GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 401 May 4, 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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Overseas Representatives to “Come and Leave Silently”

Directive to Make Sure Nobody Starve to Death during the Spring Lean Months

Rice Collection for Military Resume While Saying, “Do not Force it on People”

Farmers in Kangseo County Suffer in Silence due to Military Provision Obligation

No Provision for Residents Despite the Corn Import Increase

Ryanggang Province Residents Run out of Kimchi in Spring Lean Season

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Overseas Representatives to “Come and Leave Silently”

Central Party has recently sent a recommendation to the overseas representatives that officials “avoid entering the motherland during this time.” In short, the officials are being requested to not enter North Korea. In the event officials need to enter the country, they are requested to do so quietly and then leave. According to one Central Party official, this request comes as a result of government worries about the attitudes of the people toward officials’ lifestyle. When overseas officials return to North Korea for short periods after a stint overseas, they are usually busy wining and dining with both their friends and family.

However, the government is worried about the reaction of regular citizens when they see the cadres’ relatively well-off lifestyle; this at a time when regular citizens are unable to obtain regular food rations. The result has been a government effort to change the lifestyle of cadres. The same ‘request' to adopt a low-profile has also been given to officials in local parties, and the Central Party has ordered officials to gather in no more than two when going to a restaurant to eat. However, many Central Party officials are troubled by this new order, which has followed other orders by the government to avoid gathering in groups of more than two, or talk on the street for long periods of time. Officials are questioning the new order saying they realize the importance of considering the attitudes of the people, but ask how it is possible to go to a restaurant alone. They consider the order to be unrealistic because it prevents them from being able to talk or eat together. "I know that the poor food situation has made the government worry about public sentiment, but this is too much," said one cadre, speaking frankly about his discontent with the new policies. "If we can't be trusted, who do they expect to trust to lead the country?"

Directive Instructs to Make Sure Nobody Starves to Death During the Spring Lean Months, But…
The Central Party delivered an emergency directive to each province and instructed to “resolve the food issue as soon as possible and prepare a thorough measure to prevent outbreak of malnutrition in spring lean months.” To simply put, it means to “make sure nobody starves to death.” Since they don’t use the expression “starve to death,” they phrase it “stop malnutrition” instead. Each provincial party instructed city and county parties to “vitalize trade with China by concentrating their capacity and prioritize food purchase in all sectors.” Provincial parties added a warning that if hunger death does occur, those in charge will be penalized. City and county parties emphasized that each local public enterprise and unit “should assist those in need after investigation. Particularly, rations for laborers should be provided at all cost.” The emergency directive was delivered promptly, but people do not seem to take it seriously.

Central Party has instructed to mobilize all capacity to reach out overseas and secure food through foreign trade. Foreign currency earning business, which was only allowed to a couple of special public enterprises, is now expanded to city and county level units. Passports for the purpose of government affairs are now issued to service networks in order to allow them to travel to China conveniently. The current directive is in line with previous efforts to promote self-sustenance and is not completely unexpected. Last February, a similar directive instructed all sectors to mobilize all their capacity and complete the food production requirement. Overseas representatives are also receiving a series of directives telling them to purchase food and agricultural supplies such as fertilizers, pesticides and vinyl film. The overseas representative officials are buying the requested items on credit and promising to pay back in fall since they don’t have enough cash. This is another burden for them, who also suffered from military provision collection obligations. The officials explained their local situations and pleaded for a favorable handling of the obligations at the general meeting of overseas representatives in February. Their plea was accepted and all overseas offices were instructed to stop mobilizing for military provision collection campaign.

Rice Collection for Military Resumes While Saying, “Do not Force it on People.”
An order has been issued saying, “Collection of rice for the military should be done in an organized fashion, but do not force it on people.” After being briefed about the suffering of people caused by rice collection for the military, the Central Party issued an order specifying, “No matter how urgently rice is needed for the military we should not forcefully collect rice from destitute people. The collection should be a voluntary donation so that those who are better off contribute more and those who are worse off can be exempted.” As a result, the Province Party issued a lecture note to each City and County Party based on the instruction of the Central Party. Nevertheless, a strong emphasis was given at the public lecture with a notion of “Donate rice for the military with civil consciousness in mind” rather than giving the message of “Those worse off should not be forced to contribute.”

An official at Pyongsung city, South Pyongan Province expressed the predicament saying, “They are asking for in-depth learning designed to reinforce ideological mobilization project. With that request given they would continuously press and nag if we fail to achieve the target amount of rice collection for the military. As such, we have no choice but to collect rice in forceful manners.” Another City Party official in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province says, “The rice collection request has to be met no matter what. Nobody will give up their rice if we make a plea and say ‘Don’t do it forcefully’ or ‘Contribute more if you are better off than others.’ As such, we have no choice but to rely on forceful means by creating nuisance and make people give up rice in order to avoid problems.” That is the only way they can meet even some of the target amount.

At local Parties some officials are speaking out saying, “It is unrealistic to collect rice for the military when people are about to face the tough spring lean season.” Their point is, “They could not collect much rice for the military during January-February period even with an extensive military rice collection campaign. How can they possibly collect rice unless rice falls from the sky?” People in Ryanggang Province are clamoring especially. They are saying, “Those in Daehongdan and Baekam Counties barely survived by eating ears of frozen potatoes for all winter long. Because there were no grasses they had to eat the roots of grass. Now, telling us to contribute rice for the military means telling us to die.” The Provincial officials in Ryanggang Province also say that “The military food condition is really bad. So, let’s use our civil conscience and make donations voluntarily.” Nevertheless, in reality, rice collection is done in forceful manners. An official in Baekam County admitted that “There is a tendency that collection is forced on poor people who have nothing to eat for themselves simply because the higher ups are pressing on us while saying make it a voluntary donation based on conscience.” He added that the Central and Provincial Parties are asking to make it a voluntary donation, but those in lower unit have no choice but to do it in forceful manners because of the pressure of meeting the target imposed by the higher ups.

The “Exemplary” Farmers in Kangseo County Suffer in Silence due to Military Provision Obligation
As a movement to resume the support of military provision spreads nationwide, farms in Kangseo County, South Pyongan Province are busy with the “Military Provision Support Political Project”. The farmers feel weary about this campaign because many of them had received 2-3 months’ less worth of food than last year due to the bad harvest. Farmers in Kangseo County suffer in silence because it is the place where famous ‘Cheongsan-li spirit’ came from while farmers in other areas speak up about their difficult situations. The Party suggested, “Our county has the renowned Cheongsan-li, and it’s the most recognized county by the Party and the nation. We should lead the military support campaign. Shouldn’t we contribute 50kg per household at least?” Many farmers are perplexed by this. 50 kg is 3 month supply of food for an adult, based on 600g of daily intake. In reality, adults and children eat less than 400g per day these days, and 50kg can support a family of four for a month.

Some households received seven to eight months’ worth of food rations and some others received four to five months’ worth of food. For both of them, 50kg of military support obligation is too much to handle. Even if they received food of seven to eight months’ worth, the food do not last for the same period because the farmers, without other sources of income, exchange the food with daily necessities.

Farmers in Kangseo County keep calm ostensibly due to their collective fame as an exemplary county but they also suffer from the burden of military support contribution. Some of them bury the food under the ground or hide it. If farmers do not contribute their food as military provision, it’s actually beneficial for city laborers since the farmers would bring the food to markets to exchange it with other commodities, increasing food supplies in the market. Meanwhile, city residents still cannot buy food in the market since their business is going very slow.

