can farm privately, sell and distribute excess food crops for profit, will allow North Korea to become agriculturally self-subsistent and to stimulate its foreign trade. The current food shortage cannot be overcome by selling coal and mineral ores in order to buy food from overseas. First things first, land must be distributed to the citizens so they can farm individually and freely sell excess crop on the market. Now that Central Party inspection is over, the priority should be to ease the control over the citizens and allow them at least the opportunity to make a living on a small scale like peddling. This is the only realistic path to salvation to avoid nationwide starvation this coming winter.


Inspection of Central Party’s Guard Command in the Final Stage
The nationwide inspection of Central Party’s Guard Command reached a final stage, with the Party Foundation Day on October 10th fast approaching. The inspection team evaluates that the process went smoothly since the subjects and purpose of the inspection were clear. Up until September 25th, the team reported corruption cases of local party officials and records of major incidents, as well as the information of all people involved. Individual profiles of the incoming party cadres were also reported. The profile includes the information of the person in question, his family members and relatives. Officials in Central Party and province parties have been replaced in between April and June. A majority of officials in the city and county parties will be replaced before and after the Party Foundation Day. One central party cadre stated that among the officials who disappeared (were replaced) were those who expressed their concerns about the food crisis. The cadre stated that some officials filed a report that at least three million people would be put on the verge of death from starvation between late December and the first half of 2012, which seems to have made the leadership feel it at ease. The cadre criticized the higher authorities saying, “I heard that the leadership only criticized officials that they keep saying the seriousness of the food problem without suggesting any solutions. The leadership will not bat an eye even if the half the population would die.” He continued, “The leadership pronounces that they will tackle the domestic issues jointly with China and they are shifting the responsibility to solve food problems to the Ministry of Foreign Trade officials. The leadership instead is putting their priority on strengthening the military power,” and commented that the Central Party leadership holds a lukewarm attitude about the food issue.


Young Generation Officials Charged with Loyalty Put Social Stability as Top Priority
An official expressed his impression of the newly appointed officials as follows; “Full of young spirits, they work very passionately and believe they will play a key role in opening a new era with the new leader. Although we are having the worst situation since the establishment of the Republic, they are working harder to be heroes of the new nation, firmly believing that a new era is opening before their eyes.”

Another official reported as follows; “The newly appointed can be classified into two groups. One is those who have been always affluent since the establishment of the Republic. They are the third or fourth generation of the revolution and therefore strongly identifying themselves with the current regime. They know their fate is with the regime and are naturally its fervent supporters. They don’t even blink their eyes when they hear that there is no fertilizer or no seeds and on top of all that natural disasters disrupt everything and people are dying. They do not know the reality because they have never been hungry. It may be different in provincial parties, but most of the newly appointed officials in Pyongyang are from rich families. They did not experience hunger even during the Arduous March. They do not understand what poverty is because their houses have been full of foreign currencies even when the state coffers were empty. No matter how loudly people scream about food and economic crises, they don’t empathize with the people. They only focus on how to control the people and keep the regime stable rather than how to help them."

“The other group is those picked up from lower classes, who couldn’t even imagine sitting as an official in the past. Most of them are low rank officials, and they are extremely grateful for the opportunity. They think their fate is with the regime’s success and show stronger loyalty to the regime than anyone else. Originally left without any hope, the low rank officials seem to be selected by the authorities for the principle of “broad politics” (referring to the so-called “bold and broad-minded rule” of Kim Jong-il).”

When asked “Do [you] feel more hopeful, now that much of the party leadership has been replaced?,” officials seldom replied positively. One expressed his grievance saying, “The only reason we are holding out despite many hardships is our general’s undiminishing leadership and the strife of the revolutionaries. I can’t say the new line of leadership without experiences will accomplish much when even our General (Kim Jong-il) has not been able to find a solution to the problem of food shortage and the economic situation,” but added, “For now, they are concentrating on stabilizing the society and tightening control and have been fairly successful. Never have so many officials been displeased with the leadership, but the fact that they can’t voice their complaints is a proof that the new leaders are controlling them effectively. But this of course does not solve the food and economic crisis. The control would have to be loosened eventually if they want to resolve the problem with the economy. Goods need to circulate, people have to mobilize: like how blood needs to circulate in order for a human body to persist. In that sense, the new leadership hasn’t done much.”


