Wednesday, April 27, 2011

North Korea Today No. 398, April 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.]
Pyongyang Calling on People to Provision for Themselves until September

Importing Food by Selling Mineral Resources

“At Least Give us Soybean Paste and Soy Sauce,” Pyongyang Residents Complain

“The Revolution is Fizzling Out as It Runs Out of Food”

Nampo City Disabled Veterans’ Factory Making all-out Efforts on Sideline Farming

“Do Not Eat Together Nor Talk for a Long Time”

People Sigh at their Humble Ancestral Memorial Service Tables at Cheongmyong


Pyongyang Calling on People to Provision for Themselves until September

Once the decree fell for the people to provision their own food until September the whole nation knew this meant there would be a halt to all government provisions until September. Their fears were justified at the February 16th (Birthday of Kim Jong-il) Celebration when only executives received a portion of their normal provisions. Nevertheless, the people are still holding onto a thread of hope for the April 15th Celebration, which is the 99th Birthday anniversary of the Great Leader. Many are carrying the hope that they would receive provisions on this auspicious day.

On the other hand, the price of rice in Pyongyang had been steady at around 1,600 Won per kg as of the February 16th Celebration and rose steadily thereafter until it peaked to 2,000 Won around mid March. In April, [the price was] 2,100 Won, which represents a 10,000% inflation spurred by the currency reform that took place a year and a half ago. The average citizen would find it extremely difficult to pay this price. The people are simply looking forward to the April 15th Celebration hoping that the market price would drop due to the flow of food imports orchestrated by the diligent trading companies.

Importing Food by Selling Mineral Resources

The mineral exports have become more active since February 16th. Currently, about 200 out of approximately 300 of the North Korean freighters are assisting in food imports by busily carrying cargos back and forth from China. They mainly export varieties of North Korean minerals in exchange for corn, flour, grains, ramen noodles, and all kinds of food to bring back to their country. Although, food exports have not been officially approved by the Chinese government as of yet, it seems they are allowing the mineral imports from North Korea to be paid in food at the behest of North Korea. The mineral exporting companies and agencies were glad to at least temporarily ease the exigent food crisis. The workers and the officials have received their partial provisions thanks to the imported food. However, provisions for the general laborers are still lacking because if negotiations with China are not successful then China will not pay with food or groceries for the exported minerals. Nevertheless, it appears the imports are improving the supply in the market and helping to bring down the price of rice.

“At Least Give us Doenjang (soybean paste) and Gganjang (soy sauce),” Pyongyang Residents Complain

Due to the lack of ingredients, Pyongyang City has not provided basic food such as doenjang (soybean paste) and ganjang (soy sauce) since February. Kim Jeonghwa (alias), a neighborhood unit head in Rack-rang District reported that the residents are making an outcry saying, “Now we don’t want anything more than doenjang and ganjang.” Lee Choon-sil (alias) from Dangsang 1-dong in Mangyongdae District expressed her frustration saying, “It’s nonsense that they can’t provide doenjang and ganjang. How can this happen in Pyongyang?” Although basic food plants have stagnated nationwide due to the financial difficulties and the lack of raw ingredients and power, Pyongyang residents think, at least those plants in Pyongyang should be in operation.

There has not been food provision since January and residents have received a series of directives instructing them to resolve the situation on their own until September. The halt of basic food provision exacerbates the anxiety that the residents feel. Each household has secured at least 6 months worth of food and they might not be in a dire situation currently. However, they begrudge the money that they should spend for ganjang and doenjang, which used to be provided for free, since they need to save every penny now.

Hamheung City residents are in the same boat. Renovated in 2009, Hamheung City Basic Food Plant has managed to produce various kinds of food until last October. Since last November, however, the plant has not operated due to the ingredient shortages. An official said that it was “because we could not secure beans and salt, the main ingredients of doenjang and ganjang.” He added that it is only natural not to find beans and corns for condiments under the current conditions where the general food provision is not being made due to the bad crop last year. To make things worse, lots of rain caused a significantly low level of salt production in salt ponds in South and North Hamgyong Provinces.

Geum Cheol-ryong (alias) in Hoesang 1 – Dong, Hoesang District, said he has made soups with salt that he purchased from the market since last December. He basically replaces doenjang with salt. Geum also added that he would buy beans and make doenjang himself if his financial condition allows, which seems like a luxury at the moment when he doesn’t have grains to eat. On the other hand, the wealthy, the judiciary, trade officials and cadres in Hamheung do not receive doenjang and ganjang even if the condiments are provided. They would purchase beans and make the condiments home themselves because they don’t trust the sanitation inspection of the food plants and because the condiment provisions are untasty. Those households that make and store a year’s doengang and ganjang are considered rich. One of the must-have traditional foods, doenjang has not become an index of richness.

The Revolution is Fizzling Out As It Runs Out of Food.”