Farmers in Munduk County, one of the best breadbaskets in South Pyongan Province, are told to “conscientiously contribute military provisions” but forced to do so in reality. In mid-April, some farmers contested to the Central Party that “We were told the military provision contribution was voluntary but actually were forced to submit it.” As a result, some officials were dismissed. In Chungam District, farmers confronted the farm officials saying, “Last year, we were told that there would be no military rice collection, and now you collect it again. Why did you give food rations in the first place then?” A farmer in Sagu-li Farm who had not contributed any rice was faced with fierce criticism at general meeting for Party life and ended up submitting 10kg later. Even though farmers speak out critical opinions recently, they are still powerless when faced with collective control.

No Provision for Residents Despite the Corn Import Increase
It was reported that the corn imports from China have increased since January, which arrived mainly through the customs in Onsung County and Namyang in North Hamgyong Province. Approximately 1,500 tons of corn was imported from Domoon in China in January and February; in March it increased to 2,500 tons. Not from smuggling but under the official quota, Chinese rice, flour, and other grains are continually being imported in addition to corn. These imported grains have cost quite amount of money due to the price rise.

In addition to Onsung County, food importing activities are often witnessed in border cities such as Hoeryong, Soongsun, Rasun District, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Possible explanation to this phenomenon is that each city party, county party, public enterprise and unit is following the self-food-provision instruction. However, the normal citizens have not received any benefit yet. Some of the imported food goes to the military of southern region of Hwanghae Province, South Pyongan Province and Kangwon Province and some other portion has been provided to major construction sites including Heechun power plant project site in Jagang Province and 100,000 household building project sites in Pyongyang.

When asked if there is a plan to provide food for the residents given that May through July is the most critical period, an official answered, “The Party authorities think that the military should be provided for first because citizens can at least avoid starvation by farming or doing business, but the People’s Army has no choice but simply to starve.” The people showed cynical reactions against the news that all the imported food is being provided to the military by saying, “Military First Policy feeds the army even if the people starve to death. I don’t know for whom this country exists.”

Ryanggang Province Residents Run out of Kimchi in Spring Lean Season
People continue to rely on frozen potatoes in Daehongdan County, Baekam County, Kabsan County, Bocheon County in Ryanggang Province. They were able to eat salted radish during the winter, but as the spring lean months arrive, many households even run out of kimchi (which is the essential side dish; Korean pickled vegetables). The salted radish was the only side dish and now it is replaced with salt soup (salt added water). Housewives said that they have not set a table for a while. In other words, given that the meal is as simple as two to three boiled potatoes and salt soup, they cannot and do not have to set a good table.

Adults are suffering from severe nutritional unbalance, and it is needless to say how serious the children’s health problem would be. Lee, Cheong-oak (alias), a 3rd grade teacher in an elementary school and resident of Kabsan County, shares her story. Of 28 students in her class, 15 students are always absent and only 4 to 5 students regularly show up while the others attend irregularly. Since so many students are absent, the teacher cannot introduce new concepts in line with the curriculum and only reviews the previous classes. Other schools in Kabsan County and schools in Baeam County and Daehong County have similar problems. The attendance rate has been reported to the Department of Education in County Party and Province Party, and officials investigate this issue and set out crackdown. However, the attendance rate only keeps decreasing.

Ms. Lee said that teachers end up being criticized for this problem. Teachers visit every student’s house to ask parents to send their children to school, and parents say that they cannot do so because they cannot afford so many contributions that schools require. Even if the teachers promise that there won’t be any burden that the schools impose, nobody gives credit for it. Parents respond by saying, “I appreciate that you won’t give extra burden. However, we do not have any food to feed my kids. They don’t have any strength to go to school.” Lee, Myung-oak often gave up persuading parents because they said, “I just feel fortunate to survive in the midst of this terrible food crisis. I know I need to send my children to school, but school does not feed them. They already lack physical strength and I cannot let them walk to school every day. Sitting still is the way to save strength.” Ms. Lee said that she does not persuade the parents passionately but just pretends to do her responsibility to avoid criticism.

Chae, Geum-soon (alias), who lives in Bocheon County, is an elementary school teacher and she shares her story where she did not recognize her student: “When I visited a house of a student who have missed class almost for a month, the kid was alone and lied down on the floor. I did not recognize him at first because he was looking at me blinking feebly with his mouth open. When I asked him ‘Are you Ryong-ho?’ he seemed to nod slightly only with his eyes, and I knew he was Ryong-ho. He seemed to have starved for a while. He was extremely skinny and looked gaunt. He could not sit up or keep his balance. I was so upset and wondered if his parents even wanted him to live. Since his parents weren’t there, I tried to find some food for him in the kitchen. There was nothing but a few frozen and turned-black potatoes. I bought some rice, made thin rice gruel and fed him with it. Although I’m also having a hard time to feed my family and myself, I felt really sorry about him and tried to do something to save him. I agree that Ryong-ho was one of the worst cases that I’ve seen, but I found that many students are in a similar situation to Ryong-ho’s case when I visited students who have been absent for a while. I worry that we will see many more children like Ryong-ho until we have new crops of potatoes at the end of June. I don’t understand why our poor children have to starve and suffer. I cannot urge them to come to school while I know they are in the terrible condition. I am frustrated because there’s no measure to resolve this issue even if I report to the school and the party. They only blame us for the low attendance rate, which is pathetic.”

North Korea Today 400th Edition Special April 27, 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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[400th Edition Special] North Korea Food Crisis Situation and Humanitarian Aid

[Food Crisis and North Korean Women]

“It’s Unfair for Babies to be Born These Days”
Deterioration in Living Conditions Encourage Abortions that Jeopardize Lives

[Family Disorganization and Kkotjebis]

Not Enough Space for Kkotjebis (Homeless) in Hyesan City Shelter
Kkotjebi Family Increases

[Food Crisis and Work]

Starving Laborers Increase in Koksan County

[Interview]

A North Korean Official Speaks about the Controversies over North Korean Humanitarian Aid

[Plea from a Defector Mother]

Please Help My Child in North Korea!

[Invited Column]

Humanitarian Aids to North Korea - A New Perspective

[Volunteer Contribution]

North Korea Today, Delivering the Rocky Lives of North Korean People
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“I have been reading Good Friends reports for over a decade. They are one of the most reliable indicators we have of conditions on the ground in North Korea, and I sincerely appreciate the effort that the North Korea reporters make in collecting this invaluable information. I hope the reports will continue and even expand, and I wish the best for the safety of those who gather them.”
- Kongdan Oh, The co-author of Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom

[400th Edition Special] North Korea Food Crisis Situation and Humanitarian Aid
Today we issue the 400th edition of North Korea Today, whose first edition was issued in September 2004. We wanted to know how North Korean people were living, so we looked into their lives. It made us listen to their voices which naturally prompted us to think how we could help them. Over the last six and half years we have been delivering news on North Korean people, who are still suffering from poverty and hunger. In commemoration of the 400th edition, we have collected articles and columns under the theme of ‘North Korea Food Crisis Situation and Humanitarian Aid’. Some of our readers may think this is a continuous repetition of the same story, but we cannot help it as long as the food is the most burning needs of North Korean people and what they appeal most for external help. We hope our readers listen to the people’s agony and support us to help them better. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to countless supporters who have helped us in various ways to date we issue the 400th edition of North Korea Today. We also would like to extend our deepest special thanks to those working for this newsletter with selfless devotion, whose name we cannot disclose for their safety.