Residents’ Tepid Reactions to New Officials
Young generation in power now puts their best efforts to solidify the new power structure and the society seems to maintain its orders accordingly. Police officers and security agents who are in regular contacts with residents describe the situation by saying, “People are living in the worse conditions than before, but nobody speaks about their difficulties openly.” Ostensibly, the society seems to have no problems. However, that does not mean that people’s attitude toward the new officials are positive. Chang, Jeong-cheol (alias), who lives in Hyesan City of Ryanggang Province where hundreds of officials lost their positions during the recent “storm” inspection, spoke of the new officials; “They were just appointed recently, so I cannot really say whether they are good or not. However, there is a reason that we cannot evocie our complaints. Social surveillance is getting tighter and inspection and crackdown of anti-socialism is becoming stricter than ever. Only a fool can grumble about their situations. You should keep quite to survive these days.” Silence is not gold here, but it only portrays the oppressed dissatisfaction of the people.

Officials in Pyongyang also remain skeptical by saying, “Although the young people in power are doing their work energetically, they are not on track yet due to the lack of experience and expertise. They are pushing their ways aggressively, and it will cause many problems. If only they can receive a massive amount of aid or investment from China and other foreign countries, they will manage to handle the economic crisis. However, there are not enough qualified officials left to devise useful policies. After the inspection, most of the experienced ones with expertise were fired across the board. This is a huge problem.” A Central Party official also commented, “The most critical issue is the food shortage. When the General took over the power, he focused on maintaining the regime and millions of North Koreans starved to death in the mid-1990s. I see the same story happening now. Those seeking power in the new structure are only interested in controlling the society, and they don’t care about people’s lives. Neglecting their people, they are sending recourses and food to munitions plants and the military first in each province. Since the new officials want to prove their loyalty to the new leadership, they are immersed in cracking down people to maintain social orders. They will not be surprised at all even if hundreds of thousands would starve to death.”


Overseas Representative Officials Agitated by the Generational Replacement
Overseas Representative officials are disturbed by the massive replacement of the positions with younger generation. A mid-rank official said, “People who have worked with pure patriotism and loyalty are now anxious as they witness their superiors are getting fired. Although they do not speak up, the officials seem to have lost their motivation. They have worked day and night to complete all those tasks and non-tax assignments only to lose major positions to the kids (incoming young officials). They can only sustain their current positions at best.” A Chinese trader also mentioned that attitudes of North Korean trade officials have changed. Kim Myoung-cheol (alias), a Korean Chinese trader in Shenyang commented, “The officials used to defend their government aggressively when people said one bad thing about North Korea. However, now most officials don’t make response to more negative comments. Some are still offended by those criticisms, but they just ignore them. They are only concerned about making their own money. Now that they lost their chance of promotion, they think that money can only keep their current status. An official close to me said, ‘All the elders (higher-ups) have been fired. Small fry (lower rank officials) like me can be let go any time. Only money will save me and my family.’”

It seems that the recent inspection on the Ministry of Foreign Trade only resulted in a backfire. Although many officials were fired being accused of secreting money in their own pocket, those who remain still think that money can only protect their family. Apparently, the inspection brought about resistance instead of purification. An Overseas Representative official in China lamented, “Everyone knows that non-tax assignment has increased so much over the past three years. Newly appointed officials are visiting overseas offices for observation and they will soon learn why their predecessors had to keep their private funds. Central Party gives overfull amount of tasks, and if each department competes with each other, the whole Ministry would be thrown into turmoil. Incoming officials will share the same fate as the old ones. Replacing dozens or even hundreds of people will not solve any problem.”


Hwanghae Province Residents in Desperate Need of Food
The victims who have been bombarded by water are being troubled by hunger and earlier than expected cold. The number of people who cannot even afford to eat a bowl of rice porridge a day is increasing. In Hwanghae Provice, One Chung-Dan County official urgently pleaded for food supplies, saying, “We can only last this year if food comes in large amounts.” He also spoke of the urgency of the situation, saying, “The crops were bad last year as well due to the abnormally low temperatures. The farmers who received less supplies of food lasted through the spring by eating wild shoots but, they were heavily affected by rain in the summer. The damage from this year’s rain is not even comparable to last year’s damages. I don’t know the exact statistics for the entire province, but even looking at what our district farmers eat it is hard to distinguish whether it is pig slop or human food. Last week I had business and Sim-Pyung-ri, and there I saw a family of 5 eating a soup of barely a fistful of corn powder and a few vegetables in water. That miserableness was too awful to describe. The family still said it was something and that they would be happy to eat at least that much every day. I couldn’t say anything in response because I felt like I was going to cry. I don’t know how much I cried after coming back. I have done things that I am not proud of to live and have ignored my people but officials are people, too. Do you think there is anybody who wouldn’t be sad after seeing something like that? At this rate everyone is going to die. Our ties with South Korea are so bad that we cannot ask for their help getting supplies in, I would beg until my hands fell off for supplies to be sent in.”

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