Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

North Korea on Google Earth

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Version 5: Download it here (on Google Earth) 

This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the fifth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include updates to new Google Earth overlays of Sinchon, UNESCO sites, Railroads, canals, and the DMZ, in addition to Kim Jong Suk college of eduation (Hyesan), a huge expansion of the electricity grid (with a little help from Martyn Williams) plus a few more parks, antiaircraft sites, dams, mines, canals, etc.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

I hope this map will increase interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to receiving your additions to this project.


South Korean News on Broadcast in Pyongyang

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

It was reported that the North Korean high officials and Chinese emigrants have been using the satellite antennas in Pyongyang and major cities in North Korea to get access to South Korean TV.

Previously it has been reported that the high quality antenna (Yagi Antenna) smuggled from China was used to intercept the South Korean ground waves, which allowed them to listen and watch South Korean news and drama through Japanese televisions in secrecy in Kaesung and Pyongyang.

The “Yagi Antenna” is a VHF receiver which is intercepted for television. This type of antenna is utilized as a receiver for waves from South Korean soil which has high risk of being detected by outside and enforces its usage around nighttime.

However, recently the high officials in North Korea use satellite antennas in secrecy to watch South Korean news and drama. Due to the restriction, the number of people utilizing this satellite service is restricted.

Song Myung Hak (pseudonym), a Chinese trader who went to Pyongyang last month said, “I was surprised to get a request from a friend of mine who worked as a North Korean diplomat on his request to obtain the CD of ‘Ways to Meet a Perfect Neighbor’ (South Korean drama series broadcasted on SBS). He said that he is watching it via satellite but he wanted to recap the episodes he missed.”

Song stated that, “The former diplomat had the satellite dish in his veranda and his entire family was watching South Korean TV. With the expansion of the culture of viewing South Korean TV, Kim Jong Il issued a ban, which is making everyone a bit nervous.”

He said, “If they get caught watching South Korean TV, the family could suffer.” He also added, “Because he was a former diplomat, who was used to living overseas and the life abroad, it was difficult for him to resist the temptation of watching South Korean TV and foreign news. I’m sure it’s the same way for all people.”

Song stated that, “The satellite dish is imported through China to North Korea. The most recently produced satellite dish is quite small in size and China takes care of the maintenance so all they have to do in North Korea is connect it to the TV.”

Kang Myung Gil (pseudonym), a South Korean businessman selling regular satellite antenna and satellite broadcasting Skylife on commission in Dandong, China, explained over the phone that, “The normal satellite antenna (antenna and receiver) costs 600 Yuan (approx. USD86) in total, including the installation costs. We are also receiving the service of Koreasat Mugunghwa 2 which can be received from North Korea as well.”

Kang said that, “There is no technical difficulty in receiving South Korean TV if they are on an elevated apartment with spacious veranda heading the Southern direction. All of the 7-8 channels including KBS1, KBS2, SBS, MBC, EBS, China HAO TV and others can be directly received.”

Jin Hee Myung (pseudonym), an Chinese emigrant originally from Shinuiju, also installed satellite broadcasting service in her apartment. He said that even though overseas Chinese are also under surveillance, they do not receive as harsh of treatment by the North Korean authorities.

He added, “My wife loves to watch South Korean drama so much that I had to risk the consequences and install it. The satellite dish is so small that unless our house is searched thoroughly, there is no worry of being caught.”

In North Korea, if one is caught watching South Korean TV for a long time, they may be put into jail or receive harsh punishments. However, it is the experts’ general analysis that with the expansion of foreign cultures, it will be more difficult for North Korea to control this trend.


S.Korean Networks to Pay Millions for N.Korean Footage

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Choson Ilbo (Hat Tip DPRK Studies)

Three South Korean terrestrial TV stations agreed in July to pay tens of millions to North Korea annually for footage from North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station. An SBS executive said South Korean TV stations have used TV pictures aired by KCBS for free, but in July, the Korean Foundation for South-North Economic and Cultural Cooperation, as a proxy of the North Korean TV station, concluded negotiations with three TV stations whereby SBS will pay about W20 million every year to KCBS through the foundation. MBC will pay slightly more than that, and KBS will pay about W30 million.

The foundation, chaired by United New Democratic Party member Im Jong-seok, was established in 2004. It held talks with the three terrestrial networks for a year and a half. In the talks, the three argued it was unreasonable for South Korean TV stations to pay for North Korean footage in programs that aim at promoting mutual understanding, and they generally rejected the idea of unilaterally paying North Korea when the North does not pay South Korean broadcasters for footage.


