GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 412, July 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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[Editor’s Note] The Second Condition for the Strong and Prosperous Nation 2012
Preparation of Electing Representatives for Local People’s Assembly on July 24 in Full Swing
After-Election Singing Performance Rouses Displeasure
Reason Workers Can Get by without Rations in Sooncheon Cement Factory
Few Squids to Catch This Summer
Tyranny of Coastguard Adds to Difficulties [Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (2): Make Every Effort to Supply Electricity
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[Editor’s Note] The Second Condition for the Strong and Prosperous Nation 2012
As a continuation of the last week’s edition, we have examined the second requirement proposed by North Korean authorities to become the Strong and Prosperous Nation in the current edition. The high profile Heecheon Power Plant construction project suggests that sufficient resources for electricity be one of the requirements. Completion of the plant construction is a top priority for the government—electricity is the fuel for any industries; without it, nothing can even get started. The government has managed to complete the first phase of the Heecheon Power Plant project by injecting considerable non-tax contribution and government fund into the project. However, it has not been able to launch the second phase yet due to lack of financial resources. The government encouraged the unit responsible for the project to raise fund by itself but whether it will be successful remains in doubt. Now most of public attention goes to the fast approaching election for new representatives for the provincial, city, and county people’s assembly. It is expected that new blood will replace the old one in the local governments. Should we have some hope on the newly-elected?


Preparation of Electing Representatives for Local People’s Assembly on July 24 in Full Swing
On July 24, representatives for local People’s Assembly will be elected nationwide. Representatives from city, divisional, and district People’s Committee including cities under the direct control of the central government and provinces will be elected. This is the day to newly elect some members of the local assembly. The North Korean authorities are encouraging the participation in the election by saying, “any citizen who is older than 18 years old in each province and city must demonstrate one’s utmost loyalty and consciously participate, with no exceptions. The election on the day is scheduled to start at 6 o’clock in the morning and to finish at 9 o’clock in the evening. The residents must dress up neatly such as wearing a suit or Korean traditional clothes, and everyone must come out to vote. For the elderly and the infirm who cannot move, the election officials assigned in its division carry the ballot box and visit from door to door. The voting roll was announced on July 9, and election officials in charge of the division were selected to manage voting booth starting July 10.

In North Korea, an election is said to start from control and regulation, and the security authorities are also busy preparing for the election. Once the date of election is announced, they keep the trends of the residents under strict scrutiny and they also participate in the overall progress on the day of the election. A few years ago, there was a big disturbance as a fire broke out in the voting booth of Chungjin and Hoeryong and a poll book was torn apart. At that time, the matter was ended by dismissing all the officials in charge of the voting booth, the respective security agents and police officers, and after this incident, the security authorities have reinforced the vigilant surveillance on the day of the election. Restricting the movement of the residents is also in progress intensively. Tracking down border crossing and smuggling was reinforced in the National Border Area, and steps were taken so the residents from other regions cannot enter. Travel Certificates are not issued at all during the election period. Only the government officials who need to be on a business trip to handle the state affairs can travel by obtaining a ‘Moving Vote Certificate’. In South Korea, an absentee ballot is casted to a candidate of the region that the absentee originally resides; but in North Korea, a ballot is casted to a candidate on the site, and the voter receives a written confirmation that he voted.

On the other hand, there is a rumor going on among the residents in Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province that on July 24, 5 days’ worth of food will be distributed in commemoration of the Election Day in which the representatives for local People’s Committee will be elected nationwide. “The Provincial Party and the City Party have a plan to distribute 5 days’ worth of food”, says an officer from the Provincial Party of North Hamgyong Province. It means that they will distribute a portion of the food imported by the trade companies to the people. However, whether they will be able to execute the distribution is uncertain because there is not much food imported. Other government organizations are also planning to distribute even a few days’ worth of food in commemoration of the Election Day, but they are also concerned over the similar issue.


After-Election Singing Performance Rouses Displeasure
North Koreans go into a celebratory mode after an election is over. The city and military party gather the members of the Democratic Women's Union and start preparing a singing performance starting July 15th. "We are so hungry, we hardly have any strength to sing. We wish they would leave us alone," said members of DWU, implying that their seemingly skillful singing and dancing are done only half heartedly.

Ilsoon Lee (alias), a resident of Pohang District in Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, expressed her displeasure saying "I'm struggling just to put food on the table; I'm not in the mood to sing, nor do I have strength. I'm just doing it to follow orders." "The business is poor already, and if I begin practicing on the 15th, I won't be able to make any money because I would have to put aside my business for at least eight or nine days. This election business is so irksome, I wish it was over," concurred Joo Miyoung (alias), a merchant who lives in the same district.

Meanwhile, middle school students will also begin practicing on July 15th for an event in which they would sing and walk in lines with flowers in their hands.


Reason Workers Can Get by without Rations in Sooncheon Cement Factory
The Soocheon Cement Factory in the southern Pyongan Province has been operating normally since March. The rations have stopped after workers received two weeks’ worth of food in March; however, workers are still receiving their monthly wages. The rate of absence has gone down dramatically. According to Choi Dong-gook (alias), a factory worker, “people come to work voluntarily because they are able to steal cement. The cement produced at our factory is of such good quality that it supplies hydraulic power plants, so it’s in high demand. On a good day I can take up to 100kgs, but on average I am able to smuggle out 30kgs. The 30 kgs gives me enough money to buy cornmeal for my family.” Choi said that this was the reason for the decrease in absences. However, it’s not a daily routine because they cannot evade surveillance and restrictions of the factory security every time. There are so many workers stealing cement that they do not receive severe punishment. They still take caution when stealing because they are subject to public humiliation during general meetings.

Lee Man-soo (alias), who was harassed by the guards when he was caught stealing last month, pointed out that the real thieves were the officials. “Laborers like us are petty thieves who sell the cements for food, while officials steal truckloads of cement to make large sums of money,” he complained and added, “They are left alone while we are reprimanded.” The factory has constructed guard towers to catch big thieves, but to little effect. It’s because in most large scale smugglings the robber corroborates with the guards.

Sometimes the factory supplies the workers with 100-200kgs of cement when there is a severe food shortage. They also distribute cement to encourage the workers who are working under difficult conditions. On such days the workers, in their work units, go out and treat themselves to drinks and tofu on their ways home. At times like these, workers say “We’re in a better situation.”

One official at the cement factory said that it reopened to supply building materials to Heechun Power Plant. “Heechun Power Plant is an important national project. Officials from the central government have come down to supervise the company in order to produce more cement. We told them that they need to alleviate the food shortage problem to work more effectively. The central government is telling the people to wait a little longer, and they promised to provide some rations in July. We don’t completely believe them, but they might give us some priority since our factory is special,” he said hopefully.


Few Squids to Catch This Summer
There has not been such a hard year as this year for fishermen in the East Coast. They should be happy with their fishing work at this time of the year, which is a time for catching squids, but they can hardly find any to catch. Moreover, as access to the sea became stricter, it gets even more difficult for them to operate fishing.

Mr. Go Chang-hyuk (alias) from Yeonjin-dong, Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province is an owner of two ships. He has been going fishing with 6 to 8 fishermen per one ship for the last several years. It is an extremely dangerous work, which is even quoted as “carrying the bottom lining board of a coffin on the back”, thus it is rare to find older people to go out for sailing. Ship owners let reliable fishermen sail out at around 2 pm, and they return at 9 am next day after fighting against the sea for approximately 20 hours. It is of certain the fishermen go exhausted after the squid fishing without sleeping. The owner and the laborers divide the squids by a ratio of 7 to 3 in general, but Mr. Ko treats them by 6 to 4 since they have been working together for more than 7 to 8 years. Among 10 squids they catch the ship owner has 6, and that was considered a proper amount.