On February 16, an anti-government graffiti slogan, “The revolution is fizzling out as it runs out of food”, had appeared on the wall of the main gate of the necessities factory for disabled veterans in Nampo City, South Pyongan Province. The graffiti was made below the wall hanging stating “The revolution must continue to go on”, a quotation from Kim Il Sung, the former Great Leader of North Korea.

The Security Department carried out an intensive investigation of this matter because it fell on February 16 holiday, the birthday of Kim Jong-il. Every factory worker was interrogated. Their handwriting was compared with the graffiti, and they had to provide an alibi. The laborers were cross-questioned and searched if anything suspicion came up in the course of the interrogation. Despite the intense, days-long investigation, the guilty person was not found. As time passed, the case faded away, and people were relieved from the fear of innocent people being executed without any strong evidence. Factory officials and cadres were also relieved. It was deemed fortunate that the investigation took only a short time, as such investigations have been known to go on for months. This case was dismissed after a couple of self-criticism gatherings were held, where all the laborers were called and told, “Each of us needs to keep a close watch in order to make such incident happen never again.”

Disabled veteran factory workers said that the graffiti represents what they’re actually thinking. They have not been paid for a long time. Even the food ration has now been completely halted. It’s very hard for them to support their families, who depend on them, or to get extra jobs due to their disability. The factory witnessed one of their households starving to death in November 2010 and approximately 10 laborers at the factory have died from starvation this winter. Most of the deceased was ill and barely managed to live on a soup made of powdered hull of corn kernel until they died. “It’s nonsense that we are assigned to the Heecheon Power Station construction duties”, stated Kim Hee-cheol (alias), one of the workers at the factory, complaining about their suffering. Nampo People’s Council didn’t even exclude disabled veterans from the duties, even though they are physically barely able to perform the roles assigned. Mr. Kim and his colleagues are frustrated by the fact that the government continuously tries to collect more money, instead of supporting them, despite their disabilities having been incurred while performing their duty for the country.

Park Hye-ran (alias), who lives in Hoopo Dong, Port District, Nampo City, also described the urgency of the current situation she faces. Her husband had been working at the necessities factory after being discharged from the army after he injured his lower spine, but he is no longer able to work at the factory. They have lived off two portions of soup per day since December 2010, but now on some days they do not even eat one portion. She can’t even start a small business because she has no start-up money. The only asset she has with which to support her family is a sewing machine. She could earn 600-800 KPW per day by sewing if she had sufficient business, but there are many days where there is no work to do. She couldn’t afford the medicine her husband needed for his severe lower back pain. He just lay down all day, and finally he became paralyzed in February due to receiving no treatment and no food. She started asking factory workers for help, but nobody responded.

One of the Nampo City Party cadres said, “The origins of the graffiti are not important. Not just the factory workers feel that way: it represents the feelings of all of us. It will happen again if the current situation is not addressed and improved. It’s imperative to ration food effectively. This is more important than anything else.”

Nampo City Disabled Veterans’ Factory Making all-out Efforts on Sideline Farming

Workers at a disabled veterans’ factory in Nampo City are busy preparing for part-time farm work in the belief that it is the only way to survive. Some time ago, approximately 60 laborers were mobilized to begin preparations to plant potatoes and barley. Judging that the difficult food situation nationwide will reach its height in May or June, the plan is to start harvesting the potatoes and barley early in the middle of June. Each laborer has been tasked with planting and caring for 30 kilograms of seed potatoes. However, the veterans are placing higher hopes on the supply of food on the Korean People’s Army Foundation Day, this upcoming April 25. Without manure or pesticide available, many former soldiers doubt the success of such sideline farm work, and most believe that the government will provide food provisions on Foundation Day. However, opinions do differ on whether or not food provisions will be provided: “They didn’t give us anything during the national holidays this last January or February, so I doubt we will get anything this time’; ‘No, it wouldn’t be right not to give food to former soldiers’. In the end, however, most are hoping for a handout. Every year on April 25, City People’s Council has handed out small amounts of rice, soybean oil, sugar and cookies to disabled veteran households.

“Do not Eat Together Nor Talk For a Long Time”

The internal regulation has been even more tightened. Currently as of April, an instruction was delivered nationwide stating, “Two or more people may not eat together and a person may not talk for a long time when he/she encounters another on the street.” Not only the citizens who attended the education seminar in the Neighborhood Unit regarding these precautions, but also the officials who received the education have been alarmed and said “Something strange is going on these days”. There is increasing number of cases which people are dragged into a police station or Security Department for just saying something wrong and they are either beaten before released or being sent to a Disciplinary Center, and it makes people to be cautious of what they say. People tend to think several times before they say something aloud even if they want to say it, and they are startled by even the smallest sound while they exchange greetings with their close friends.