IFES Monthly report

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)


Following two days of talks between economic representatives of the two Koreas at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korea announced on July 7 that it would begin shipping raw materials to the North in exchange for DPRK natural resources. South Korea shipped 800,000 USD of polyester fabric on July 25, and is set to send the rest of the materials by the end of November. North Korea accepted South Korean prices for the goods, and will pay transportation, cargo working, and demurrage costs, as well. South Korea will pay for shipping, insurance, and the use of port facilities. On 28 July, a South Korean delegation left for the North in order to conduct on-site surveys of three zinc and magnesite mines. The team will spend two weeks in North Korea.

It was reported on 17 July that North Korea proposed a joint fishing zone north of the ‘Northern Limit Line’ dividing North and South territorial waters to the west of the peninsula. Seoul turned down the offer.

Inter-Korean military talks broke down early on 26 July after only three days of negotiations as North Korea insisted on the redrawing of the Northern Limit Line.

North Korea demanded on 27 July that workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex be given a 15 percent pay raise. The North Korean workers will not work overtime, weekends or holidays beginning in August unless the raise is granted.

It was reported by the Korea International Trade Association on 26 July that inter-Korean trade was up 28.6 percent in the first six months of 2007, totaling 720 million USD.


It was reported on 19 July that Russia and North Korea have agreed to connect Khasan and Najin by rail, enlisting investment from Russian oil companies interested in an inactive refinery at Najin Port capable of processing up to 120,000 barrels per day. The project is estimated to cost over two billion USD.


During a four-day visit to Mongolia by Kim Yong-nam beginning on 20 July, the two countries signed protocols on cooperation on health and science, trade and sea transport, and labor exchange issues. This follows on the heals of an agreement to allow South Korean trains to travel through North Korean territory on to Mongolia in route to Russia and Europe.


Japan took one step further to recover abductees in North Korea this month when the government began broadcasting propaganda into the DPRK intended for Japanese citizens. The broadcasts are made in Korean and Japanese (30 minutes each) daily, and updated once per week.


U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Alexander Vershbow stated that Washington was prepared to negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula by the end of the year if North Korea were to completely abandon its nuclear ambitions.



The Egyptian company Orascom Construction Industries announced a 115 million USD deal with North Korea’s state-owned Pyongyang Myongdang Trading Corporation to purchase a 50 percent state in Sangwon Cement. To put this in perspective, the deal in worth more than four times the amount of frozen DPRK funds that had caused six-party talks to break down and delayed the implementation of the February 13 agreement.


The Economist reported on 7 July that, according to foreigners living in the North’s capital, concern for petty law appears to be weakening. Citizens are reportedly smoking in smoke-free zones, sitting on escalator rails, and even blocking traffic by selling wares on the streets.

It was reported on July 11 that a letter sent earlier in the year by the North Korean Red Cross indicated severe shortages of medical supplies. The letter stated that North Korea would accept any medicine, even if it was past expiration, and accept all consequences for any problems that arose from using outdated supplies. The (South) Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association had no choice but to reject the request.

Events were held on July 11 in North Korea in order to promote women’s health and well-being issues. Marking World Population Day, a North Korean official stated that the DPRK has cooperated with the UN Population Fund since 1986, and is now in the fourth phase of cooperation.

Seeing entertainment venues as a “threat to society”, North Korean security forces have been implementing a shutdown of karaoke bars and Internet cafes. These venues mainly cater to traders in the northern regions of the country.

It was reported on July 13 that construction of North Korea’s first all-English language university was nearing completion. The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, funded largely by ROK and U.S. Christian evangelical groups, will hold 2600 students and offer undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in business administration, information technology, and agriculture.

Local elections were held on 29 July for DPRK provincial, city, and country People’s Assemblies. 100 percent of 27,390 candidates were approved with a 99.82 percent turnout reported.


Freedom of the Press 2007 Survey Release

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Freedom House

North Korea comes in last place again: 197

Asia-Pacific Region: The Asia-Pacific region as a whole exhibited a relatively high level of freedom, with 16 countries (40 percent) rated Free, 10 (25 percent) rated Partly Free, and 14 (35 percent) rated Not Free. Nevertheless, Asia is home to two of the five worst-rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, which have extremely repressive media environments, as well as several other poor performers such as China, Laos and Vietnam, all of which use state or party control of the press as the primary tool to restrict media freedom.