Mr. Ko raised his share from 6/10 to 7/10 this year, and the fishermen accepted it without complaints. They know this year is the worst of the worst, and in fact, they would have to accept it even if they do not receive any share at all. They need to go further into the sea as they are not able to find any squid in the near sea, increasing the fuel cost to an unbearable amount. The entry to the sea is monitored strictly, and the cost of bribe is also on the rise. They need permission from police and security office, city and the armed force party for admission to the sea, and it is more than a couple governmental offices to go through. Mr. Ko already gave almost 100,000 won to officials including coast guards. He or his fishermen can be nitpicked at any time, and he will have to pay additional bribes. Mr. Ko is enduring all these difficulties since squid catching can be done only in summer and if the summer passes, they can fall into hunger throughout the year. Mr. Ko is considered as a bold guy, but he is disheartened these days to see fewer than 10 squids caught a day. When asked the reason of the situation, he said that the sea temperature is too low. Squids live in warm water at around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), but the water is abnormally cold this year so it became extremely difficult to find them. They are in a dilemma because if they travel further to search for the squid, it costs them more fuel.


Tyranny of Coastguard Adds to Difficulties Corrupt coastguard units are worsening the already difficult situation for many fishermen. “It will be difficult for owners of fishing boats to earn money if this severe crack-down continues this year,” said Kim Cheolnam (Alias), who has been fishing squid in Yeonjin-dong, Chungjin, for 15 years. Security agents investigate the identity of fishermen as part of their normal routine. They have been prohibiting siblings and other relatives from getting on board together in an effort to prevent fishermen from fleeing to South Korea. However, for the fishermen, this is the best case scenario. Sometimes the security agents allow fishing boats to go out to the sea and then, after they have returned, conduct a search of the boat and confiscate all the squids the fishermen have caught for the entire night. The fishermen suffer from disadvantages when their passes are not clearly presented. Some time ago, one of Mr. Kim's colleagues had a similar experience. “It is understandable that he would go crazy when the soldiers took all he had caught with less than one hour of sleep. He picked a fight with the soldiers and was beaten up so bad he is now in a hospital bed. The soldiers are said to be those of the Great General. However, what they are doing is no better than daylight robbery. This whole mess is a tragedy for his family because they completely depend on him. Would he say he felt like committing suicide if it weren’t that bad?” said Mr. Kim.

Coastguard officers also make outrageous efforts to steal what they can during the squid catching season. “It is better that they are taking squids, because it would be much worse if they deprived a fisherman of his boat. If fishermen catch enough squids, they can give some to the coastguard as a bribe. However, squids are difficult to catch these days. The fishermen do not have what it takes to bribe the authorities. Therefore, the fishermen lose their boats when they rub the soldiers wrong way,” said Cha Myeongcheol (alias). Fishermen fill up the fuel and replace the parts and fishing equipment on credit. When they lose their boat, they find themselves in a sea of debt.

Lee Sunghak (alias), who lives in Bangjin-dong, Chungam District, has been harvesting squids since May. He says that he has been unable to catch anything and, recently, has been caught in crackdowns more frequently. He has been working in the fishing industry for the last six years, and this year is the worst in terms of harvesting squids. He says that this year’s crackdown has been the most severe. “I was waiting for the squid harvesting season after I ran out of food to eat. However, I haven't been able to find any squid since the season has started. At the same time, the coastguard is becoming more vicious. The soldiers take what they please through a variety of pretexts. Not only boat owners, but also employed workers are complaining that they have no sources or means to get food and their life has become very difficult,” said Mr. Lee.


[Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (2)
Editor’s Note:
The D-day is April 15, 2012. Less than a year left. Can North Korea really open the grand door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? More than any others, those responsible for it must be extremely anxious under the scrutiny of North Korea watchers. They soon have to come up with something tangible that signals the opening of the Strong and Prosperous Nation to their domestic and international audience. We have asked North Korean officials what are the conditions for the Strong and prosperous Nation. They mentioned three things in common: food, electricity, and the completion of the 100,000 housing construction in Pyongyang. These are the conditions directly linked to livelihoods and economic development. In principle, the Strong and Prosperous Nation is another name of a rich and solid nation based on the security of the current regime. We are launching a series of three editorials that examine the direction for the Strong and Prosperous Nation the North Korean leadership has set.

We have recently observed a very busy movement of the North’s leadership. It seems that a series of new policies are announced after many rounds of meetings. One can detect some sense of solemn determination in the new orders, but the reactions of the hands-on officers are not really enthusiastic. It might be that it is difficult to complete all the assignments only with the strong ‘protect the Great Leader with death’ spirit. The reign of terror has limitations. What kind of leadership will the North government take to open the door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? Here, we try to analyze the challenges they are facing through their views. When understanding their contradictions and limitations clearly, we can better figure out our roles for unification.
1. We must solve the food problem.
2. Make every effort to supply electricity.
3. Dream of building 100,000 housing in Pyongyang.

Make Every Effort to Supply Electricity
The electric power shortage is another urgent issue as the food shortage. As the food shortage directly affects people, the power shortage directly affects the economic development because electricity is the basic element of production. That is why the government is fully supporting the construction of Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province. The Central Party emphasized the importance of electric power at the meeting of the Party and the government officials last June: “Until when do we have to rely on food and consumer goods imported from China? We need to make our own goods without being dependent on Chinese and other foreign resources. We need to complete the construction of Heecheon Power Plant and then construct three more hydropower plants of the same size of the plant. Only then can we meet the demand for electricity without any problem. Once we get there, we can open the door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012.” Following the meeting, an order was issued instructing to focus on the completion of Heecheon Power Plant construction. It stated to give a full support to the construction of the plant with needed materials and food for the workers.

Reality check: The second phase of Heechon Power Plant construction stalled
Then, what is the progress on the Heecheon Power Plant construction, a dream project of the North Korean government? The first phase of the construction is completed, and the second phase is stalled due to lack of funds. The government ordered each unit to contribute, but all the units feel it too much burdensome after paying their duties for the first phase of construction. Except for the Trade Department or the Security Department, all organizations and business units cannot afford any more duties. Finally, the government ordered the Heecheon Power Plant construction unit to raise funds on its own. While hardly any progress has been made in the fund-raising, the exterior construction is roughly finished, waiting for the equipment for the second phase construction. Nobody knows how long it would take to resume the construction.

“Didn’t they say they built hundreds of hydropower plants?”
Residents cannot really understand why they still have to suffer from power shortages. “There are supposed to be hundreds of hydropower plants recently built every corner of the nation. Why are we still suffering from power shortages?” They question where all the money went collected for the construction of so many small and medium sized power plants as well as the largest Heecheon Power Plant. Even when some of the power plants are completed, they supply power only to several special factories and armament factory complexes. The electricity produced from those plants is not enough to supply for agricultural purposes. Despite the reiterated emphasis on agriculture, all they can do is to re-channel the electric power supply from households to operate the water pumps in the field. Even that is not enough most times, and the water pumps are often left idle due to the lack of power. Farmers have to see their rice seedlings drying up without irrigated water. For residents whose scarce 2-3 hour-a-day electric power supply is taken away for agriculture, the saying “holidays are the days when you get the electric power in your house” certainly resonates with them. “When they collected non-tax duties for the construction of those power plants, they made a lot of empty promises that they would supply electric power right after the completion of the power plants. In reality, we are getting nothing. They just deceive us to take our hard earned money from us. I doubt if there is any country in the world that suffers from the power shortage as much as my country.” Is the North Korean government listening to the sigh of its people?


