Archive for October, 2020

Kim Jong-un announces 80-day speed battle until 2021 Party congress

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un announced an 80-day speed battle today, in the run-up to the 2021 Party congress. KCNA:

Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting.

The meeting discussed, as its first agenda item, the issue of successfully greeting the Eighth Congress of the Party by waging a dynamic 80-Day Campaign of the entire Party, the whole country and all the people.

A report on the first agenda item was made.

The report referred to the subjective and objective requirements for launching a fresh offensive under the current situation.

Today all the Party members and working people are dynamically waging the final all-out campaign to celebrate the 75th founding anniversary of the Party as a great festival of victors.

Now we are faced with a heavy and responsible task to grandly hold the celebrations for the 75th founding anniversary of the Party we have prepared with much effort and greet the Eighth Congress of the Party to be convened at the outset of the new year with proud labor successes.

We have only 80 odd days until the Eighth Congress of the Party to be etched as an important political event of epochal significance in the development of our Party and revolution.

(Source: “19th Meeting of Political Bureau of 7th Central Committee of WPK Held,” Korean Central News Agency, 6/10/2020.)

Not to toot my own analytical horn, but I did predict around the time of the congress announcement that a speed battle campaign may be afoot. The reason is simple: North Korea is in large economic difficulties and there are few tools in the toolbox that the government can realistically use at this time. Speed battles like this one are a common temporary solution to long-term problems, sort of like those 1,000 houses recently built that may well wash away again during the next flooding season.

There isn’t much to say about the economic rationale of these speed battles. If the state forces people to put in a large amount of labor hours, that will certainly lead to more production for the moment, but it doesn’t change anything in the long run.

Many North Koreans I’ve spoken to point to such “voluntary”, extra labor as one of the most exhausting, irritating parts of everyday life in North Korea. No doubt many sighs could be heard through the country at this announcement.

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How fast can you build 1,000 houses in North Korea?

Sunday, October 4th, 2020

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A couple of days ago, KCNA followed Kim Jong-un to Kimhwa county (in Kangwon province) for a flooding damage reconstruction inspection visit. It’s a standard activity with fairly standard reporting, but what caught my eye was the timespan the article speaks of (my emphasis):

Vividly recalling the day in the mid-August when a helicopter was used to learn about the situation of the disaster after over 900 mm disastrous downpour cut off even the roads and when he was shocked to hear the horrifying report that more than 1 000 dwelling houses were destroyed, he said that they all seem to have happened just yesterday.

Hearing the report that about 88 percent of the total construction project has now been done for nearly 1 000 families- several-storey dwelling houses in township area and single-storey dwelling houses in the ri of the county, he said with great satisfaction that the People’s Army is making world-startling achievements under the energetic leadership and meticulous guidance of our Party.

(Source: “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Inspects Sites of Reconstruction in Kimhwa County,” KCNA, 2/10/2020.)

So — flooding in mid-August. 1,000 dwelling houses swept away. Fast forward to early October, about a month and a half later, and 88 percent of these houses are now reconstructed?

Something sounds quite odd here, because that’s an awful lot of houses in a very short period of time. For a comparison, the average construction house in the US takes 7.7 months from construction start to finish.

I am by no means knowledgeable in engineering or housing construction, so if any readers can think of how this can all be squared, do please send an email.

What is possible is that many new houses have been built, but with speed rather than quality being the number one priority. Such houses would likely have a hard time withstanding future flooding, which will occur, because it does almost every year. Aid workers I spoke to for this article pointed to poor housing construction as one of the main causes for the high rates of material destruction and fatalities in flooding in North Korea.

That’s the thing about politically motivated deadlines and speed pressures — something has to give in the process, and often, it’s quality.

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