[Food Crisis and North Korean Women]

“It’s Unfair for Babies to be Born These Days

Unwillingness of having children is currently spreading out among North Koreans, who face the serious food shortage. More people are reluctant to have children, saying that “What’s the point of having a child when we barely survive with any food? We’d better not to have babies if we couldn’t feed them.”

Ms. Park Jung-Ok (alias), a resident at Seoli-Dong, Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, said that “We don’t even expect food ration any more. We would survive if we could make money from doing our own businesses, but it became very difficult for some households whose business capital became worthless after the currency reform. We don’t hear babies crying any more in those families.”

Ms. Lee Myung-Hwa (alias), 28-years-old and a resident at the same town as Ms. Park, expressed her regret of having a baby girl back in February because there is no way for her to provide her baby with any food. Since she delivered the baby, she has been eating only porridge for two months. She had steamed corn meal only a couple of times when her husband borrowed corns from his colleagues. She lamented that it was heartbreaking to eat the meal while she knew her husband was also starving. One week after her baby was born, she went out to collect scrap papers, steels, and plastics to sell so that she could support the family’s daily survival. Her husband stopped her since she was not fully recovered from the delivery, but she could not just lay down with the baby crying for breast milk that she did not produce enough.

Ms. Lee said in despair, “I wish we could have a soup everyday at least, but the reality is that we have to worry about where the next meal is going to come from. We have a baby in this (dire) situation. This is so unfair to the baby.”

Choi Bok-Soon (Alias), residing at Hwangju in North Hwanghae Province, is also feeding her baby porridge since she has not able to provide breast milk for her baby for four months. She is able to purchase rice powder to make a rice porridge for her baby if she has enough business. Otherwise she feeds her baby with a corn soup. Ms. Choi said, “I am very concerned that my baby is malnourished. Less than 1-year-old baby should be fed with milk and he seems to be unable to digest grain. I have to feed my baby with at least rice powder but I can’t even buy rice powder since there is no business. I am so upset about the reality that we couldn’t even get an infant food. I regret that I had a baby.”

In Hwangju, it’s also difficult to find young couples with children these days. Some women in Hwangju that we met stated that “The reality is very harsh even for adults to survive. If a couple have a baby, one of them should stay home to take care of the baby for at least a year. Then who will support the family? I can understand why couples would not have a baby.”

Meanwhile, many women put blames on the party for forcing women back to work shortly after giving a birth. Geum Soon-Hee (alias) said that “Maternity leave is not possible because DWU (Democratic Women’s Union) forces them to participate the General Residents’ meeting. We can’t even dream a maternity leave as we are forced to offer labor in street cleaning and collecting scrap metals, etc. Having a baby is not on anybody’s to-do list.” She also added that even if those public lectures by the party and DWU promote pregnancy, “How does it make sense to have babies when we don’t even have enough corn to eat? They impose public work on women with infants not sparing them from obligations. They should either exempt them from mobilization or provide them food!” “It is a matter of time that North Korea will eventually disappear from the face of the earth because people are dying from starvation but less and less babies are born,” she remarked on her worries.
Meanwhile, there has been a rise in death rate among new born babies, and local doctors say that malnutrition is the main contributing factor.

Deterioration in Living Conditions Encourage Abortions that Jeopardize Lives
Doctors have reached a consensus that there has been an increase of women who are attempting abortion secretly. An obstetrician in Sariwon said that unless either the mother is in a critical situation, or the fetus is showing severe disability symptoms, abortion is outlawed. However it seems to him that abortion cases have been on the rise especially since last year. There is no official statistics, but the doctors have anecdotal evidence that more and more women have been coming to their doctors and asking secretly for an abortion. He further speculated that women have been trying to avoid having more children, especially those who fared worse off due to the currency reform. Women who attempt abortion, in most cases, acquire from the markets and abuse drugs that have been rumored to rid them of their fetus, or secretly undergo operations by paying doctors whom they know well. Such operations are carried out in utmost secrecy as, if discovered, the doctor in question as well as the officials in charge is sent to re-education centers.

Rhee Eun-Joo (alias), who lives in Goocheon 3-dong, is in her 6th month of pregnancy and said she is considering abortion. “I don’t know what to do with a baby when there is nothing to eat in the house. In times like these, it’s difficult even for adults to survive. Children can survive only if the parents have money…It is best for the baby not to be born if the parents are incapable of taking good care of it,” she said. She secretly called on a doctor and through a proxy but was denied an operation. The woman doctor who Rhee met had said, “It’s traumatic for the mother to abort even at the 2-3rd month of pregnancy, when the fetus is not yet developed; having an abortion after six months puts women in a great pain on par with miscarriage in terms of severity. At the sixth month of pregnancy, when all the limbs have been formed and the fetus essentially takes on a completed human form, it is definitely not easy to recommend such an operation.” She further warned, “Especially for this lady (Ms. Rhee), because her nutritional state is not good, whether she uses drugs or has an operation or another alternative, she can jeopardize her own life in the process.” Despite this, Ms. Rhee solidified her resolve to “abort at all costs”, leaving those around her concerned.

[Family Disorganization and Kkotjebis]

Not Enough Space for Kkotjebis (Homeless) in Hyesan City Shelter

People who barely survive do not have luxury to care other people, but they can’t walk on the street without seeing Kkotjebis (homeless people). Because people have seen kkotjebis for a long time since Arduous March, most people do not feel sympathy toward them any more. When asked what they think of kkotjebis, only a few people would say they worry about the possibility that one of their family members becomes a kkotjebi. A North Korean would not even consider helping kkotjebis when they meet them. Even though they are everywhere, nobody takes care of them. They are just neglected homeless people.

As the food shortage in Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province is getting worse, the number of kkotjebis has increased this year. The shelter does not have enough space to accommodate more of them. Even police officers who regularly inspect and arrest kkotjebis say, “It is useless to send them to the shelter because there is no room. We can’t control the kkotjebis that are increasing at an alarming rate. We just pretend to crack down on them.”

A police officer who arrested a 20-year-old kkotjebi at the concourse of Hyesan Station released him after this young man made a noise by saying, “Who would want to be a kkotjebi? I didn’t choose to become one!” Even if he sends the young man to the shelter, the officer said, the man would run away anyway and he did not want to handle all the hassles dealing with the kkotjebi. To him, kkotjebis are just an annoying problem that does not afford him any rewards or bribes. Probably due to this reason, another police officer did not show any sympathy when he said that over 40 kkotjebis died in Hyesan City in January and February this year. When asked why so many kkotjebis died, he responded by apathetically saying, “some of them froze to death, some others starved to death, and others died from diseases.”

Kkotjebi Family Increases
Of kkotjebis, the number of kkotjebi family has increased a lot. Park, Young-soo (alias) from Hyetan-dong, Hyesan in Ryanggang Province, has wandered around Hyesan Station and the market with his family for over three months. They have slept at the concourse of the station and wandered around the market during the day. Mr. Park is begging with his daughter while his wife is with his son, this family gets together at the station at night. When asked how they came to this situation, Mr. Park briefly said it was due to the currency reform. After eating the rice ball that was handed to, he continued saying, “Because of the currency reform, I lost all of my fortune. I had to sell my properties one by one to make seed money for trading at a market and finally sold my house to feed my family.” He bitterly said, “It would be okay if I were on my own. I am really sorry for giving this trouble to my children and wife. Even an official would become a kkotjebi if he doesn’t have money or food like us. North Korea is a society where only officials or rich people can survive.”