Electric power shortage undermines the prospects of attracting Chinese investment
The power shortage is one of the major hurdles in attracting investment from Chinese corporations. There is no power to operate factories, and the railways are too slow to accommodate large scale business transportation. That pushes away Chinese businessmen who visit North Korea in search of business opportunities. The poor infrastructure and frequent power shortages in North Korea are not unknown to them, but when it comes to investing their own money, they realize the overwhelming scale of problems. That is why they usually end up focusing on importing anthracite coal and iron ore from North Korea at the border areas.

An ethnic Korean Chinese running a trade company in Tumen in China expressed his frustration with the railway system in North Korea. “I got on the train in Pyongyang, and it took three days to get to Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province. We were stuck in a rural train station in nowhere for about 20 hours. I had no idea that the power shortage in North Korea was that serious. As soon as the train moved, it stopped again. It repeated moving and stopping so many times that people said a bicycle would get us faster to our destination. I heard people saying the railway condition is better between Sinuiju and Pyongyang, but it was awful in that part. Poor North Korean passengers ran out of food and had to starve. Half of them looked mindless, maybe because they were extremely hungry. This is the situation of passenger cars, and I doubt wagons are any different. Through this experience, I realized the situation of North Korea really went backward to the time of the Arduous March,” he reported. Usually the travel on the railway between Sariwon and Rajin-Sunbong takes about 27 hours, but these days it takes 56 hours or up to 4-5 days due to the power shortage. The humidity and high temperature of summer add more troubles in preparing food on the way. Some people with money carry the cooking equipment so that they can make a fire to cook rice whenever the train stops. Others with no money just have to starve.

Railways are the arteries of the national economy. Upon realizing such poor conditions of the railway system in North Korea, Chinese trade companies in need of large scale transportation and speed cannot make a decision for full investment. However, the story is different if the Chinese government gets involved. In December 2010, the Chinese government decided to invest a record scale of 2 billion dollars in Ra-Sun Special Economic Zone. Sang-ji Gwan-gun Investment Company (Shangdi Guanquan Investment Company) of China signed a memorandum of understanding with Choseon Investment Development Association of North Korea for 10 items of investment. The agreement is that the Chinese company will build roads, a petroleum refinery, an iron mill, and a thermal power plant to North Korea in return for the rights to mine mineral resources. In Jilin Province of China, two hydropower plants with a capacity of 314 Giga Watt per year is being built in the upper middle part of the Yalu River at Mangganglu and Munak in an agreement between China and North Korea to use them together. The inclusion of power plants construction in the investment agreements with China will ease North Korea’s energy shortage a little, but the grand year of opening the Strong and Prosperous Nation is just around the corner. The diagnosis is right that “the bright lights powered by electricity will signal the opening of the Strong and Prosperous Nation to people who live in a complete darkness at night. The key is to solve the power and food shortages at the same time.” However, it does not seem to be easy to materialize their vision. In the end, is showing the completion ceremony of Heecheon Power Plant the only way to prove their success? Supplying electric power smoothly seems to come only after that.

North Korea Today No. 411, July 13, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Editor’s Note] Soldiers Are Also Human Beings like Us: If They Do Not Eat, They Die, Too.
Potatoes Stolen by Soldiers, Residents Frustrated
When Will Be the End of “Grass Meal Battle” for the Soldiers?
Hunger Main Cause of Ongoing Boot Camp Desertions
Potato Harvest Eases the Hunger
[Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (1)
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[Editor’s Note] Soldiers Are Also Human Beings like Us: If They Do Not Eat, They Die, Too.
It may sound a little dramatic, but the title suggests the undeniable reality that North Korean soldiers face in despair. It has become no news that, due to the severe shortage of the army provisions, soldiers rob farming families. Surviving from famine is becoming a real battle that ordinary soldiers and army officers have to go through every day, with the exception of armed guards and special military forces. In the spring, they battled it out by eating mixed grains with grass. In the summer time like now, they live on potato (5-6 tiny potatoes per meal).

When soldiers suffer from hunger, it is the famers and civilians who have to tolerate the consequences. Even though the government emphasizes the importance of a good relationship between civilians and soldiers, people in the army uniform have become a threat and enemy to the ordinary people. It is a sad reality that parents send off their loving children to the army and later find out that their proud sons turn into robbers stealing food from civilians (sometimes from their own neighbors) instead of protecting them.

Soldiers are also human beings that need to eat to live. It is a simple truth as it is. However, when it comes to the political arena in South Korea, it becomes a sensitive and controversial subject. But if humanism is truly believed and practiced in a society, “any hungry people need to be fed first no matter who they are.” Put aside the ideological differences and save the suffering people first.

This edition and the forthcoming two more editions will focus on the direction that the North Korean authorities have set forth to become the Strong and Prosperous Nation. We hope you find interest in this subject and get to learn more about it; especially what the conditions that North Korean authorities enforce are to become the Strong and Prosperous Nation.


Potatoes Stolen by Soldiers, Residents Frustrated
The season has finally come that people could harvest and eat potatoes. It is the time that cheers people who have survived only on grassroots. The season, however, returned with worry since the amount of potato produced this year was much less than expected. The food shortage in the early spring was so extreme that potatoes were not only cropped soon after they were planted but also stolen by soldiers. Such damage was especially severe in Uiju County, North Pyongan Province because the number of soldiers exceeds that of civilians in this area. The farms were dotted everywhere with traces that soldiers left digging out the ground to steal potatoes. To save crops from soldiers, some farms even harvested premature potatoes ahead of time.

The situation in small-plot farming was very much similar. Jang Jeonghwa (pseudonym) who lived in Sujin-ri, Uiju County grieved over her tough luck, “I farmed 150 pyong (0.1215 acre) land for potatoes like the apple of my eye only to get stolen by soldiers. I had to survive on the potatoes until corns ripe, but now I don’t know what I will do to support myself.” Soldiers also harvested potatoes in their own side-working fields. However, the amount of the potato yields is not as much as satisfactory.

In the extreme cases where soldiers suffer from malnutrition and have difficulty with military life, they are sent to their homes. The soldiers who have some energy to move around are the ones that steal potatoes from farms nearby. North Korean people are now waiting for barley to be fully ripe, but until the end of June, potatoes are what they rely on.


When Will Be the End of “Grass Meal Battle” for the Soldiers?
The soldiers who have been “battling” to supplement their meager meals have recently seen a small change, thanks to the early-crop potato. In the military base of the 5th Army Corps in Pyunggang County, Gangwon Province, the soldiers have eaten grass-meal all spring. The soldiers were sometimes given steamed cornmeal, but most days they ate grass-meal. Gathering seasonal sprouts in the mountains was also an important daily chore of the malnourished soldiers. “How can they expect us to fight when they only give us grass to eat? Although we may be prepared to fight to death and carry out suicide bombing missions, we still need food to have the energy to do so. If we were to go to war right now in this fragile state we wouldn’t even be able to mobilize.” These remarks are not exaggerated. This spring, in the military base of the 2nd Army Corps made the corn meals last longer by mixing in seasonal sprouts. The meals consisted of mostly grass with a little bit of corn meal mixed in. The 700g of daily ration per individual has been reduced to 300-400g, which is around the same amount as last year, but the meals have become more deficient. However, some naïve soldiers are optimistic that things will get better as the corn begins to ripen.