The National Security Agency has made several statements regarding the domestic situation, and all of them are regulations about citizens and internal order. Among them, there is an introduction on the account of mass protest occurred at Chungjin Market in 2008 and how it was quelled. Women under 45 years old had been prohibited to engage in trade in the market in Chungjin City, and on March 4th of 2008, these women who could not endure the difficulty in living came forward and held a mass protest. “If you do not have any rice to distribute, allow us to engage in trade”, said women who had gathered since 1:00 p.m., and all in a fluster, the police station and the city government temporarily repealed the age restriction and allowed market transaction. At the time, the security authorities did not suppress the incident forcefully, fearing the incident may spread afar.

However as of today after 3 years have passed, the incident has been embellished as a rebellion that was promptly and nicely quelled with an intervention of the Central Party and has been delivered to the Security Departments nationwide as a study material. The mass protest by female merchants in Chungjin Market at the time was labeled as “the biggest counterrevolutionary rebellion in recent years”. A study material introduced this incident as stated in the following: “Without any permission from the Central Party, the Chungjin City negotiated with the rioters who demanded the re-approval of market operation. As soon as the Central Party understood the situation, the Security Department firmly suppressed the riot and resolved the case. At the time, every police stations and disciplinary teams within the jurisdiction of North Hamgyong Province were mobilized as well and watched as the situation had progressed. As defiant attitudes were about to spread among the women in Chungjin Market, the 47 principal instigators who had raised the voices on the front were put down and arrested and the case was resolved. All of them were severely punished. After that, Chungjin Market became peaceful again.”

Since then, the security officials in Security Departments and police stations in each region delivered an instruction to put down the rebellion by force if a similar incident occurs again. An incident occurred more than 3 years ago was repeatedly introduced with an emphasis, and both the officials and the citizens say that the story was told to prevent similar cases from occurring, and that the current atmosphere within the country is extremely oppressive due to the tightened regulation.

People Sigh at their Humble Ancestral Memorial Service Tables at Cheongmyong*

Many people were unable to prepare food for the memorial service to honor their ancestors at Cheongmyong this year. In the past they have prepared food to take to their ancestors’ graves each year, but they were unable to do so this year due to the current strains on living conditions. Nevertheless, their thoughts were with their ancestors. There was increased turnout at the market the day before Cheongmyong, and store keepers anticipated a higher volume of sales. Unfortunately, not many people could afford the memorial service-related items. They asked what the prices were, and returned home without purchasing anything.

Two years ago, most were able to prepare the memorial service table with a bowl of steamed rice, and 2-3 items including octopus, rice wine, pork, rice cake, eggs, or fruit. It was difficult to make even 1 or 2 items this year.

The food prices at Sunam market on the day were as follows: 1kg of rice: 1800 won, 1kg of corn: 750 won, 1kg of pork: 5500 won, 1 egg: 400 won, 1 kg of apples: 3500 won. At Pyungsung market, it was 1850 won for 1kg of rice and 850 won for corn, which was more expensive than that of Sunam market. The other items were selling for roughly the same price. It was very difficult for many, whose daily earnings are less than the price of corn, to buy even an egg.

Those who managed to prepare full memorial services in the border regions, such as Sinuiju, Hyesan, Hoeryong, Onsung, Musan, are from the very few families with defectors, law officials and bundle traders who have access to foreign currency. Those who can afford steamed corn meals prepared offerings of 150g of pork, a small e-myunsu (fish - arabesque greenling), 3 apples, one egg, and a bottle of rice wine. Some also prepared a bowl of steamed rice, tofu, and seasoned bean sprouts for this special day.

Choi YungLim (alias), who lives at Ryonghodong, Songpyung District, Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, said he spent the memorial service visiting the graves, carrying only a bottle of rice wine. He typically has two meals a day consisting of noodles, and he was only able to afford to prepare porridge for the service, but deemed this so insufficient as to be inappropriate.

Lee Sunhee (alias), of Songpyung District, sells pork at the market, but was not able to spare any for her ancestral memorial service. She needed to sell more pork than she managed to on the day before Cheongmyong in order to be able to serve it for her memorial service.

Kim Mihwa (alias), a fruit-seller said that business was so bad that she was also unable to prepare food for the service. Two years ago, most people were able to buy 1kg of apples or pears. Since last year, very few people have been able to buy fruit by the kilogram. She could not earn enough money because most people bought just 1-3 apples.

In Hoeryong, it was the same story. Farmers brought 5-6 kg of corn to the market, but were not able to sell much of it. Instead, they exchanged the corn for a small e-myunsu, 1-2 apples, and 200g of pork. Every market was busy with people who came to buy something to bring to their ancestors’ graves, but most left empty-handed. Ju Younglan (alias), who lives in Subuk-dong, sold her favorite, almost-new clothes at a used clothing sales booth. With that money, she bought 500 g of rice, one e-myunsu, and two eggs.

Ju said, “Even though we do not eat abundantly in daily life, I used to be proud to prepare good food for the ancestral memorial service at Cheongmyong or Chuseok**. Since 2010, business has been depressed and I could not prepare as much this year. I am ashamed to meet my ancestors in this state. It is not just me: many other people are in despair because our living conditions have worsened to the point where we cannot even prepare food for the ancestral service at Cheongmyong.”