Several bright spots worth noting include Nepal, where wide-ranging political change led to a dramatic opening in the media environment, and Cambodia and Indonesia, which also featured positive movement. Asia saw many negative developments in 2006, however, continuing the downward regional trajectory noted in last year’s survey. Coups and military intervention led to the suspension of legal protections for press freedom and new curbs imposed on media coverage in Fiji and Thailand. Intensified political and civil conflict during the year contributed to declines in Sri Lanka, East Timor and the Philippines. Heightened restrictions on coverage, as well as harassment of media outlets that overstepped official and unofficial boundaries, negatively impacted press freedom in Malaysia, China and Pakistan.


N.K. defectors launch new political body

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Korea Herald
Annie Bang

Twenty organizations of North Korean defectors established a politically unified group in Seoul yesterday and pledged to lead activities to democratize the North.

The group also revealed satellite photos of 17 private houses in the North owned by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“The defectors, who experienced living under the dictatorship of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, must seek more systematic ways to democratize North Korea,” said Sohn Jung-hoon, secretary of the newly founded Committee of Democratizing North Korea.

The committee was formed by almost all the organizations of North Korean defectors in the South, including Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag, and Association of the North Korean Defectors.

“It is impossible for North Korea to recover its economy and resolve the shortage of food without freedom,” the committee said in a statement. “Democratizing North Korea is a must to bring peace on the Korean Peninsula, to improve inter-Korean relations and to recover the North Korean economy.”

Hwang Jang-yop, chairman of NKD, who was secretary of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, will lead the unified group.

There are over 100,000 North Koreans who defected from the North as of February, and the Seoul government believes the number will exceed 200,000 in five years.


U.S. budgets money to pressure North in 2008

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Kang Chan-ho

Budget allocations by the Bush administration show that the United States plans to continue to pressure North Korea about human rights violations and illicit financial transactions, despite the ongoing North Korean nuclear talks.

In its fiscal plan for the year 2008 released Monday, the U.S. State Department said $20 million had been set aside to support refugees in the East Asian region, including North Korean defectors, while $2 million had been earmarked to support activities promoting democracy in North Korea.

In addition, $668 million will be set aside for radio propaganda broadcasts: The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia will increase their combined broadcast hours targeted to the North by up to 10 hours each day. The State Department is focusing its broadcasts on North Korea, the Middle East, Somalia and Cuba.

In addition, the Treasury Department has budgeted $385,000 to hire two more officials to deal with illicit North Korean financial activities and act in an advisory role to bring more pressure on the communist country.

The budget plan by the State Department also outlined a timeline for the ongoing nuclear negotiations. It projects that should the nuclear talks be concluded, the actual process of dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons should start by early 2008. The plan states that negotiations to dismantle the North’s mid- to long-range missiles would begin next year as well.

Meanwhile, with nations involved in the six-party talks getting ready to convene in Beijing on Thursday to resume nuclear negotiations, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that without sincere measures taken by Pyongyang regarding Japanese abductees, Tokyo will not come up with the energy aid measures needed to compensate the North.

Officials involved in the nuclear talks have said they intended to take some initial steps toward implementing an international accord reached in September 2005. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported earlier that Pyongyang was looking to get 500,000 tons of heavy fuel per year in exchange for agreeing to stop operations at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country.


Update: Pyongyang ‘Rock for Peace’ Cancelled

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

According to DPRK Studies, Jean Baptiste Kim, Administrator for Voice of Korea and organizer for “rock for peace” has resigned his DPRK related activities and written a resignation letter that pulls no punches.  He denounces the regime, but also endorses opening up trade as a means of bringing the most social change:

[L]arge scale of regular free trade at national level will make ordinary people awaken from internal darkness because they will taste the differences from outside world. The regime will be unable to control people when people are massively moving forward to make money for themselves. Do not threat them. It only makes them be cautious and this kind of tension only drive ordinary people fall into the famine and death. Let them trade freely and legally. I dare to say that they will never go back to the past when start to make money. The solution is not GUN but MONEY but do not give them money but allow them make money by themselves.

Full text of the resignation letter is posted on DPRK studies.

Additionally, the Voice of Korea web site is down.

Part 1 from the First Post:
Joe Mackertich

Billed as “Rock for Peace”, the event is an attempt to promote the values and stability of North Korea. “We are not a mad, isolated country. We are part of an ordinary world, just like yourselves,” organisers told The First Post.