Lee Gook-cheol (pseudonym), a soldier who is in his 6th year of service in Pyung-gang, Gangwon Province says, “I thought I was going to starve to death last winter. In the middle of winter, the mountains were covered in snow, so we couldn’t find any seasonal sprouts or grass roots. We were saved from the brink of starvation when we got our food rations after the holidays. At least in the spring, the grass begins to grow and we can dig up seasonal sprouts, so we can fill up on grass meals. Things are even better now because we can mix in potatoes with the crushed corn in the grass-meal.” When asked whether the grass-meal “battle” would soon be over, Lee shakes his head. “We have survived eating food stolen from farms. However, the amount of harvest is very small and the potato crop is very poor this year. There is not much to steal from farmers, so the grass-meal battle is unlikely to end any time soon.”


Hunger Main Cause of Ongoing Boot Camp Desertions
The ration situation at the 4.25 training facility in Seoheung County, North Hwanghae Province, is not much different. When new recruits first enter the military most of them are 18-19 years old. The body size of the recruits is growing smaller considering that those 160 centimeters high fall into the high end. Since winter recruits have been eating grass porridge using grass roots and vegetables they have picked in the mountains. At a time in their lives where they need to eat a lot in order to grow, there are a rising number of cases where recruits have been unable to overcome their hunger and have fled back home. The authorities at boot camps for new recruits are putting greater emphasis on propaganda campaigns calling for recruits to ‘overcome and endure all difficulties (due to the food shortage).’

Deserters are given leeway if they decide to return to their base, but authorities have warned that those who decide not to return will face strict punishment; for example, being sent to the infamous coal mines. These threats, however, are paid little heed by the starving young recruits. There are some recruits who say that no matter what they do after they leave the army they may be sent to the mines or farms so it is best to run away now. There is little awaiting them once they desert, but many of them just want out.

Once they have made the decision to run, many deserters obtain their meals by invading farms they pass along the way. This, however, has led to unfortunate cases of robbery and murder. The middle of last June saw an incident where a deserter passing through Pyongsan-eup, Pyongsan County, North Hwanghae Province, scrounging for food at a farm. The owners of the farm were killed when they tried to stop him. In the end, their death was all because of a couple of potatoes.

While the issue of rising desertions is a problem in military boot camps, the issue of soldiers committing acts of robbery as seen in the aforementioned case is an even bigger issue. “(The recruits) cause such trouble with the local populations that if a person wearing a military uniform is seen loitering around the entrance of a village, the residents of that village immediately tell everyone around them to be on alert. They form groups that rotate to watch over the suspicious person.” Bearing the brunt of suspicion, however, soldiers are not silent. “What is the use of giving my life for this country? Soldiers are easy prey to disease because they can’t keep up their health and cursed with spending the rest of their life miserably. The really smart ones are those who steal to make sure they keep up their health.”

Troops of the howitzer regiment stationed at the 4.25 training camp at Bongsan County, North Hwanghae Province, have recently begun harvesting potatoes to use at mealtime. Early this year, the commander of the outfit ordered all units under his command to ‘plant a lot of food including potatoes as a part time job’. This essentially meant that each unit was told to solve their food problems by themselves. Troops are provided potatoes at mealtime, but the amount they are given is small. The corn meal they are provided for breakfast is usually less than 120 grams and mealtime potatoes usually number from five to six. This has of course led to complaints among the troops.

Some soldiers have said that their hunger prevents them from going to sleep so they commonly form into groups with other soldiers and head to nearby farms or private farming plots to steal food. Occasionally reports of robbery are reported by civilians or farmers, but the military only pays attention when there are cases where people have been hurt or the situation has become severe.

Park Myeongho (alias) weighed 60 kg when he first entered the military last year, but now his body weight has plummeted down to 40 kg. During this last spring, the military sent home around 20 soldiers who were suffering from severe malnutrition like Park. Unable to provide adequate medical care for such cases, the military simply sends them home before they die. The reaction of parents who see their sons come back from the military on the verge of death is no doubt disbelief. “I offered the son I bathed and fed since he was child as a gift to the state and this is what they do to him. I won’t be sending him (and my other sons) to the military again,” says Park’s mother.

One officer at the howitzer regiment related the following: “I understand what the parents are going through. There are officers whose families are unable to receive rations so they are living apart from each other. My wife is living (off) with her parents. Food rations are only provided by the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces to the officers themselves, which forces their families to farm their own food. Some women newlywed to officers are now asking for a divorce (since the food situation has become so bad). Considering what the officers are going through, I have little doubt that the situation is worse for new and low-ranking infantrymen. Summer training starts in July, but because of the food situation I doubt anybody will have the energy to handle the howitzers. I really don't know if we will be able to do training properly this year.”


Potato Harvest Eases the Hunger
The residents of North Hamgyong Province were disappointed at the dismal amount of potato harvest, but were relieved to be able to ease their hunger. They welcomed the potato harvest especially after sustaining on wild greens and vegetable roots since March. Many farms have been depleted of their food supply because their share of the ration was so small. "My family and I have been living on grass porridge since March. Now we have potatoes we have dug up from our garden to eat, which is better," said Park Kuemhwa, a worker at a vegetable farm in Chungam District of North Hamgyong Province. Unlike city residents, farmers have farming as their only means of survival. Their harvest was diminished by the flood last summer, and they could not stock up food for the summer due to the unexpected collection of army provisions early this year. So they are barely sustaining themselves with grass porridge and potatoes. The farmers who had no choice but to diligently report for work during farming mobilization are beginning to be absent one by one. The farm officials are threatening that they will take account of the work points strictly for the fall distribution, but the farmers don't seem to care. This attitude stems from the notion that they will be better off farming privately than to count on food distribution. "We don't care if they say they will give us a gold mountain in the fall; we cannot stay idle or we will starve to death. What we need to do to survive is farming privately," said the farmers.

At the beginning of this year, Chungjin City Party apportioned a farming side-working field to public enterprises, which was prorated based on a number of laborers at each facility, and exhorted them to farm potatoes. Excluding special public enterprises like Gimchaek Still Mill, most public enterprises welcomed it. However, due to the shortage of budget, each enterprise collected money from their laborers to buy farming supplies such as seeds and fertilizers. Chungjin Bus Enterprise collected 2,000 won for seeds and 3,000 won for fertilizer from each worker. Factory workers farmed really hard, but in harvest they were given only 10 kilograms of potatoes per person. “The money that I paid for seeds and fertilizer, plus lunch that I brought every day, is as much as I could purchase one month ration of potatoes in the market. I’d better not do it next year unless we get better crop,” said workers. With the farming field in poor condition and the lack of farming supplies, it was inevitable to have poor harvest.

Initially, farm officials were discontented with the apportionment of farm land to public enterprises as there was not enough farm land to apportion even among them. Knowing this, public enterprises could not ask for farm land in a better condition. Although laborers were disappointed at the poor yield, the new crop of potatoes released in market is alleviating their hardship with food. Meanwhile, public enterprises have been preparing to plant cabbage and radish in farming land after potato harvest completes. They usually start planting them around July 20th each year.