*‘Cheongmyong’ is one of the 24 divisions of the year. In English, it means “the Clear and Balmy Season”.
**Chuseok is Korean Thanksgiving Day (August 15th in the lunar calendar)

Monday, April 25, 2011

North Korea Today No. 397, April 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.]
“Pyongyang wthin Pyongyang” - Electricity Provided 24/7 in Joong (Central) District

Factories Devoting all Energy for Chairman Kim’s On-Site Guidance Visit

Gimchaek Steel Mill is Not Faring Well, Either

Electricity Shortage in North Korea is “Beyond Outsiders’ Imagination”

Con-artists Widespread in Effort to Curb Electricity Use

It’s Dinner Time When There’s Electricity

“Pyongyang within Pyongyang” - Electricity Provided 24/7 in Joong (Central) District
Last winter, the residents of Pyongyang expressed discomfort at the fact that electricity was provided for less than one hour per day on average. It was more a matter of life and death than simple discomfort since residents were unable to turn on the heat in freezing weather. The residents expressed discontent and complained, demanding “Why is the electricity condition becoming worse year by year when it is said that the Strong and Prosperous Nation is so near? This year was the worst.” The officials that visited Pyongyang also recalled that “Everywhere we visited, the residents were extremely vocal when complaining on the issue of electricity shortage” and clearly remembered their anxiety. There was one place that was unaffected by the worst electricity crisis: Joong District. Joong District is often referred to as the “Pyongyang within Pyongyang” and is home to high ranking officials and artists. Regular citizens are not happy about the newly built apartment for artists next to the Dae-Dong River in Joong District. “With electricity and hot water provided 24/7, it is heaven on earth.” Apartments which are merely tens of meters away turn into darkness at night, but the newly built apartment glows like the sun. Artist apartments regulated by the Central Party have completely different electricity policies compared to the normal apartments regulated by the City Party. Provided as a kind of gift by the Central Party, the apartment receives the same privileges as the apartments for officials which are on Changgwang street.

There are, however, harshly critical voices, saying that: “Even within Pyongyang, conditions in different part of the city are at opposite extremes. It does not make sense for electricity to be available 24/7 when the nation is in the midst of an electricity crisis. Even looking at the apartment makes my eyes light on fire. Joong District is a ‘Pyongyang within Pyongyang’, and the rest is not Pyongyang.” On the issue of stricter crackdowns on recordings, publications, and clothing, people have remarked, “people become discontent with the national policies, and there are more crackdowns in order to distract people from complaining about national and party policies. If the electricity and food situation improves, there would be no reason to have such thing as crackdown.”
However, there is no guarantee that the artists’ apartment will continue having its privileges. There have been many apartments built as a favor of the Central Party, but 2-3 years later, they were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Pyongyang City. As soon as that happens, they will no longer have much electricity available. It is impossible to know when the artists’ apartment will be transferred to the City.

On the other hand, though it is not in Joong District, the Kim Il Sung University (referred to as Kim University) is one of the few places gifted with electricity provision. The electricity supply to Kim University also attracted animosity from residents. This was because the electricity that could to go to the residents was instead planned to be provided to the university. The overall opinion of the residents was, “We don’t understand why these decisions are made in times of extreme electricity shortages.” Children of elementary and middle schools sing songs such as “Coal sellers only earned 10 won because his coal melted in the rain” and “I wonder what electricity company officials are doing. There is no power” to mock the situation of the power shortage, which expresses how the residents feel about the situation.

Factories Devoting all Energy to Preparing for Chairman Kim’s on-site Guidance Visit
Food processing plants that the Chairman of the National Defense Commission Kim Jong-il visited for the on-site guidance are not free from the electronic power shortage. Chairman Kim Jong-Il supervised plants that are intimately linked to people’s livelihoods, such as Hoeryong Food Processing Plant and Musan Food Plant in North Hamgyong Province; Baekwoonsan General Food Plant in Hamgeung, South Hamgyong Province; Changsung Food Plant in North Pyongan Province; and Ryongsung Food Plant, Pyongyang Confectionary Plant, and Pyongyang Flour Plant in Pyongyang in last November through December. North Korean media all together covered the news of the Chairman’s visits to the factories. This news gave North Korean people an ample impression that their top leader was taking care of the people’s food situation. In the media, all plants were seen to be in their normal modes of operation. However, those plants were put into operation only for the onsite guidance. Once the inspectors leave, they cannot continue the daily operations because of the shortage of raw material and electricity. Unsurprisingly, workers in plants put forth critical voices, stating that “almost all heavy and light industry factories in our country cannot produce products anymore. The national economy is worsening and prospects are looking very gloomy. The government has put up a slogan pushing the idea of “improvement in the people’s lives” in order to calm down public discontent; however, the reality is such that the government has been investing in the national defense. In this kind of situation, how could the plants on earth manage well?”