The decision to invite bands to play “western, capitalist” music was designed to change people’s perception of the Hermit Kingdom.

What it will resemble musically is anyone’s guess as no bands have yet been confirmed and anyone who accepts the invitation will have to refrain from mentioning war, sex, violence, drugs, imperialism or “anti-socialism”. Despite these strictures, the organisers hope to attract rock musicians such as Eric Clapton, U2 and – most surprising, given their redneck credentials – Lynyrd Skynyrd.

If the Rock for Peace festival is a success, there is talk of making it a regular occurrence and even staging the next one in the DMZ (demilitarised zone) between North and South Korea, the most heavily guarded border on earth.

Part 2: Voice of Korea
Here is a blurb from their website (bold added by NKEW):

There are few restrictions and conditions on participation but any band will be considered even though you are from USA. The lyrics should not contain admirations on war, sex, violence, murder, drug, rape, non-governmental society, imperialism, colonialism, racism, anti-DPRK, and anti-socialism. The concert will be held from May 01 to May 04, 2007 under the management of Voice of Korea. We currently received requests of 54 bands from 20 countries and participations are increasing every week. ‘ROCK FOR PEACE’ will be the 2007 version of Woodstock rock festival in 1969 but in a different location and with a different goal, We welcome every musician as long as they are purely music based without political intentions. Every band is financially responsible for their own trips to/from and staying in DPRK but we will offer sightseeing in many different places including DMZ, mountains, rivers, monuments, etc,,. Your musical instruments and related equipments, except passengers, will be transported at free of charge. If any band need confirmation letter from us in order to get sponsors, please do not hesitate to ask.


North Korea turns back the clock

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Asia Times
Andrei Lankov

Last Thursday in Seoul, the influential opposition daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo published a government document that outlined the plans for South Korean aid to be shipped to North Korea in the next financial year. In spite of the nuclear test in October and a series of missile launches last summer, the amount sent to Pyongyang this year was record-breaking – nearly US$800 million. If the document is to be believed, the target for the next year is set at an even higher level of 1 trillion won (about $910 million).

This generosity might appear strange, since technically both Koreas are still at war. However, it has long been an open secret that this is not the war the South wants to win, at least any time soon. The Seoul politicians do not want to provoke Pyongyang into dangerous confrontation, and they would be unhappy to deal with the consequences of a sudden collapse of Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship. Now South Korea wants a slow transformation of the North, and is ready to shower it with aid and unilateral concessions.

Many optimists in Seoul believe this generosity will persuade Pyongyang leaders to launch Chinese-style reforms. However, so far no significant reforms have happened. On the contrary, news emanating from the North since late 2004 seems to indicate that the government is now working hard to turn the clock back, to revive the system that existed until the early 1990s and then collapsed under the manifold pressures of famine and social disruption.

Signs of this ongoing backlash are many. There were attempts to revive the travel-permission system that forbids all North Koreans to leave their native counties without police permission. Occasional crackdowns have taken place at the markets. There were some attempts to re-establish control over the porous border with China.

Finally, in October 2005 it was stated that North Korea would revive the Public Distribution System, under which all major food items were distributed by state. Private trade in grain was prohibited, so nowadays the only legitimate way to buy grain, by far the most important source of calories in North Koreans’ diet, is by presenting food coupons in a state-run shop. It is open to question to what extent this ban is enforced. So far, reports from northern provinces seem to indicate that private dealing in grain still takes place, but on a smaller scale.

From early this month people in northern provinces are allowed to trade at the markets only as long as an aspiring vendor can produce a certificate that states that he or she is not a primary breadwinner of the household but a dependant, normally eligible to some 250 grams of daily grain ration (the breadwinners are given 534 grams daily). It is again assumed that all able-bodied males should attend a “proper” job, that is, to be employees of the government sector and show up for work regularly.

In the past few years the economic situation in North Korea was improving – largely because of large infusions of foreign aid. If so, why are the North Korean leaders so bent on re-Stalinizing their country, instead of emulating the Chinese reform policy that has been so tremendously successful? After all, the Mercedes-riding Chinese bureaucrats of our days are much better off than their predecessors used to be 30 years ago, and the affluence of common Chinese in 2006 probably has no parallels in the nation’s long history.