Even Eunryul County in South Hwanghae Province, which is the granary area, is not an exception when it comes to food crisis. Starving local residents lived off on a grass root soup for the past four months and barely farmed during the spring lean season. Now they are happy that at least they have newly harvested potatoes. Kim, Young-hee (Alias), a resident in Eunryul-eup, said, “The new crop of potatoes helps a lot like a rain during a drought.” Factory workers are also relieved a bit after receiving 7 to 20 days worth of potato ration. In April, Eunryul County Party apportioned a farm land to factories and public enterprises and ordered them to farm potatoes. Some of them, where they managed to purvey fertilizers well, were able to provide 20 days worth of potato ration. However, majority of the factories and enterprises were not that successful. Eunryul County Urban Construction Enterprise, for example, could not give out any potato at all. An officer of County Party said, “The newly harvested potatoes help a lot. If we bear a bit longer, we will have barley harvest at the beginning of July. It will help reduce death starvation. Eunryul County residents are now surviving on potatoes mixed with wild grass.”


[Special Series] Conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation, 2012 (1)
Editor’s Note:
The D-day is April 15, 2012. Less than a year left. Can North Korea really open the grand door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? More than any others, those responsible for it must be extremely anxious under the scrutiny of North Korea watchers. They soon have to come up with something tangible that signals the opening of the Strong and Prosperous Nation to their domestic and international audience. We have asked North Korean officials what the conditions for the Strong and Prosperous Nation are. They mentioned three things in common: food, electricity, and the completion of the 100,000 housing construction in Pyongyang. These are the conditions directly linked to livelihoods and economic development. In principle, the Strong and Prosperous Nation is another name of a rich and solid nation based on the security of the current regime. We are launching a series of three editorials that examine the direction for the Strong and Prosperous Nation the North Korean leadership has set.

We have recently observed a very busy movement of the North’s leadership. It seems that a series of new policies are announced after many rounds of meetings. One can detect some sense of solemn determination in the new orders, but the reactions of the hands-on officers are not really enthusiastic. It might be that it is difficult to complete all the assignments only with the strong ‘protect the Great Leader with death’ spirit. The reign of terror has limitations. What kind of leadership will the North government take to open the door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation? Here, we try to analyze the challenges they are facing from their perspectives. When understanding their contradictions and limitations clearly, we can better figure out our roles for unification.

1. We must solve the food problem.
2. Do every effort to supply electricity.
3. Dream of building 100,000 housing in Pyongyang.

We must solve the food problem.
“By next year, we must solve the food problem.” It is, again, the food. On April 15 next year, the North government is supposed to distribute food from huge grain storages full of rice. However, it is quite unlikely that this will actually happen; especially when less than a year is left ahead. There is the chronic lack of fertilizer and farming equipment, and the climate did not help either with the severe cold weather last winter, the draught of early summer, and the following rainstorms. How about human resources? Many residents, already suffering from the harsh hunger of the spring lean season, are collapsing due to malnutrition while working in farms. There are continuous hurdles on the way to the Strong and Prosperous Nation. Are there any solutions to the food problem?

How much food received from China? “Don’t ask. It’s complicated.”
Aiming the North’s recent busy movement with China, we have asked the Central Party officials how much food the North got from China after Kim Jong-il’s visit to China. Their immediate reaction was: “Don’t ask. It’s complicated.” Those who roughly estimated said it seemed less than 100,000 tons. Some said 50,000 tons were received, and others said 70,000-90,000 tons. All in all, they all agreed that it could not be more than 100,000 tons. This amount of food barely can feed Pyongyang citizens only. That food is now almost depleted, and the lack of food in Pyongyang is the most urgent emergency. The dream of the economic cooperation with China is grand, but the way towards it seems very long.

Overseas representative offices, the last resort?
Are overseas representative offices the only last resort? After consecutive meetings of the core officials of the Party and the government, the Central Party issued orders to all overseas representative offices with food assignment. Overseas representative offices, on the other hand, are in a complete shock by the size of the assignment. “Are they telling us to go to hell?,” some reacted vehemently. Others questioned the incoherent policies.

One official at an overseas representative office said this was so much out of the blue. The winter assignment for military food provisions was so hard to accomplish, and he had to give up at a certain point. And now, the amount of food assignment issued this time is not even comparable to the last assignment. It seems at least 40 times the last assignment, he said. When asked how much the assignment would be, he said, “it is not officially delivered yet, but each representative office must bring 5,000 tons.” “5,000 tons, not even 50 tons! I could not believe my ears and had to ask again”, he continued, saying that this was confirmed information although the official notice had not arrived yet. There are so many kinds of assignment to each official on top of all the work for the office itself, and how on earth one can draw that much money for food purchase, he sighed, saying that this is a mission impossible.

Some officials of overseas representative offices are reacting fiercely. Amidst of the rumor of the recent purge of trade department officials, some suspect this might be a part of conspiracy to fire all the hands-on officials of overseas representative offices. They are used to receiving orders to buy food every year during the spring hardship period. This year, however, since there have been no more orders since February, some overseas officials thought the food situation in North Korea was getting better only to be shocked now. Some say let’s wait and see because there has not been any official announcement from the government yet. They try to ease their anxiety in a disbelief that the government would not give such an outrageous amount of assignment the officials cannot fulfill.

Officials in the domestic departments express their frustration at the belated order of food assignments. “The government has been ignoring all the reports on the dire food situation. After series of reports of hunger deaths, only now are they issuing orders for food purchase. I don’t understand what they have been doing until now and making all this fuss. We might all die before reaching the door of the Strong and Prosperous Nation.” Those within the nation are naively expecting some solution from the officials overseas, and those abroad are vehemently resisting that this is an outrageous order.

Contacting international aid agencies getting easier?
On the other hand, there are movements to expand the amount of aid received from international aid agencies. In the past, some aid agencies upholding the principal of local distribution on the spot would take photos or make records on video tapes. After they left, the officials in charge of those projects used to get punished for that. As this kind of cases were repeated, contacting foreign aid agencies was regarded dangerous and risky, and the number of requests for food aid to foreign aid agencies decreased. There are people who would like to contact foreign aid agencies in secret but less people would deal with them officially. However, only when the security of the officers in charge is guaranteed can the contacts with foreign agencies and the possibility of getting aids increase. It seems that the new policy will take this into account. An official of the Central Party said there would be a division of work in the future: it is likely that the Ministry of National Security will investigate the officials who contact foreign aid agencies, and the Ministry of People’s Safety will monitor the overall aid process. Some say there will be new policies that incorporate the requests of foreign aid agencies. They cautiously interpret this might be a ground work for requesting foreign aids in a full scale in the near future.

Investing in agriculture is the only solution
It seems the Central Party is trying to find a fundamental solution for the food problem, while requesting foreign aids and urging overseas representative offices to import food for next year. The Party’s diagnose and conclusion is: “We have been suffering from food deficiency every year because of our mountainous geography, outdated technology, lack of fertilizer, and limited amount of arable land. Without a continuous flow of food aid from foreign countries, we are bound to suffer in the future as well. In the long run, we must invest in agriculture and resolve the food problem. We must first innovate agricultural technology, invest in equipment and facilities, and improve seeds and fertilizer. The key is electricity in agriculture as well. If we can modernize agriculture and solve the electricity problems, we can solve the problems of agriculture.” This means that they will focus on food import from overseas in the short term and investment in agriculture in the long term to resolve the food problem. The question here is practicality. Who can attract investment in agriculture and how is the key.