The challenges facing factories that prepare for the on-site guidance visit are huge. After having been given notice of an on-the-spot inspection, a flour factory in Pyongyang purchased flour and materials for one to two hours worth of operation, and joined the flats with the electricity distributor. However, the schedule was cancelled, and the raw materials were all used up. A couple of days later, the plant managers were again notified of an on-site visit, and they rushed to secure a supply of raw material. The visit got cancelled once again despite the fact that that they had all finished the preparations. After 3or 4 times of repeating this notice, and subsequently cancelling it, the result was this loop exhausted the plant’s purchasing power and the electricity distributor became critical of the provision of electricity.

At the fifth notice, the factory workers struggled themselves and barely managed to obtain raw materials, believing that “we will not be able to purchase raw materials any more if the General does not come and visit this time.” The workers pleaded with the electricity distributor to provide the necessary electricity. The on-the-spot guidance visit finally happened, after four vain attempts. Fortunately, the quality of the flour produced on that day was good, and breads were well baked. The workers breathed a sigh of relief.
2.8 Vinalon United Enterprises is also currently in a similar case. In this enterprise, 74 people were awarded of the title of hero last year, and about 2,500 people were conferred upon an assortment of titles and medals, which was unprecedented consideration. At the time of the on-the-spot guidance, this enterprise was highly anticipated as “an epoch-making event, comparable to a launch of a new atomic bomb and a great victory of socialism.” However, production frequently came to a halt in this vinalon factory. Enterprises that need vinalon fiber were baffled. One worker who went to the plant to get vinalon fiber last March stated that “the vinalon plant had come to a complete stop. Everyone who went to the factory had to return with their hands empty since there were no goods to take back.”
*vinalon: a synthetic fiber, produced from polyvinyl alcohol, using anthracite and limestone as raw materials

Gimchaek Steel Mill is Not Faring Well, Either
The Gimchaek Steel Mill, which Kim Jong-Il pays special attention to and has visited numerous times, is not faring any better. “We are getting neither the coal nor the electricity that is needed to produce Juche Steel. We have scarcely received coal and the electricity supply hasn’t been consistent either, so it is growing more difficult to produce the amount of commissioned steel in time. It is an embarrassment that a steel mill which receives national attention isn’t producing very well,” said an official. The plan to sell Juche Steel in return for food supply has gone awry, so the number of absentees has been increasing. The worker added that party officials and the chief engineer were taken to the Ministry of Metal Industry to be criticized for the drop in steel production. “It is not just us. Every plant tries their hardest when an order falls from the leader, from purchasing the material to production, but that only lasts for a short while. The lack of resources and excessive amount of work make it nearly impossible to finish production on time, even by selling out the entire factory,” argued some officials, who retorted that it is not entirely their fault for the plunging of production. “Just give us material and food, and we will get everything done. But simply making orders won’t do”, they added.

The officials of the Ministry of Power Industry are in the same boat. Although 2011 has been advertised as the year in which the Juche Steel Production system will be completed, the future seems bleak. “It is not cokes but the oxygen injection method as well as anthracite addition that are used for Juche Steel production. Whereas the coke injection method requires very little electricity, the oxygen injection method requires much electricity in order to create the oxygen in the first place. There never was much electricity to begin with, so the oxygen injection method is proving to be troublesome. Some say that the electric supply will increase once the Heechun Power Plant is completed, but they are too na├»ve. Steel Mills are not the only place that needs electric supply. Additionally, the electricity is needed in Juche fertilizer and Juche fiber sectors. The electric supply will hardly sustain those industries that are based on the Self-Sustained National Economy Line. Of course, we can’t guarantee they will be supplied to those industries. The electricity supply would have to be used first and foremost for the munitions economy, that’s the reality” voiced concerned experts.

Electricity Shortage in North Korea is “Beyond Outsiders’ Imagination”
A National Planning Committee officer responsible for electricity generation made a recent assessment that the current electricity shortage in North Korea is extremely serious, so much so that it is beyond any outsiders’ imagination. There is no guaranteed coal supply, and most power plants in the nation are old; therefore losing lots of heat with the result that their productivity is thus decreasing year after year. The productivity of Pyongyang Thermoelectric Power Plant is falling as well in comparison to previous years. It is thus easy to understand why Pyongyang City is suffering from a lack of electricity.

An officer in charge of electricity generation for Pyongyang City expressed his pessimistic view of this year’s supply of electricity, saying that the shortage of coal is a more serious factor than the outdated facilities. After last year’s great floods, many coal mines were inundated with water, which reduced productivity. Moreover, the unstable food supply for miners affected human labor resources. One needs a water pump to drain the mines, but that is not feasible due to lack of electricity needed to run the pump, and hence a vicious circle is created. This is not the only reason for low coal production. An expert from Industry Department for Coal said, “There are two types of tunnels in a coal mines. One is the product of digging out the coal deposits; and the other is the passage by which one arrives at the deposits. While you are making the passage, no coal is produced and therefore you do not get any food supply. The mining company has to balance the work combination in these two tunnels to make sure you get continuous coal production, but that is not easy. There might be many geological reasons for this, but it negatively affects the productivity of coal mines.
Following the directive issued by the Industry Department for Electricity, Pyongyang City announced that it would guarantee electricity supply from 6PM to 11PM. However, residents in Pyongyang seem to be skeptical, saying, “We will know when it arrives.”