The Chinese success story is well known to Kim Jong-il and his close entourage, but Pyongyang leaders choose not to emulate China. This is not because they are narrow-minded or paranoid. The Chinese-style transformation might indeed be too risky for them, since the Pyongyang ruling elite has to deal with a challenge unlike anything their Chinese peers ever faced – the existence of “another Korea”, the free and prosperous South.

The Chinese commoners realize that they have not much choice but to be patient and feel thankful for a steady improvement of living standards under the Communist Party dictatorship. In North Korea the situation is different. If North Koreans learn about the actual size of the gap in living standards between them and their cousins in the South, and if they become less certain that any act of defiance will be punished swiftly and brutally, what will prevent them from emulating East Germans and rebelling against the government and demanding immediate unification?

Of course, it is possible that North Korean leaders will somehow manage to stay on top, but the risks are too high, and Pyongyang’s elite do not want to gamble. If reforms undermine stability and produce a revolution, the current North Korean leaders will lose everything. Hence their best bet is to keep the situation under control and avoid all change.

Until the early 2000s the major constraint in their policy was the exceptional weakness of their own economy. For all practical purposes, North Korea’s industry collapsed in 1990-95, and its Soviet-style collective agriculture produces merely 65-80% of the food necessary to keep the population alive. Since the state had no resources to pay for surveillance and control, officials were happy to accept bribes and overlook numerous irregularities.

However, in recent years the situation changed. Pyongyang is receiving sufficient aid from South Korea and China, two countries that are most afraid of a North Korean collapse. The nuclear program also probably makes North Korean leaders more confident about their ability to resist foreign pressure and, if necessary, to squeeze more aid from foes and friends (well, strictly speaking, they do not have friends now).

With this aid and new sense of relative security, the North Korean regime can prevent mass famine and restart some essential parts of the old system, with the food-distribution system being its cornerstone. This is a step toward an ideal of Kim Jong-il and his people, to a system where all able-bodied Koreans go to a state-managed job and spend the entire day there, being constantly watched and indoctrinated by a small army of propagandists, police informers, party officials, security officers and the like.

No unauthorized contacts with the dangerous outside world would be permitted, and no unauthorized social or commercial activity would happen under such system. Neither Kim nor his close associates are fools; they know perfectly well that such a system is not efficient, but they also know that only under such system can their privileges and security be guaranteed.

This is a sad paradox: aid that is often presented as a potential incentive for market-oriented reforms is actually the major reason North Korean leaders are now able to contemplate re-Stalinization of their country.

However, it remains to be seen whether they will succeed, since the North Korean society has changed much in the 12 years since the death of Kim Il-sung. New social forces have emerged, and the general mood has changed as well.

When in the mid-1990s the food rations stopped coming, previously forbidden or strictly controlled private trade became the only survival strategy available for a majority of North Koreans. The society experienced a sudden and explosive growth of grassroots capitalist economy, which by the late 1990s nearly replaced the “regular” Stalinist economy – at least, outside Pyongyang.

Apart from trade in a strict sense, North Korea’s “new entrepreneurs” are engaged in running small workshops, inns and canteens, as well as in providing all kinds of services. Another important part of the “second economy” is food production from individual plots, hitherto nearly absent from North Korea (from the late 1950s, farmers were allowed only tiny plots, not exceeding 100 square meters, sufficient only to grow some spices).

In many cases, the new business penetrates the official bureaucracy. While officials are not normally allowed to run their own business operations, some do, and as the line between the private and state businesses is becoming murky, the supposedly state-run companies make deals with private traders, borrow money on the black market and so on.

As one would expect, a new merchant class has emerged as a result of these changes. Nowadays an exceptionally successful North Korean entrepreneur would operate with capital reaching $100,000 (a fortune in a country where the average monthly salary is merely few dollars). Such mini-tycoons are very few and far between, but incomes measured in $100 a month are earned by many more merchants, and nearly all North Korean families earn at least a part of their income through the “second economy”.

These changes have produced a major psychological shift. The old assumptions about society are dead. After many decades of existence under the patronizing control of a Stalinist state, North Koreans discovered that one can live without going to an office to get next month’s food coupons. They also learned a lot more about the outside world. Smuggled South Korean videotapes are important, if dangerous, merchandise in the North Korean markets.

Contacts with China are necessary for a successful business, and these contacts bring not only goods for sale but also rumors about overseas life. And, of course, the vendors are the first people within living memory who became successful outside the official system. One of these former merchants recently told me: “Those who once attempted to trade, came to like it. Until now, [North Koreans] knew that only cadres could live well, while others should be content with eating grass gruel, but now merchants live better than cadres, and they feel proud of themselves.”