North Korea Today No. 410, July 6, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Editor’s Note] South Korea, Please Give Some Fertilizer!
Obtaining Fertilizer is a Trouble
“I Miss Those Days When We Received the South Korean Fertilizer.”
“Small-plot Farming is the Only Way to Survive.”
(Collective) Farm is not a Priority to Farmers, Either
Wonsan Residents Cheer about the Five Days-Worth of Food Ration
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[Editor’s Note] South Korea, Please Give Some Fertilizer!
Many people in North Korea today are missing 3 years ago when the price of fertilizer was not as high as now. It may fairly be said that all people in North Korea from officials to soldiers, except only for the upper class in Pyongyang, manage to eke out a living through farming small land patches. The 300,000 tons of fertilizer that South Korea used to aid North Korea with every year had been of great help managing not only government-owned farm lands but also those of normal people. A portion of the fertilizer that was sent to government-owned farms was leaked to the market and was available to individual farmers. When South Korean government discontinued the fertilizer support in 2008, it was North Korean people who had a critical blow instead of the government. This is why the residents today say "3 years ago was the good times."

Although fertilizers need to be provided in March in order for the crops to be harvested at right time, it is not yet late if we support them now. If South Korean government is in a difficult situation to provide fertilizers, NGOs could always take part in playing the role. It was South Korean government that had said “Fertilizers are safe to be provided since it is less likely to be used for military purposes.” Fertilizer aid will be a great support to people in North Korea who are suffering from hunger.

Obtaining Fertilizer is a Trouble
As the ‘war on weeding’ has started nationwide, every farm has been troubled with obtaining fertilizers. The Collective Farm in Bangjin-ri, Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province did receive the fertilizers from Heungnam Fertilizer Factory in the middle of last May, but the farm is stumped because the fertilizers are far from enough. On the other hand, Hoeryong City stated that they will provide different amount to each farm because they cannot distribute enough amount of fertilizers to every farm; in other words, the amount of fertilizers will be different based on the size of the farm and the harvest outcome of last year. Changtae-ri and Ingye-ri will receive the distribution first, and Poongsan-ri, Oryu-ri and Hongsan-ri which are located in the mountains will be placed on the back burner. It is because regions such as Poongsan-ri cannot produce large amount of yields regardless of how much fertilizer is given. The farmers have at least tried to apply Heukbosan fertilizers that are made of human feces, but they are mostly skeptical about it. One may only be told off, “Heukbosan fertilizer is not a fertilizer. It is a fruitless effort because it does not work like a fertilizer even if you pour down several buckets of it.” The city party is providing a liquid fertilizer that is produced within its jurisdiction, but it is not a solution, either. The farms that used the liquid fertilizer last year have generally evaluated that it did not help much. National Border Areas such as Saebyul, Onsung, Eunduk, and Musan are at least putting their hope on China. They hope that the chemical fertilizers made in China that are imported by strong institutions would come out in the market.

A farm officer in Poongsan-ri of Hoeryong City uttered a deep sigh, “Every year, a plan for grain production is proudly presented in the Farming Management Commission and the plenary meeting of City Party, but it is all useless if they provide just a little fertilizer. How can they boast of making a strong and prosperous nation in this condition?” They cannot help worrying about it because Poongsan-ri is the worst place to grow crops in the city and they receive just a small amount of fertilizers as they have not completed the grain plan so far. The chief engineers of the farm take charge of the fertilizers distributed from the city party and provide them to each work unit, but this is also tainted by corruption. The managers are frequently siphoning off the fertilizers and hand them over to the people who are engaged in the small land patch farming. Incidents are occurring one by one this year as well where an officer is caught and discharged while siphoning off the fertilizers. No matter how hard the police officers keep a close watch on it with their eyes wide open from the train station where the fertilizers are delivered to the respective farms, it is of no use. Rather, the police officers are the ones who intervene and siphon them off in many cases.

“I Miss Those Days When We Received the South Korean Fertilizer.”
One official of Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province still remembers the fertilizer which South Korea had sent to them. The official recalled that the farmers were very satisfied with the high quality fertilizer. No matter how poor a harvest they had gathered, even during natural disasters, the crop was much better than the past three years without the South Korean fertilizer. The official added, “We miss that time. The fertilizer went around to each and every one of (government-owned) farms and even the small patch farmers also used the South Korean fertilizer. I guess that’s how the small patch farms had better crops than the (government-owned) farms.”

Gang, Hwasung (alias) who has done small land patch farming for 17 years said, “3 years ago, I could easily get fertilizer since there was the supply coming from South Korea. Now I’m battling to get fertilizer. I’ve used human manure for 2 years now because I couldn’t get any fertilizer, and the crop was too small last year. Farming is about laborious work, watering often and lot of care from sowing to the harvesting. Using the chemical fertilizer one time makes a lot more difference to the farming than using human manure several times. 1 Kg of chemical fertilizer alone will make me so happy right now.”


“Small-plot Farming is the Only Way to Survive.”
This year, the number of absentee workers has gone up at Hoeryong City Mining Machine Factory. Most of them did not come to work because they had to work on their small patch farm. They said they have decided to skip work to avoid being dragged into numerous mobilizations such as farm mobilization which made them unable to attend to their small patch farms. Most of this type of people even build a make-shift hut using vinyl and live there. As many as 8 workers have been arrested for avoiding work while living in such make-shift hut for the past two months from May to June. They protested by saying, “Instead of sitting and waiting for death by starvation we just tried to survive by doing something. Why is that a crime? Give us food, then we will go to work every day and join the farm mobilization.” However, they all received the punishment of being sent to the municipal discipline center.

At every enterprise it was announced that those who fail to show up at work without permission will be given the punishment of two months at the discipline center without exceptions. Everyone knows that such threat is just empty words. This is because small-plot farming is the most popular way to make living in addition to trading. People reluctantly participate in farm mobilization because they can be criticized if they spend all their time at their small patch farm and in some unlucky cases may even receive punishment at the discipline center, but their mind is somewhere else. They always try to find ways to finish the farm mobilization work as quickly as possible and rush to their own patch farm. The majority of people claim that, “It will be good if we are allowed to have our own farm. How can we be productive at the collective farm in a situation where we can’t even work in our own farm?” They are also being very critical about the officials as well. Kim, Myung-ae (alias) who lives in Soobuk-dong pointed out that “Those who have the easiest lives are the officials in our country. Even though the ordinary people have tough lives working hard at the field the officials do their own private farming by having their subordinates to work on their farm.”

Kim, Gie-chul (alias) who has worked at the mining machine factory for more than 30 years got into a big trouble recently. Although he has been a model worker loyal to the Party, for the first time he skipped work without permission and went to work at his small patch farm. He has never been absent from work for the past 33 years, but this time he did not show up at work for 40 days. He was beaten severely by the security officers. Fortunately he was able to avoid being sent to the discipline center because he has never been absent from work before. Mr. Kim showed his strong will about small-plot farming by saying, “All my family members will starve to death if we cannot work on the patch farm. I will return to the patch farm even if they beat me to death.”

(Collective) Farm is not a Priority to Farmers, Either
Farmers devote themselves to small patch farming as well. Farmers get up at 3:00 A.M., work at their own farm from 4:00 A.M. to 7:00 A.M. and then go to the (collective) farm to work. They sporadically work at their own farm even during lunch hours from noon to 2:00 P.M. While factory workers and members of Democratic Women Union can at least take part in doing business, for the farmers, farming is the only source of income because doing business is not easy for them.