Con-artists Widespread in Effort to Curb Electricity Use
The effort to regulate electricity in North Korea is becoming more rigorous, reflecting the serious shortage of electricity throughout the country. Increasing efforts to curb electricity use include government officials conducting random checks in residential areas, confiscating prohibited items and imposing fines while cutting the supply of electricity in houses nearby the offenders. For example, in the event a family living in an apartment is caught using electronic appliances like rice-cookers or a heater, the electricity supply of the entire apartment complex concerned is cut for one day. Electricity supply cuts increase with the number of families caught using prohibited appliances: two families caught means two days without electricity, and if three families are caught the entire apartment complex must go without electricity for three days. A great amount of discontent has been caused among residents by these random inspections. Further, there are a large number of con-artists impersonating inspection officers. These con-artists enter houses under false pretenses and use threats to steal money or other items of value.

There are also rigorous efforts by electricity distribution officials to regulate electricity use in Nampo City, South Pyongan Province. These officials forcibly enter houses in a similar fashion to security or police officers and turn them upside down in their search for prohibited items. Not only do they inspect kitchen areas but also open clothing dressers and even places for storing blankets. Rice-cookers or electric pans are confiscated without question and offenders are forced to pay substantial penalties. One Nampo City resident expressed their discontent with the inspections saying, “If they provided us with electricity and did these inspections I wouldn’t have any reason to complain. But electricity is only provided from seven to nine p.m., and there are many times when even this isn’t provided.” Nampo City has also seen many cases of con-artists pretending to be inspection officials and use threats to take items of value including money and “cat tobaccos” (Craven-A) as a bribe. Faced with rising reports of criminal activity, the city’s police and security departments have told citizens to ‘require all persons claiming to be inspection agents to first confirm their identity before allowing them to carry out an inspection’. They have also told residents to either report or chase away those who fail to confirm their identity or are suspected of being con-artists. Some local governments guided the residents to accept an inspection only when the Neighborhood Unit head accompanies the inspection agents.

It’s Dinner Time When There’s Electricity
The city of Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, is also suffering from a very poor supply of electricity. Electricity is provided for only about one hour a day, and even that is not guaranteed. Residents are using this short time frame to use electric appliances to cook their meals. As a result of this situation, the phrase ‘It’s Dinner Time When There’s Electricity’ is used commonly by residents in the area. Many residents complain, “They say that our country is supposed to be a strong and prosperous nation by next year, but why is the electricity situation here so bad? The government has built hundreds of power plants all over the country. Where is all that electricity going to?” In fact, North Korea built more than 5000 small and medium sized power plants up until 1998 and has since continued to build small, medium and large scale power plants across the country. Despite this track record, the electricity situation in the country is becoming worse and worse.

Monday, April 18, 2011

North Korea Today No. 396, March 30, 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.] ___________________________________________________________________________
In Ryanggang Province, Farmers Live off Frozen Potatoes
In Gapsan County, People Struggling by Grass Roots after Running Out of Frozen Potatoes
Effects of Famine Brought Home to Hamheung City Security Department Officers
Nammoon-dong in Hoeryong, Storage Household Increasing
Border Custom Locations Reinforcing Cavity Searches of Chinese People
Chinese Investors’ Touring Schedule Become Flexible
“We will Give Up the Management to Attract Investment”

In Ryanggang Province, Farmers Live off Frozen Potatoes

Farmers in Ryanggang Province are living off frozen potatoes as their daily sustenance.
The potatoes could not be harvested on time due to last year’s floods, and this resulted in the potatoes freezing up in the fields. Provincial research shows that many households have barely had even corn since February, implying that the food shortage this year is much more severe than in previous years. Ryanggang Province was even excluded from the nationwide military provisions remittance obligation, which was resumed in January, indicating the severity of the food crisis is. Affluent groups like government officials and farm managers are slightly better off, for they at least eat rice mixed with corn. However, the difficulty of the situation is Ryanggang Province is still evident when compared to other provinces, where the government officers are able to eat white rice. Freezing is one way to preserve potatoes to be eaten as a staple food, besides steaming and converting to potato starch. The outer skin turns black, but it is not bad to eat once it is steamed. Even rotten potatoes are not thrown away because they can be made into potato starch. Residents of Ryanggang Province often say, “Frozen or rotten, we eat it all… Never do we throw away a potato.” Making starch from rotten potatoes, however, cannot be done even in large cities like Pyongyang and Pyungsung, for it is a complicated process, requiring large quantities of water.