[Food Crisis and Work]

Starving laborers increase in Koksan County
Service facilities management office of Koksan-eup in Koksan County of North Hwanghae Province has been doing harsh self criticism every month since last February, calling out laborers who don’t show up at work. The workers who were being criticized look shabby, making people click their tongue. They were skinny to the extent that people doubted whether the workers have eaten food. The workers were brought to public notice to the fore by the disciplinary teams, and they seemed not to care whether others called names or pointed fingers. Many of them lowered their head because they lacked in energy to hold their head high. Their eyes lost their focus and it was not clear where they were looking at something. Most of the laborers who are absent without leave for a long time are those who could not even eat 1kg of corn a day. Although their wives would earn themselves through business, many of those households cannot afford two meals a day. The disciplinary teams stated that many of those workers were too poor to bring in. One disciplinary team member talked about a visit to the house of Jeong Sang Cheol (alias).
“I was there to bring Jeong Sang Cheol who was absent from work for more than a month. I could not feel any heat in the house. The house smelled bad. When we entered the room, Mr. Jeong was lying down covering himself with a dirty, thin sheet. We grabbed him with his shoulder and made him stand up to urge him to come to the workplace. We were surprised because he was as light as a piece of wood. He was scraggy and must have starved for a long time. When we asked whether he could talk, he nodded, but he could not speak at all. Then he flopped down on the floor. His wife came after hearing about our visit. She was worried whether we would harm his husband. She was small and skinny as an elementary school kid as well. She begged and pleaded to have mercy on her husband. She might have had more energy than him since she was capable of begging for a mercy saying that her husband would die if he would be sent to the labor training camp. Although we explained several times that we came to take him to work she kept pleading, seized by fear. My colleague tried to pull Mr. Jeong upright, but he was not able to stand up, let alone walking by himself. He collapsed repeatedly. I came out of the house dragging my colleague since I could see there was no way to bring the worker to work.”

Meanwhile, officials of public enterprises eat better than laborers at the same workplace even if the situation worsens. The officials can eat rice and corn meal with the ratio of three to seven. No matter how constantly and strongly they complain, officials who can eat enough corn rice fare better compared with people who are starving for several days.

[Interview]
A North Korean Official Speaks about the Controversies over North Korean Humanitarian Aid
[Editor’s Note] Negative claims over North Korean humanitarian aid are being made saying, “The North Korean humanitarian aid gets diverted to military provision; it will be utilized for the propaganda for power succession for three generations; it will be used as stocked grains for the propaganda of the Year 2012.” What would be the thoughts of North Korean officials about these claims? As a special report for the 400th edition Good Friends, which has been closely following the status of North Korean food situation, interviewed a Central Party official and heard about his opinion about the current food situation and North Korean food aid. The following is the full script of the interview and we make it clear that what’s discussed in the interview is representation of personal opinions that cannot be generalized.

Question: Recently, there have been many requests of food aid made by the North Korean government and that sparked controversies about the food aid in South Korea. I’d like to hear your opinion.
Answer: I have heard from the overseas representatives who returned that some North Korean people told their family and relatives who defected to South Korea that food aid is unnecessary because the outside aid is not helpful and it does not reach the people in need. I have also heard that this information is being released in South Korean media and there are strong public opinions against food aid saying, the food aid given to North Korea gets diverted to the military and the soldiers will attack South Korea using the energy they have gained from the food. That may be true in a few cases and the claims would be based on some instances. However, these claims are based on nonsensical grounds and very short-sighted views.

Question: What do you think about humanitarian aid to North Korea?
Answer: But, that does not mean that I am trying to instigate the aid and emphasize the necessity of food aid. As you know, I am at a position where I don’t have to worry about the basic need in life. Since being starved to death is not my immediate concern, I do not wish to get involved in such controversies of “provide us the aid,” “we would not provide aid.” Whether to provide aid or not is a decision South Korean government has to make and whether to request food aid or not is a decision our government has to make. Nevertheless, there is one thing I want to say. This is about the numerous irresponsible and groundless news articles South Korean media are releasing. Whenever I see them I wonder what difference there is between North and South Korea. Even though South Korea is said to be a well developed and mature society the kind of news articles South Korean media are releasing are worse than soap operas. The Korean wave ‘Hanryu’ is much celebrated and I wonder it is very easy for them to create those fictional news articles because they are so good at creating soap operas. I am a person who has critical views against my own government, but even I feel that news reports of South Korean media are too far fetched. It makes me feel offended when I read the articles describing this country as a place of shameless monsters and people who live there are like cannibals and drug addicts.

Question: Going back to the food issue, the food problem is nothing new, but North Korean government has never been more active than before. What is the reason?
Answer: The North Korean government did not beg for food to the international community especially to South Korea when people died of famine in a massive scale during the 1990s. Then why would they make pleas for food to the United States and the international community and repeatedly propose a summit with South Korea? In short, the current food situation is worse than the end of 1990s. We have never confided with any country including China about the food problem before, but now the food condition is so serious we cannot help making requests for food aid. We do not have enough labor power because too many farm workers died of hunger since 2008. Now, farm workers are recruited in urban areas and the condition of farm workers is grave, overlaid with dark shadows. Under the military-first system last year, since there was no surplus food the government can provide they took all possible actions by offering farm workers the benefit of not collecting rice for the military even at the cost of soldiers dying of hunger. However, such actions could not solve the chronic food shortage that lasted for several years. Now, there will be no labor power for agricultural production if more farmers die. Mobilizing urban laborers for farm production is not possible either. Sending urban laborers to the farms is possible since the urban enterprises and factories are not in operation currently, but they will all have to become farmers if the phenomenon persists. About 70% of farmers managed to survive the winter with a few frozen potatoes and wandered around the mountain to collect wild herbs. There is no need to mention the situations of urban laborers who was directly hit by the currency reform after suffering from the suspension of food distribution for ten years already.

Question: However, the doubt that North Korean government does not carry out distribution properly even if we provide the aid still remains. Why should we provide aid if the food does not reach the people in need?
Answer: You don’t seem to understand. Some people say that we are not distributing the food on purpose while they are talking as if our government is about to lose control and collapse soon. It is true that the food provided by South Korea does not reach the ordinary people in need properly. You should remember that it has been more than 10 years since our food distribution system collapsed. The practice of stealing and embezzlement has become a routine. In higher position as well as in lower position, at each work unit and at each workplace, those who have power would first take what is given. The Central Party tried to correct it by sending inspectors and by making examples through execution of some people, but the effect was only temporary. The inspectors taking bribery and overlooking problems is the reality. So, who is really inspecting who? Nevertheless, there is one problem that should never be misunderstood. It is true that distribution is not done properly, but that the government will collapse soon because of that is a totally different story. Anybody can have his or her opinion, but our government has persisted until now without food distribution system. One should create a logical argument based on relevant cause and effect rather than fabricating stories based on what one would like to believe.