Kim, Jangbok (alias) said, “Who would work eagerly at the (collective) farm when you receive a share of only 5-6 months worth of food after working their fingers to the bone a whole year?” They harvest more crops from their own farm than the (collective) farm even without enough fertilizer. “What I farmed becomes mine.” This is Kim’s theory. If all family members put as much energy as possible into the small patch farming, the family gets the rewards commensurate with their work. The family members, including his son and daughter-in-law work at their small patch farm by taking turns because it is the busiest farming season. They take days off in turn according to the situation in order to work at their own farm or sometimes secretly go there even during working hours. However, they go to their farm openly after 4:00 P.M. While people who are mobilized [to help the farming] in rural areas go to the market one by one with their things for sale, farmers go up to the mountain to take care of their farms, applying Heukbosan fertilizer one more time.

Wonsan Residents Cheer about the Five Days-Worth of Food Ration
In mid June, Wonsan City of Gangwon Province received cheers after distributing five days worth of food to the members of the Democratic Women’s Union and laborers who were mobilized for farm work. “It’s like rain during a drought” was the general response of the recipients who said that business was extremely slow in the marketplace. “It may not be much, but the fact that I can have a meal brought a happy smile to my face,” said Choi Myung-Ok (pseudonym). “It feels so good to be able to eat today even though I may starve tomorrow. See how happy the people are after receiving five days worth of food rations. Think how happy they would be if food rationing was normalized” said a farm worker with a bitter smile.

During the farming season people mobilized to work at the farms are given only a bowl of porridge for breakfast, and it’s no wonder that they become light-headed and collapse while they are working. The workload is heavy, but their stomachs are empty so it is hard to muster enough energy to work. So everyone idles away time, working half-heartedly. According to Han Myung-Sun (pseudonym), “The workload during the farming season is unbearable. They act so generous giving us meager amounts to eat and worked us to death. I wanted to tell them not to give us food and let us go to the market to sell our wares instead.” However, the fact that food is provided once a week makes the situation better than last year. People are told that it is three to four days worth of food, but actually it lasts less than two days. Because there are so many levels of officials who appropriate shares of the rationed food, the amount that is given to the lowest ranked citizens is drastically reduced. However, despite the meager amounts of food people are given, it still helps them alleviate some of their hunger. The residents who have finished the ‘war on rice seedling planting’ now are put into the ‘war on weeding’.

North Korea Today No.409, June 29,2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Editor’s Note] Nostalgia – No Exception for North Korean Defectors
DPRK Government on Edge Following Defection of Family
Innocent Citizens Oppressed by the Enforcement on North Korean Defectors
“Illegal Border Crossers will be Considered as Traitors.”
“Throw out your Illusions about China.”
“Everyday Feels like a Traditional Holiday in Restaurants in China.”
“Fed up with the Propaganda that we will Prosper”
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[Editor’s Note]
Nostalgia – No Exception for North Korean Defectors; They Long for their Homeland
If life is good in their home land, then people don’t think of leaving for better lives in foreign countries. When people experience endless misery at home, it is natural for them to turn their eyes to the abroad. This is what is happening in North Korea. Even though unbearable living conditions force people to leave the country, they are often condemned for betraying their country and are labeled as traitors. Defectors who underwent hardships and were treated inhumanly back home remain bitter and resentful towards North Korea; the wounds are too deep to be healed. Nevertheless, ‘home is always home.’ It is normal that people develop emotional attachments to the land in which they were born and grew up. North Korean defectors dream of the day that the South and the North become reunified so that they can return to their homeland. Instead of emphasizing the political aspects of this issue, the North and South Korean governments should approach this matter with a humanitarian perspective. Six decades ago, a war separated families on the Korean peninsula, and now a wave of family separations is being created by the extreme harshness of life in the North. Defectors already suffer a great deal because of the separation from their homeland and families. Isn’t that punishing enough? Do they really deserve more criticism or mistreatment?

DPRK Government on Edge Following Defection of Family
The defection of a South Hwanghae province family to South Korea on June 15 by barge has led to the firing and investigation of two government officials charged with controlling the area. The defection has caused the government to order a strengthening of security around all shorelines in the country to prevent similar escapes. Only those who have gone through heightened security checks are allowed to access areas situated near the water. Operation of barges in the West Sea has been shut down because they provide an easy way to cross the military armistice line. The heightened security is now threatening the livelihoods of fishermen who fish in the area. The NSA (National Security Agency) has released an order 'for the nation-wide prevention of defection' to all cities and towns in the country, and security has been especially strengthened in the border areas with China. The government has also stopped issuing passes to enter the border region. Entry into the country from the border areas is still possible; however, it has become practically impossible to move from the interior to cities situated along the border with China.

The government is placing more importance on political lectures conducted locally by city and town people's committees and the NSA. However, most citizens are uninterested in the government's ceaseless propaganda campaigns. There is little chance that people struggling to survive on 'grass porridge' have any interest in political sermons. Haeju city, South Hwanghae province resident, Jeong Ilyeong (alias), has been unable to eat one plate of corn meal from April to mid-June of this year. He has only been able to eat grass porridge, which is made out of collected mountain herbs and mixed together with powdered corn. Adults are able to survive somehow, but they are forced to watch the plight of children only four or five years old suffering from malnutrition. "No matter how hard one works, it’s always the same…this same terrible situation. I think about escaping to the South at least 12 times a day. All those who actually have left for South are the smart ones," says Jeong. The gap between the government's propaganda against defection and the real feelings of everyday North Koreans is only growing larger day by day.

Innocent Citizens Oppressed by the Enforcement on North Korean Defectors
With regard to the increase in North Koreans defecting, the North Korean government has forced law enforcement agencies to turn their attentions even on innocent citizens. In addition to farming mobilization, the government made it obligatory that citizens attend the neighborhood unit political education sessions for ‘mental armament’ in the evenings. People complain of their exhaustion from having to make obligatory attendances to the lectures on top of their time spent seeking food and collecting grass roots in the wild. Most fall asleep during the lectures, although the officers aggressively shout phrases such as, “You will be punished if you try to defect.” It’s a worsening situation in areas bordering China. Law enforcement agents periodically ambush residential houses. If it is known there was a defector in a family, the rest of the innocent family members are relocated in an isolated area.

Lim, Song-Yi (Alias), living in Musan, North Hamkyong province, said that “It’s a natural phenomenon that people relocate to where food sources exist. The defectors are indeed the smarter ones who know how and what to do to survive. Plus, not everybody is capable of running away. What is the point of telling the remaining people, who have no means to defect, not to do it? By the time we finish the day, it’s usually midnight; we then go to farming mobilization sessions early in the morning, do a bit of selling in the evening and housework when we come home, prepare for next day, and take care of children, and so on. Between such heavy schedules, we have to attend the political education session and the neighborhood unit meeting, where higher-ups preach the message that defecting is like betraying the country. I gain nothing from the lecture. I just want to come home.”

Not only are women stressed by the warning of punishment for defectors, but laborers are as well. People are already tightly controlled, but if they absent themselves from work for a couple of days, they will get a visit of the agents right away. Households that tried previously to defect, or households in which one of the family members is a defector are subject to strict monitoring by government authorities. Those people are not allowed to go anywhere unless they report to the group which they belong to. These series of measures are, according to the National Security Agency’s directives, instructed in order to systematically tighten the monitoring and control of those with a record of border-crossing. Additionally, the city and county parties are also being submissive to NSA these days after the recent case of a high-profile family defecting in Hwanghae province. Police officers and security agents who used to overlook illegal border-crossings are also now sparing themselves for fear of getting fired.