In Gapsan County, People Look Toward Grass Roots after Running Out of Frozen Potatoes

Residents of Gapsan-eup, Gapsan County in Ryanggang Province are searching for grass roots, given the looming shortage of frozen potatoes, especially come March, when the ground is smoothened out. The people do not own enough money to buy rice and corn at the market. Those who cannot afford to be engaged in business are digging out grass roots, with small children, in the mountains and on the field. With the will to keep on living, they travel up to several miles through mountains and field. If they happen to pick up some frozen potatoes while roaming the field, half turn out to be rotten and inedible. Unfortunately, many potatoes go bad even before they freeze. Kim Il-soon, a potato broker, took her meal out to eat when on her way back home. She had started the day early without any breakfast, so she was about to eat the potatoes she had bought that day, when she suddenly found someone forcefully digging into the ground. Knowing that the potato harvest was over, she assumed the man was gleaning grains. He was accompanied by his young daughter, beside him looking for grain. Kim tried to ignore them, thinking that they were just another Kkotjebi(homeless) family, but the little girl in shabby clothes was staring at the potato in her hand. She could not ignore it, despite her own hunger. Kim called out to the man to take a rest, handing him a cigarette, and gave three potatoes to him and his child. The little girl gulped the potatoes after a moment of hesitation. Looking at his daughter with deep sympathy, the man said, “I am a laborer at a factory producing daily necessities, and we have been eating frozen potatoes with grassroots since February. We have gone through the potato fields several times and know there is not much potato left, but we have no other choice but to look again.” He said he had already lost two children, and had only one daughter left. “My oldest son died of dysentery, suffering for three days with bloody stool running like urine. It was the year 2008, when he was eleven years old. The second one died in poor health. I have my wife and this child and I am not sure if I can feed them.” He burst into tears in deep sorrow, from telling the story. The little girl, looking to be about three or four years old, also cried after him without knowing why. Kim was taken aback by the family crying, but left with words of encouragement.

Effects of Famine Brought Home to Hamheung City Security Department Officers

Sources report that the quality of life once enjoyed by law enforcement officers in Hamheung City, South Hamgyeong province, is deteriorating. One officer in Hamheung said that while up until last year he was able to eat meat and rice and even provide candy and cookies to his children, his ability to obtain rice has gradually become more and more difficult this year. The situation is the same for security officers. One security officer said, "The number of families I know in the Legal Affairs Department who are able to eat white rice is enough to count on one hand. I saw that most of them were eating 5 by 5 rice (a meal of white rice and corn mixed together). Those around me say that they are lucky if they are able to eat pork once or twice a month. Buying snacks for children every couple days is also difficult. I can only imagine how others less fortunate than us are faring." The situation of city and county employees is more of the same. Those able to eat white rice on a regular basis tend to be those earning foreign currency through trade, or are one of the few wealthy people who were not wiped out by the recent currency reform. Officials of Heungnam City Party are also finding it difficult to obtain food, saying that they have never felt the effects of the famine plaguing the general population as hard as they are now. In the past, street sellers would provide money and other items to city employees in exchange for security guarantees, but this practice was generally regarded as a nuisance and ignored. However, now the city party officials are going out of their way to help the sellers in whatever way possible. This changed attitude reflects their desire to secure more food provisions. Officials in Hamheung and Heungnam City say that they are in the worst possible conditions, no matter how hard living conditions are reported to be in Ryanggang province. Reflecting this sentiment, an official in the Hamheung City government said, "Ryanggang province is full of barley and potato fields so no matter what the farming conditions may be there is always some food to go around. However, Hamheung and Heungnam City are densely populated and even finding a piece of grass to eat is next to impossible. Officials and ordinary citizens alike are saying that the current food crisis is worse than the Arduous March." A security officer in Hamheung City said, "I am worried that if the food crisis is not resolved we will be seeing a repeat of the crisis in the 1990s with corpses lining the streets." He said this crisis was the worst he has seen since the period of the Arduous March.

Nammoon-dong in Hoeryong, Storage Household Increasing

More and more people have started living in storages in Nammoon-dong in Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province. The result that had been surveyed by City Committee Urban Administrative Department have affirmed a total of 150 odd household who are mainly homeless people, old people and newly independent generation living in storages that are attached to the apartments in Nammoon-dong. Many of the old generations gave their houses to their children and moved to storages. Also the new household generations should live with their parents even after they got married or set up a branch family because they have not been allotted their houses yet. Because of the food shortage and poor business it cost more for food and is difficult in many ways if all family members live together, so young people do not mind settling in their home even in storages if they can live by themselves after they get married. In the same way, the old people move into storages not to be a burden on their sons, daughter-in-laws, daughters and son-in-laws. The increase of the storage household like this is the same everywhere, especially at Nammoon-dong area. The City Party have been forcefully clearing them out for years because they damage the City Beautiful Movement, however it is rather increasing instead not decreasing.