Now, let’s talk about whether food aid can be of help to those in the lowest class or not. Although the whole country is poor Party officials and money holders who have a lot of foreign currency don’t worry about food at all. The current food shortage problem is only for urban laborers, farmers, and ordinary soldiers who are not in the Special Forces. People are saying that they are not willing to send food aid because the food is being diverted to others even though they wish to help those in need. So, the distribution doesn’t work? That is not necessarily true. Let me give you an example. The relief supplies for the flood and natural disaster sent by the previous South Korean government administration were all properly distributed to the intended areas. This is a fact I personally confirmed. Why was it possible? That’s because the designated location was clearly specified for the relief supplies. They get delivered to the intended areas for sure if, for example, Shinyang County, South Pyungan Province is designated as a flood disaster area which needs a certain number of tons of wheat and cement immediately and you make arrangements with officials in that area. Problem occurs because the Central Party requires a meeting with the people at Unification Bureau of the Worker’s Party. Those at the bureau as well as other central agencies are more likely to embezzle the relief supplies for themselves because they do not have subordinates to support.

On the other hand, those at City and County Parties and special enterprises such as Gimcheck Steel mill have a large number of subordinates they have to support. Therefore, they work very hard to secure the relief supplies and try not to lose them to others. Think about it. How can the military intercept the relief food if people from Sariwon City Party people are waiting for the food specifically assigned to them? Do you think the City Party people will let it happen? Of course it could be possible they may negotiate with the military and give up a portion of it, but giving it all up to the military is simply impossible. They will risk their lives to take them back if the military tries to take them all. That is the kind of situation everybody is faced with.

Even if some of the relief supplies get diverted to the military we have to understand that soldiers too are people as well as our children suffering from hunger. Also, people argue that officials are taking the relief food for themselves, but I think that is still okay. Even then they eat three meals a day at most, and the rest will turn up in the market. The food price drops when the food gets released to the market and it becomes affordable for the poor urban laborers. Even little children can understand that “price drops when supply increases and it goes up when supply decreases.”

The food becomes affordable to people only when the price drops. I don’t understand why people do not understand this logic. Do you know what happened when there was a news report in South Korea that food will arrive at Chungjin and Nampo ports some time ago? The food was not even delivered yet, but even the news report of food coming made the food price drop throughout the country. That kind of information is impossible to block no matter how hard our government tries. Just try releasing such news of food supply the news will spread throughout the country and the food will be released to the market immediately. This is because the merchants who stockpiled the food waiting for the price goes up will release the food to the market. Then who do you think will be benefited? People can’t even afford the rice at the price of 2000 won. It will be a great relief for people if they can buy rice at the half the price. People were happy because more rice was available at the market. I believe we should think about how to fix the problem if there is a problem. It doesn’t sound honest if they refuse to give because of the problem. It would sound more honest if they just say they don’t want to give. There’s more I want to say, but I’ll stop here today.

[Plea from a Defector Mother]
Please Help My Child in North Korea!
Hello. I am a mother who has left her child in an orphanage in North Korea. When I left my child in the orphanage, I never suspected that our parting will last for so long. I had no choice but to leave my child in the orphanage because I was suffering from severe malnutrition accompanied by fever and an illness that prevented me even from drinking water. My breast milk was dried up and I had no food, so after starving my 18 month old baby for two days, a neighbor of mine took my child and hurried to the orphanage, saying that both of us will die at this rate. I had collapsed and was in a half-conscious state then, and that was the last I have ever seen of my child. But I was hopeful because I thought the orphanage could at least feed my child. I told to myself that as soon as I regain my health and make more money, I shall bring my child home again.

But things did not get better, and I continued to struggle for mere survival. I am still very ill in fact, heavily afflicted both mentally and physically after so many ordeals. Assimilating and surviving in South Korea has proven to be extremely difficult. But what hurts me the most is not being able to see my baby, whom I have left in North Korea. Feeding my dear baby with my own hands is the only thing that will rid me of this agony, but it is impossible.

I cannot express my gratitude enough toward South Korea for accepting me. And as brazen as this may sound, I plead you to save my baby as well. People in North Korea are constantly suffering from starvation, and when there is food shortage, it impacts the aged and the children firsthand. Also, the people who live in the countryside with poor transportation are heavily impacted. People die out most between April and the beginning of the harvest season. So please, help the food supply reach North Korea, and help the orphans and the rural population. I will also do my best to give back to South Korea and lead a productive life. I will repay for your kindness and shall be grateful for as long as I live.
- Ok Hwa Lee (alias, in her forty’s), who has come from North Korea two years ago

[Invited Column]

Humanitarian Aids to North Korea - A New Perspective

Koh, Kyung Bin (ex-chief, Public Relations Headquarters for Policy, Unification Ministry; ex-director, Hana-won)

Guaranteed Transparency of Distribution and Separation between Government and Residents

It is said that North Korea, instead of distributing the foreign aids to the residents, is siphoning them away. This benefits the government and not very many residents. The North Korean defectors testify that they had heard of the foreign aids but most of them had not received any. The prevalent public opinion is that it is not desirable to have the North Korea aids without guaranteed transparency of distribution.

Is there a way to guarantee the transparency? Would we feel satisfied if we ourselves deliver the aids to the residents? I don't think so. Even when the international monitoring agencies attend and observe the distribution of the aids, the government retrieves them once the agency staffs are gone, some say. Even this observation is limited to a few selected areas. It is unrealistic and impractical to divide the whole North Korean population between government and residents to restrict the distribution only to the residents. It is unclear how to draw the line separating the government and residents.

Even though the monitoring is strengthened a great deal, as long as the mistrust toward the North continues, the transparency cannot be guaranteed. Also, trusting North Korea cannot be reached overnight without proper foundation. Under these circumstances, aids to North cannot be made.

However, if we view the transparency issue through the strategic approach of separating the government from residents, the aids to North can have some meaning even if the transparency is lacking a little bit. We cannot achieve transparency through the separation of government from the residents, but we can achieve the separation of government from residents through the aspects of transparency.

In the markets of North Korea they can easily see rice bags that have South Korea printed on them, we were told. This means that the North Korean residents become aware of our aids and become discontented of their government. When the discontents accumulate, they would turn their backs against the government, and it would naturally bring about the separation of government from residents.

If a big brother in Seoul sends packages to two brothers in a rural area, and when the second brother keeps them both for himself, the third brother has complaints against the second brother, not the first, and he would tend to depend on the first. This means that while the guaranteed transparency of distribution would be the most desirable, there are other important strategic effects to be gained even when the transparency of distribution may not be fully satisfactory.

Recipients -- South and North

The Jeju oranges that we sent for the children and pregnant women in North, it is said, had been siphoned off to the officials of North as bonuses. Therefore, the public opinion was that sending oranges to North is pointless and should not be continued. The North should be criticized for breaking promise. They should apologize to the residents of Jeju Island. However, to halt the orange aids because of this incident means we have forgotten another important policy objective.

Originally the orange aids were launched in order to protect the domestic farmers. For Jeju Island which has not much industry other than travel industry, orange farming provides an important livelihood. The cyclical over-production and price fall brought difficulties to the farmers. Thus, the Jeju residents themselves purchased oranges with the money raised from voluntary contribution, and the government provided the transportation costs -- that's how the orange aids had begun. As we seek the ethnic spirit from the Baekdoo Mountain, the North Koreans taste it from Jeju oranges. As this continues, Jeju Island is becoming a symbol of peace and reconciliation between South and North. The government is to systemize the policy to supplement the transportation costs to the local authority that is trying to control stocks of over-production. In the meantime, farmers of carrots, apples, pears and potatoes received benefits as well.