“Illegal Border Crossers will be Considered as Traitors.”
Now, how does the North Korean authority convey its anti-border crossing message? It does so by stigmatizing the border crossers as “traitors of the people who conspire to bring down the Socialist system.” This statement is no less than a threat to one’s political life. A heavy penalty is levied on the border crossers following the order to “strengthen the punishment by giving a sentence of five years in jail to anyone who attempts crossing the National Border.” If one’s family member has been discovered or suspected to have fled from North Korea, the family will be forced to move to the inner rural area, regardless of whether they are likely to flee or not.

Before, one could avoid the punishment for border crossing by bribing the judiciary officials, or be released using sick bail. These days, however, even a large sum of money won’t convince the authorities, who have begun to fear severe consequences of receiving bribes and disobeying orders in the long run.

Re-education centers are becoming flooded with prisoners as the crackdown on border crossing grows more severe. Jeongurrie Re-education Center, which was relatively unoccupied after the act of amnesty last September, is once again filling to the brim as both the criminals who committed crimes to survive the economic difficulties and the border crossers are being caught.

As for Musan district in North Hamgyong province, the border crossers who have been caught since January 6th tally up to thirty, and more than 80 percent of them were sent to Jeongurrie Re-education Center. In June, three women from Chungjin city were caught in the midst of their escape led by a Musan resident, and they also will be sent to the center. As of June 20th, six people are waiting their sentences, and it is likely that they will end up in the center as well.

“Throw out your Illusions about China.”
The Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) Committee has been warning against its people’s crossing the borders. As the food situation gets worse in North Korea, increasing number of North Korean women are crossing the borders by marrying to men residing in China. The DWU says, “People should root out nonsense of crossing the borders. Throw out your illusions about China.”

Because of the heightened crackdown on defection, the absentees from farming mobilization get caught in the cross fire. In addition to being warned against the neglect of the duty, they are strictly interrogated whether they have an intention to go to China. Diverse reasons exist for not going to the farming mobilization. Some people go for small land patch farming; some people have to go to collect some edible grassroots; some people collapsed and do not recover; and some people have to do business to pay for medicine if there is anybody sick among their family members. People don’t show up at the mobilization struggling to survive but the DWU committee frequently drags out, humiliate and hurl abuses at the absentees at every meeting. The committee also calls them “traitors and betrayers,” which incites backlash from the women. People no longer believe the propaganda that says, “If people put up with the situation and do farming diligently, the doors for the Strong and Prosperous Nation will open.”

Eunduk county has indeed seen many female defectors. A police officer explains the situation as follows. Eunduk county produces the poorest crop in farming; it is densely populated by manual laborers who work at the military factories and mines; and it has poor transportation system since it is remote. Few people runs large business and poverty rate is high in the county. Families with a daughter who crossed the borders can eat steamed corn meal with help from the daughter. For these reasons, females who cross the borders have increased, and the DWU has intensified the political lectures to their members. Between January and June of this year, the number of people who crossed the borders comes up to 35 in the county.

26 year-old Shin Hye-rim (alias) is a laborer at Oh-bong mine. She had never thought of going to China before, however, this year she has changed her mind. She said, “I am willing to go to China through the arranged marriage since my family is so badly off. I would like to help my family and relieve my parents’ burden. I myself also want to live a better life.” Men hardly dare to cross the borders unless they have clever brothers or meet someone who experienced crossing borders. However, women are in many cases want to take the option of getting married to go to China. The security authorities are intensifying the control system for detecting and getting reports of suspicious activities of the local residents.

“Everyday Feels like a Traditional Holiday in Restaurants in China.”
People are told to rid themselves of their fantasies about China, but more and more North Koreans are embracing that fantasy. They are told by private travelers, as well as traders who visit China regularly, that China is a completely different world from North Korea. First time visitors say that they were dazed by China’s economic advancement. Even the frequent visitors say that the rapid speed of progress makes them dizzy.

Choi Jin-ryong (alias) of Musan, who said he visits China once or twice a year because of a relative in Helong laments, “China is virtually a paradise on earth. Every day feels like a traditional holiday in China. The restaurants serve dizzying amounts of food every day, while we can’t even eat to our stomachs’ content on steamed corn meal even on traditional holidays. Also electricity is so plentiful in China that it is as bright as day even during the night. However, it is so dark at night in North Korea that we can’t go anywhere after the sun has gone down. How can two places with just a river between them be so different? I am just so envious of the Chinese people.”

Ko Chang-woo (alias), a laborer from Pyongsung who visited Dandong via Sinuiju this year for the first time said, “I am 50 years old. I haven’t been able to use toilet paper since I got married. Instead, I have used newspaper or notebook paper that my kids have thrown away, and in the countryside even that is rare. I found out about shampoo for the first time looking over the items that flowed into the market from China. I saw so many goods there that I had never seen before. Some of the goods are obsolete items in China but they are things that I have never seen before in my life. The rate at which China is growing went beyond anything that I could have ever imagined. The Chinese people do not understand that a person can die of starvation. Aren’t we the only people who eat grass porridge, which even dogs won’t eat, to survive? I don’t understand how we are still living in a matriarchal clan community while other countries have made such great progress?”

When asked why he thinks that he is living in a matriarchal clan community in North Korea Ko answered, “Women are bringing in the bread, aren’t they?” Also, seeing none of the manufactured goods sold in the North Korean market have been produced in North Korea and most of them have been imported from China, Ko commented, “With an exception of a small percentage of its citizens, North Korea is like a country of beggars.

Fed up with the Propaganda that we will Prosper”
Residents in Eunduk county, North Hamgyong province are fed up with Party propaganda, which is disguised as lectures about politics. They have a common complaint: “The Party forces us to hear propaganda all our lives—from cradle to grave. There is no way to get around it. It is just cliché. Like a rider who uses a whip and a spur without thinking about the horse’s condition, the Party keeps a tight rein on us with no regard for our living conditions.”

On July 7, Kim Kil-nam (aged 58) a munitions-manufacturer laborer said, “Reality is far from the propaganda that promises prosperity. Despite the Farming Mobilization, government can’t afford to provide us with any rations, including corn porridge. People are starving. Young women say that making a living by ‘being sold to China’ looks like a better option than living in North Korea. I wonder how many of us can survive this dire situation and whether our country can survive this crisis.”

Mr. Kim overheard a fellow worker say, “The Party had better stop spreading the false propaganda that promises prosperity within a year. The person who writes the propaganda also must be sick and tired of it. He either does not know what he is saying or knows that he is lying.” In the past, somebody would have reported the fellow worker for inflammatory or reactionary language; for example making a statement against government. However, these days it is difficult to find anyone who bothers to report such distrust in government.

Lee Hak-cheol (pseudonym), a laborer at O-Bong coal mine, complained of a tough life: “Small land patching farming is a lifeline for more than 90 percent of residents in the O-Bong coal mine area. While we make money by selling coal during the winter, nobody wants to buy coal during the summer. I don’t have time at all to take care of the corn, which I planted in my small land patch farm last month. Life is getting worse as I have no choice but to participate in farm mobilization. I enjoy no freedom of movement, and have to spend time attending lectures about politics. At the very least, I hope the government allows me time to take care of my small land patch farming, which requires a fair amount of manual labor and work to produce a harvest this fall. The time I squeezed during lunch time is too short to make a trip to the small land.”

Jang Geum-ok (pseudonym), a member of the Democratic Women’s Union at O-Bong Laborer’s District said, “I don’t have time to take care of the corn I planted in my small land patching farming last spring due to farming mobilization. A woman I know put up a temporary tent made from plastic on her small land patch farm, leaving her house locked.”
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