Border Custom Locations Reinforcing Cavity Searches of Chinese People

Recently, every border custom location has been reinforcing cavity searches on Chinese nationals who are assumed to be responsible for the majority of the radios, MP3 players, USB keys, mini cameras, et cetera, secretly circulating the country. In fact, many Chinese people, particularly Chinese immigrants, have been caught in the act of smuggling in goods. Briberies have naturally increased with the jump in the rate of cavity searches. Although custom agents previously only demanded money from people they knew, they now also extort strangers for sums of 200 to 300 Chinese yuan since 100 yuan is thought to be insufficient. They bluntly ask for bribes by saying, “Who would care about a stranger in trouble. Showing your face often and taking care of us before we ask will cost you less money.” After people reluctantly offer agents money, they smoothly pass through the complication custom investigation. Sarcastic remarks are spreading regarding the cavity searches and how they only make custom agents rich. Moreover, Chinese custom locations also began reinforcing cavity searches of North Koreans. The word is circulating that “The Chinese people have animosities against the extremely thorough body search and conveyed the word about it when they return back to their country, so China reinforced the investigation as revenge.”

Chinese Investors’ Touring Schedule Become Flexible

Unlike the fastidious body search at the customs, the greatest benefits and accommodations are offered to Chinese trade investors than any other times. The touring schedules in which the entering trade representatives were rigorously compelled to follow have been repealed drastically. It is especially surprising because visiting Mangyungdae Home where the Great Leader was born, Panmunjom, the International Friendship Exhibition in Myohyang Mountain, and even paying homage to the statue of Leader Kim Il-Sung were abolished. The attitude of the security agents is generous, and they even grant some free time to act freely during the evening. Among the Chinese who visited Pyongyang for the first time, people sometimes request to see the history revolutionary site of the Great Leader, but the security agents recommend them otherwise by saying “There is no need to trouble yourself by wasting precious time. Isn’t business more important? Save your time and focus on the business discussion.” Even the overseas representatives who led the Chinese representatives ask that the sites be visited, but they are told to rather focus on the business discussion. Without hesitation, they speak of the matters that would have ended their political lives and would have jeopardized the lives of their families and themselves under severe punishment in the past. It makes the Chinese to feel nervous and concern about whether these North Koreans would be all right to say so. At times, some Chinese trade officers show their hesitancy and say, “You ensure the management rights to us but if the foreign policy of North Korea changes again, everything will end in vain. Can you guarantee that the policy will not change?” Still, the North Koreans encourage the signing of investment note by saying, “You are worrying too much. Even if the policy or the government is changed, the management right is like a private property. As long as there are investor protection laws between nations, it is obvious that the invested property will be protected even if the current policy is changed. It is like owning a real estate, so why do you worry about so much?” An overseas representative who led the people from China to Pyongyang stopped them by saying, “Comrade, what are you talking about? Change of policy? Such treasonous words would destroy your whole family; why do you utter them so carelessly in front of the foreigners?” However, the representatives from the head office and the officers of the organization just smiled and rebutted his concern, saying, “I only said it to discuss the interest because Chinese people seemed to be very uneasy; you are overreacting.” “I do not know what on earth is going on. In the past, saying such things put their lives at risk, but now they are saying these things so casually; I am simply dumbfounded”, says the overseas representative.

“We will Give Up the Management to Attract Investment”

Refuting a comment concerning North Korea’s special attention to Chinese investors, one Pyongyang trader remarked, “About 200 Chinese companies are in North Korea. 70% of them are in the Rajin area. We pay special attention to them because they are in the beginning investment segment stage.” The investors pursue economic cooperation with North Korea based on four principles, are government-led, business-oriented, market management, and mutual benefits, the investors pursue economic cooperation with North Korea. They have been convincing us by saying “You have nothing to lose although it’s upon a free trading concept. It benefits both of us.” We haven’t given up the management so far as we’ve said back to them “You just invest, we will do the management”. It made them reluctant to invest. One of my close Chinese investors said to me, “I can’t just invest any more due to the bad management.” As we sense of investor’s reluctance, we are willing to give up our management so that we could induce more foreign investment. Even if our hospitality is great, Chinese investors don’t make investment decision easily unless the potential market research and survey are done. It’s very important for us to have more investment from outside then anything else. He said lastly, “However, we don’t know what giving up the management means to us and how it will be taking place in reality.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

North Korea Today No. 395, March 23, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible.We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.] ___________________________________________________________________________
This Year’s Food Crisis should be Reported to the Dear Leader

Isn’t Pyongyang Also Lacking Rations?

In Pyongyang, Shelters for the Homeless Appear in Each District

Army Provision Completed 60 Percent?

Residents Disgruntled about Government Exacting Small Business Funds

“Order to Halt Collecting Food for Military Provision” Issued

Military Rice Collection Was Forced, Not Voluntary

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

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

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

Isn’t Pyongyang Also Lacking Rations?

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

In Pyongyang, Shelters for the Homeless Appear in each District

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

“Army Provision Completed 60 Percent?”

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

Residents Disgruntled about Government Exacting Small Business Funds

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

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

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

Military Rice Collection Was Forced, Not Voluntary

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

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

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

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