There are similarities in rice aids. Rice self-sufficiency was achieved in 1976, and since then the stockpile had continued to increase, and in year 2000 it reached twice the volume of desired stockpile. In our national psyche, rice isn't something we can use as animal feeds or put to fire. There are options -- sell it cheap in overseas and increase domestic consumption; but using rice to make drinks and cakes has only limited impact, and we have no competitive power in terms of price in the international market as we are restricted in rice exports because complete opening of rice market is under deferment in the system of world trade system. The aid to North was conducted under the implicit understanding that it was an internal trade within a nation and that it was a humanitarian aids. If the problem of over stockpile was not resolved, the farmers will receive great blow due to falling rice price, and it was not easy to suddenly increase warehousing capacity. Under these circumstances, the aids to North had provided a partial solution to the problem.

Due to the aids to North the rice stockpile had decreased to a desired level, but as the aid was suspended, in year 2010 it had increased to 150 million tons, the highest level in records. With the increased national income, demand for rice had decreased 2% per year while production of rice had surpassed the demand about 20% per year due to double-price system. Because of deferred opening of rice market, South Korea had to import 10% of domestic demand per year, and as a consequence the stockpile rapidly increases about 30% more than the previous year's.

Modern History of the Korean Peninsula and the Political Economy of Rice

Rice, beyond its importance as the staple food for the Koreans, has a special meaning in the modern history of Korea. First, rice is the symbol of miracle that we had escaped the destiny of poverty. While we were struggling under the weight of poverty and hunger, we developed higher crop seed "Unification Rice" as a result of long research, and in year 1976 we had achieved what we had been dreaming -- rice self-sufficiency. The farmers were able to send their children to school, and those children had grown up to become the workforce to create the mythology of success. That's why rice touches the basic psyche of Korea and it receives the attention of not only farmers but all Koreans.

Second, rice is the symbol of brotherly love and humanitarian aids even though in reality we face each other as enemies. Up until now we had aided North with 165 million tons of rice. Of which 15 million tons were free and 150 million tons were not free. In North Korea, they say, "Rice is communism," and "Provide steamed rice and beef soup to the people," which was the dream of Kim, Il-sung, and has yet to be realized. The fact that North had accepted rice from South, who they had fought long as enemy, carries special meaning.

Rice has become the symbol of the mythology of success in the South while in North it became the symbol of unreachable dream and failure. Rice aids to North has clearly symbolized the success of South and the failure of North. There is absolutely no reason for the South Korean society to hesitate the aids.

[Volunteer Contribution]
North Korea Today, Delivering the Rocky Lives of North Korean People
- SangHee Jeong (GoodFriends USA, volunteer translator)

Six and half years have passed since the first edition of North Korea Today was issued in September 2004. Apparently, the news coming from the North Korean society seems always the same: North Korean people are hungry, suffering, and lack life essentials, always. It is painful to read reports of the people whose lives are pushed to the extreme as if they are living on the very tip of a cliff. Assuming this situation could not go on for long, I used to quietly anticipate some sign of movement to change the situation within North Korea but all in vain. They are starving this week again. Oh, I know the story. It is the same as always. However, has North Korea really not changed at all over the last six and half years? Has nothing new happened, and has North Korea remained still all the same? Have the residents always starved without any changes in their lives?

It was February 2007 when I first started volunteer work at GoodFriends in Seoul, South Korea. My task was to collect all editions of North Korea Today issued thus far, categorize the articles under distinctive themes, and edit them into a compilation of <2006 Year Book of North Korea Today>. Prior to that, I had not read any issue of North Korea Today properly and only knew about it from mainstream newspapers when they quote North Korea Today in their articles. Now, in order to make a year book, I had to read all the articles published in North Korea Today for categorization. There were numerous reports on the huge floods in North Korea in 2006 and its aftermath, which were categorized as Flood Disaster and Diseases news. Other news reports were put under categories of Politics, Economy, Society, Women, Education, Agriculture, People’s Lives, Food Situation, Kkotjebi, and Other Incidents. These reports were almost like live news broadcast, delivering the voices of North Korean people directly. It was very interesting to see subtle changes observed in the North Korean society and candid opinions of the people. At the same time, it was hard to read about their extreme suffering and painful cries.

Since then, I subscribed for North Korea Today and read the newsletter every week. Despite feeling tired of the same outcry of starvation repeated in almost every edition, I volunteered to translate the Korean articles into English in mid 2009, which made it even more impossible for me to avoid North Korea Today. Over the period there has been interesting news such as the economy was improving; South Korean TV dramas were very popular among North Korean people; and women selling in the market rose against police officers in protest. However, the Anti-social group control got extremely tightened; anyone showing any sign of suspicious acts got arrested and harshly executed; the control over markets got ratcheted up; and the food aid from South Korea halted due to the deteriorated relationship between the North and the South. On top of all that, the currency reform of last year did a huge damage on the fledgling market economy in North Korea and greatly affected people’s daily lives. From the perspective of the North regime, it is under pressure of power succession as well as the imminent 2012 by which it promised its people to build a Strong and Powerful Nation. Now, the regime is urgently seeking to import food by selling out their important mineral and geographical (such as ports) resources at low prices to China. Moreover, and surprisingly, the regime swallowed its pride and requested food aid to international community.

Putting aside the fatigue from repetitive food crises and examining closely, many things actually have happened in the North Korean society. If drawn in a graph, the North Korean society has internally rocked so much with various shocks over the last six and half years of continuation of North Korea Today as the seismic waves of a level 8 earth quake shown on a seismometer. Seen from outside, the North Korean regime seems so stubbornly unchanged. However, North Korea Today showed us the rocky lives of North Korean people suffering under the regime. Celebrating its 400th edition, I hope it enhances its distinctive characteristic among many other news media on North Korea and continues its effort in connecting us to North Korean people until the day when the North and the South can communicate without any restriction. As it has done so far, North Korea Today will continue building the sound foundation for us to better understand North Korean people.

North Korea Today No. 399 April 20, 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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Difficulties in Trade Deal with China Giving Headache to Representatives in China

Spike in Soldier-led Assaults on Cadre Vehicles

"Tending Flower Beds and Constructing Roads? That's Just Too Much!”

TB Patient Increase Nationally Due to Food Shortages

“Early Harvesting of Barley and Potato is the Only Thing to Depend on”

The Arduous Farm Mobilization Begins in Ryanggang Province

The Students of Hyesan University Raise the Question, “Am I a Student or a Farmer?”


Ryanggang Province Dept. of Education, “Two Hour Evening Classes After Work”

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Difficulties Reaching Trade Deal with China Giving Headache to Representatives in China


With government initiatives on full scale trade with China, North Korean companies are increasingly launching their business in China. Within a month (since February 16th), long term resident companies are increasing in China, making them 7 in Dandong, 5 in Dalian and 8 in Shenyang . Restaurant managers and merchants are also making purchase in China trying to attract investment from Chinese merchants who are based and trade in China. As this flow increases, it is getting increasingly difficult to find Chinese merchants. Because North Korean companies lack business skills, requesting unconditional investment and commodities without payment, Chinese merchants do not want to meet such North Korean merchants. Even if they are introduced to North Koreans by acquaintances, they do not try to see them again after the first couple of meetings. If it is not a long-term trustworthy relationship, they do not even believe those North Koreans who say they have the best trading potential. Trade representatives are allowed to stay in China for just one week. If trade merchants need to leave without positive outcomes, they demand that North Korean trade representatives stationed in China put Chinese merchants in touch with their enterprises’ representatives and pay the living costs on their behalf. This is an increasing trend. Trade representatives in China stated with frustration that”if they don't have any investment plans and come to China without any money, they simply can’t see any fruits here. If they just demand that Chinese merchants trade with them without showing any signs of trust, who would be willing to invest? It is nonsense.”

Spike in Soldier-led Assaults on Cadre Vehicles


Early last February, a high-ranking Central Party official was attacked at night on his way to observe preparations for the February 16 holiday festivities in Hamheung City. As he had done many times before, the official was riding in a government-supplied Mercedes Benz and was heading over a hill when his car’s path was blocked by a group of soldiers. Thinking that an incident of some kind had occurred, the official told his bodyguard to check out the situation. However, as soon as the Benz’s car doors opened, several soldiers grabbed the bodyguard by the arms and pulled the official and driver out of the car. The bodyguard tried to resist the soldiers twisting his arm, but ended up being pummeled from all directions by several rifle butts. With a dislocated shoulder and blood running all over the place from a large wound on his head, he soon was forced on his knees. Realizing that any further resistance would only lead to an even worse fate, the captives promised to give all the valuables they had in exchange for the soldiers sparing their lives. The soldiers took all that they had, including the watch the official had received as a present from the General (Kim Jong-il). After the official arrived in Hamheung City, he immediately contacted Pyongyang with information on the time and place of the incident and ordered a manhunt for the soldiers. A Special Forces team mobilized to investigate the nearby military base was able to find and arrest the suspects within a week. More than thirty soldiers were found to have taken part in the robbery. The leading official was sent to Pyongyang for further investigation while the rest were disciplined in accordance with military law.


Incidents like this have occurred more than fifty times this year and, robbers have intentionally targeted cars driven by cadres. A total of fifteen people have been killed in these incidents up until March. In the past, robberies generally focused on wealthier members of the general population, but the recent increase in the number of robberies involving cadre vehicles has raised alarm bells within the government. The considerable amount of consternation among government officials is due to the fact that robbers not only steal but sometimes even kill their victims recently. Late in January of this year, the government warned provincial, city and military cadres and overseas representatives travelling through the country to “not drive out of the confines of cities during the night”. Security and police officials who must drive at night for investigations have been warned to “only drive at night in the most urgent of circumstances, and if a soldier tries to flag you down, do not stop”. This warning follows the fact that robbers tend to kill outright officials identified as part of security or police organizations.
Following the drastic increase in incidents concerning vehicles driven by military cadres, the National Security Agency and Defense Security Command have begun a rigorous investigation into the incidents. While joint investigations organized by both government organizations are ongoing in areas where cadres have been killed, cases of robbery still continue. The Defense Security Command has ordered the public executions of both the leader of the 30-odd soldiers who committed robbery near Hamheung and other soldiers from other areas of the country who were the first to have been caught stealing. These public executions will, it is hoped, serve a clear warning to other would-be robbers. The Central Party has reached the conclusion that the motive of the soldiers is politically-based, rather than just simple robbery. The Party has promised to use whatever means necessary to find the root-cause of the incidents.

"Tending Flower Beds and Constructing Roads? That's Just Too Much!”

Again this year, the whole country is engaged in a mass campaign to improve and beautify the environment for the Hygiene Months of March & April. Pyongyang, Pyungsung, Hamheung, Sinuiju and others major cities received special instructions to decorate all city streets with flower beds. Another instruction directed (the residents) to place 10 flower pots on the apartment veranda to celebrate April 15 holiday. In Hamheung city, the instruction contained a detail request that of the 10 flower pots, 4 to 5 of them should be plastic pots with plastic flowers.

For the residents whose livelihood had gotten worse, this perennial beautification campaign brings no joy. They have no objection to removing trash accumulated through winter, repairing broken water and sewer pipes, whitewashing walls, and other general spring cleanup, but what's bothering them is the demand to supply things. The Central Party will be shocked to learn that there are even talks that "(We) wish the General has no more overseas travel." It is because of a rumor that says, "When the General returned from his visit to China, he gave instructions that the streets in Pyongyang should be decorated with flower beds just like the streets in China, thus prompting the campaign to decorate with flower beds and flower pots." A Central Party official says that, "In principle, the Central Party does not want to burden (residents) with non-tax items. When the local parties hear the (General's) speech regarding the flower-decorated streets in China, they are taking their own action. The subordinates make collection in order to flatter. The Central Party does not order them to do." Regardless, it is an unavoidable burden to the residents who are suffering from hardship.


The same applies to the policy of widening roads. The Chairman Kim, Jung-il, upon his return from the visit to China, issued instructions that, "We need to widen roads like China," and every city launched preparatory work for construction. Even though there was no money to buy cement, some cities formed "production squad" with DWU (Democratic Women’s Union) members. Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province, Danchun City in S. Hamgyong Province, and other areas drafted DWU members to form the production squad causing increased complaints from them. Their reaction was pretty strong. They say, "These days if women don't work, the whole family is going to die of starvation. Housewives do not mean they do nothing at home. Why form the production squad with women only?" Lee Myung Ok (alias) who lives in Hyetan-dong, Hyesan City says, "My husband is sick at home and I am working at the market to feed my two children. If I go to the production squad, who's going to bring food to my family? I absolutely refuse to go." At times there are quarrels and even physical confrontations between the DWU members who refuse to join the production squad and DWU officials. Some pay a lot of money to obtain a doctor's statement to prove illness. Some offer rice or money to the party officials and get (their name) removed from the list.

Pyongyang residents face similar situation. Jang, Bok Soon (alias) who lives in Sungyo area says, "The General visits China to improve people's livelihood, but the officials who work under him are doing a poor job and pressure people for their blood and sweat. We have no food and may die today or tomorrow. Drafting us to work on the road widening construction means nothing short of telling us to die of hunger. Who comes up with such terrible ideas? I wish the General finds them and punishes them. I don't know why the Party repeatedly comes up with the policies that bring pain and hardship to the people."

Lee, Hyang Sim (alias) who lives at Sapo 1-dong, Sapo District, Hamheung City, S. Hamgyong Province expressed the distrust toward the Party: "Every day there is no good news, only news that torment us. Out great General Kim, Jung Il cares for us and visits the food factory, pig farm, and never takes a minute's rest, but the officials under him don't seem to do any work as there's no improvement in our livelihood. Every day they collect money and draft people (for work); this is no way to live. There's no improvement in our livelihood and people dying of starvation increase every day. Who could believe the Party's propaganda and instructions? The Party's propaganda is for show only; none of it comes true. (They) only lie to cheat people."

TB Patient Increase Nationally Due to Food Shortages


The Third Prevention Center located in Mankyongdae District, Pyongyang City is the Central TB (Tuberculosis) Prevention Center. The hospital saw a rapid increase in patients when the weather became severely cold at the end of last year, and now it does not have enough room to accommodate incoming patients. The center receives TB medicine support from outside the DPRK, which allows patients to receive treatment in a relatively stable condition, but patients do not look too contented.
Among TB patients registered at the Province Prevention Center in Pyongsung in South Pyongan Province, more than 2000 are closed type TB patients. Pyongsung used to be one of the DPRK’s most active commercial cities, second only to Pyongyang, and acted as a national wholesale market until it was attacked by market closure measures early last year; it has not recovered its former glory as of yet. As the food shortage deepens, malnutrition increases and TB outbreaks follow. Doctors are not taking action, claiming that there’s no way to provide necessary medicine and nutrition. Patients now even say “I just need to wait lying in bed until I die. I wish I could die instead, and lift the burden on my family.” In the Wonsan City Prevention Center in Gangwon Province, there’s a noticeable increase of TB patients between the ages of seven to twelve. Seventy to eighty child patients receive x-ray examinations every day, and the number is increasing. Most of the children have a parent suffering from TB and many of them first caught a cold this winter - which was severely cold - and it developed into acute pneumonia and then into TB. Open TB patients are allocated medicine, but it would get lost on the way and leaked to markets. The number of TB patients is rising as the food situation aggravates, and the authorities are not taking necessary measures.

“Early Harvesting of Barley and Potato is the Only Thing to Depend on”


Daehongdan County, Samjiyeon County, as well as Baekam County in Ryanggang Province have been cultivating potatoes and barley since March 27th. Workers and students from various institutions and factories were ordered to work for the farming mobilization initiatives. Middle school (equivalent of high school in South Korea) students had their schoolwork put off until mid-April when the sowing would be completed. College students in Hyesan City were added to the work force of the potato farms in Baekam and Daehongdan Counties as well, after a meeting in which they sought to resolve the current food crisis. The amount of sowed barley was increased in Daehongdan County farms, the reason being that “the food crisis can start to improve as early as in July if one sows barley, which can be harvested earlier. Early harvesting of barley and potato is the only thing to depend on.” The farmers were devoting as much of their resources as possible into barley and potato farming under this rationale. But the problem lies in fertilizer deficiency. Although there is some fertilizer they managed to obtain from a factory in Heungnam, it is so little that Heukbosan fertilizer has to be used instead. Heukbosan fertilizer is so lacking in nutrients. Fertilizer issue poses the biggest problem to both potato and barley farming. Plowing is another issue. Tractors cannot be used because there isn’t enough fuel, and even if they are running, the horsepower is below 15, making it impossible to plow deeply. Many therefore resort to using laboring cows, but the cows aren’t well fed either and do not have enough strength.

Meanwhile, officials from the provincial party of Ryanggang Province have been dispatched to farms in order to direct the sowing process and check up on the farming conditions. Some farms have adopted sowing methods that allow them to follow Juche farming techniques. The officials and managers of the farming mobilization initiatives have obligations to participate in such a process and learn the Juche farming ways. But in the end, all these efforts are proving to be quite futile.

The Arduous Farm Mobilization Begins in Ryanggang Province


Mass mobilization of residents to plant potatoes and barley has begun in Ryanggang province. Especially hard hit by this mass mobilization are students, residents and local farmers forced to suspend their daily activities to work out in the fields. Residents heading out to the fields from Friday into the weekend have to bring their own meals, and most either do not eat at all or bring along porridge made with powdered skull of corn ear or several cooked potatoes to eat. Cadres and other head officials bring 5/5 meal (half rice and half maize) and other well-off residents bring steamed corn meal to eat. When students head out to the fields they are provided with food. In Yupyong Laborer Zone, Seodu-ri and Yanggok-ri, mobilized students are provided with cooked potatoes. However, many of these potatoes are rotten and students are forced to work on empty stomachs most of the time. Many farmers have stolen seed potatoes and grow their own food saying that having individual plots is much better. Mobilized university students provide the farmers with seed potatoes and receive something to eat in return. Farmers find time during lunch to focus on farming their own individual plots and there are cases where students steal food. Stealing food has become a major issue because of starving people among those mobilized to farm, and everyone is on the lookout for thieves. Residents too old to work in the farms are left to look after the house, and families that have children leave their children home to look after the house without sending them to school. People unable to work in the fields in People’s Committees are chosen to guard against thieves and local police departments have strengthened security around seed potato and compost warehouses by organizing patrols made up of former soldiers.

The Students of Hyesan University Raise the Question, “Am I a Student or a Farmer?


The Hyesan Industrial University in Ryanggang Province assists in farm work. The food provided only consists of potatoes and rice mixed with the powdered hulls of corn kernels. With less than 200g of side dishes per meal, the food does not fill the young students. There are many students who crouch down, fatigued, on the fields. This is because of their empty stomachs. They only pretend to work when City Party or County Party officials overlook fieldwork, and after they leave, they sit back down. The educator in charge was condemned for the sloppy work of the students, but they are not capable of much change either. This is because they are aware that the students cannot work in a state of starvation. In some student groups, 5000 won is collected per student to assist in purchasing corn for the meals. 5000 won is not affordable for many students, but they borrow the money in order to pay for the food out of fear that they would starve. If they cannot afford to pay such an amount, they turn to robbery. University students who assisted in cultivating the Yu-Pyong Labor District boiled and ate the potatoes they planted only 3 to 4 days ago. A sophomore at Hae-San Industrial University, Gwang-Il Kim, (alias) commented that “the food provided for lunch is only 2 to 3 spoonfuls worth. I cannot even tell that I have even eaten anything, or whether there is even food in my stomach. I can only think about food and eating when I work. Whether or not I get punished, in order to survive I feel the need to ravage the potatoes I planted, so I steal with no sense of shame.”


There are also instances where fertilizer is stolen. People spread little amounts of fertilizer on the fields, bury some of it in a hole, and sell it to small land patch farmers late at night. They normally exchange 1kg of fertilizer for 1kg of corn. The complaints of students during a starving farming mobilization initiative only get louder. The differences between wealth and class appear even in these situations; students who have parents who are party officials, law enforcement agents or wealthy individuals donate 50kg or more of corn and are exempt from work volunteering. A junior at the Industrial University, Young-Il Lee (alias), noted that “During periods of farming mobilization, only children of laborers are put to work. They say in theory that the first duty of students is to study, but how can we do so when potato farming mobilization happens every spring and fall? I don’t know if I am a student or a potato farmer.” He also said that as a student who, instead of joining school after military service, moved up to the university straight from primary school and have worked on potato farms since a young age, he was disgusted when even looking at a potato plant.

Ryanggang Province Dept. of Education, “Two Hour Evening Classes After Farm Work”


The Ryanggang Department of Education has ordered that two-hour long classes should be held after students finish their work in the fields. The students’ reaction to this has been utter disbelief. This is because students, who are unable to eat regular meals, are generally too tired after working out in the fields all day to think of studying. Some students have shot back, “How can we study when the government doesn’t even provide us with an hour of electricity a day?” Pak Sang Hak (alias), a second year student at Haesan City Medical College, expressed extreme displeasure with the Department of Education’s decision. “Studying at night after a long day of working out in the fields doesn’t make any sense for students. It is not even a given that we can complete our daily work. They only feed us powdered skull of corn ears and potatoes, and just barely at that, so how do they expect us to have enough energy to study? Those in government positions living comfortably have no idea what kind of trials students are going through without being able to get enough to eat. Their ignorance about our situation causes this kind of ridiculousness.” An official at the Department of Education explained the situation saying, “This mobilization is directed by the local farms, not at the national level. Students must still follow the national education plan.” However, the officials agreed with students that a variety of factors including power shortage, fatigue and hunger would make attending courses difficult. He also added, “Education during the day is simply a teacher saying a couple words during break time or at closing. They simply pretend to conduct classes. Students are all dozing during that time.”
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