It seems that in recent months we have seen the very first signs of the social activity displayed by this new social group. Early last month, a large group of outraged merchants gathered in front of the local office in the city of Hoiryong, demanding to talk to the representatives of the authorities.

The Hoiryong riot was strictly non-political. A few months ago the local officials collected payments from the market vendors, promising to use the money for refurbishing the old market. However, the market was suddenly closed instead of being refurbished (perhaps as part of the ongoing crackdown on private commercial activities). The outraged vendors gathered near the market and demanded a refund.

The crowd was soon dispersed, and more active participants of the protest were arrested. Had a similar incident happened elsewhere, it would probably not have warranted more than a short newspaper report, but in North Korea this was an event of tremendous significance, the first time in decades that North Koreans openly and loudly expressed their dissatisfaction with a decision of the authorities.

In March 2005, a soccer riot in Pyongyang demonstrated that North Koreans are quite capable of breaking the law, but during that event the popular wrath was provoked by a foreigner, a Syrian referee, and could be construed as an outpouring of nationalistic sentiments (the soccer fans soon began to fight police, however). This time, in Hoiryong, a large group of North Koreans clearly challenged the state bureaucracy. Perhaps nothing like it has happened since the 1950s.

However, the growing power and social independence of the merchants is not the major problem the North Korean neo-Stalinists have to face. They deal with a society that has changed much, not least because of the penetration of modern technology, which facilitates the spread of information. The key role is played by the Chinese border, which is almost uncontrolled and has become an area of widespread smuggling.

Small radio sets are widely smuggled from China, so much so that a defector recently said: “In North Korea, nowadays every official has a radio set in his house.” This is new, since until the early 1990s all North Korean radios were fixed so that they could receive only official broadcasts. Theoretically, radio sets with free tuning are still banned, but this is not enforced. These radios sets are used to listen to foreign broadcasts, especially from South Korea.

Videocassette recorders are common as well. No statistics are available, but it seems that nearly half of all households in the borderland area and a smaller but significant number of households in Pyongyang have a VCR that is used to watch foreign movies. Defectors reported that in mid-October, just after the nuclear test, all North Koreans were required to sign a written pledge about non-participation in “non-socialist activity”. It was explained during the meetings that this activity includes listening to foreign radio and watching foreign videotapes.

Thus it seems that only a few people still believe in the official myth of South Korean destitution. Perhaps most people in the North do not realize how great the difference between their lives and those of their South Korean brethren is. Perhaps, for most of them, being affluent merely means the ability to eat rice daily. Discussions with recent defectors also create an impression that most North Koreans still believe that the major source of their problems is the suffocating “US imperialist blockade”. Still, the old propaganda about the destitute and starving South is not readily swallowed anymore.

Another obstacle on the way to a Stalinist revival is a serious breakdown of morale among officialdom. The low-level officials whose job is to enforce stricter regulations do not feel much enthusiasm about the new orders. Back in the 1940s and 1950s when Stalinism was first established in North Korea under Soviet tutelage, a large part of the population sincerely believed that it was the way to the future.

Nowadays, the situation is different. The low-level bureaucrats are skeptical. They are well aware of the capitalism-driven Chinese prosperity, and they have some vague ideas about South Korea’s economic success. And they are unconvinced by government promises that, as they know, never materialize. Unlike the elite, the mid-level officials have little reason to be afraid of the regime’s collapse. And, last but not least, they have become very corrupt in recent years, hence their law-enforcement zeal diminishes once they see an opportunity to earn extra money for looking other way.

At the same time, the new measures might find support from the large segments of population who did not succeed in the new economy and long for the stability of Kim Il-sung’s era. Recently, a former trader told me: “Elderly or unlucky people still miss the times of socialism, but younger people do business very well, believe that things are better now than they used to be and worry that the situation might turn back to the old days.”

We should not overestimate the scope of this generalization. After all, it is based on the observations of a market trader who obviously spent much time with her colleagues, the winners of the new social reality. Among less fortunate North Koreans, there will be some people who perhaps would not mind sitting through a couple of hours of indoctrination daily, if in exchange they would receive their precious 534 grams of barley-rice mixture (and an additional 250 grams per every dependant).

Early this month it was also reported that low-level officials had received new orders requiring them to tighten up residence control, normally executed through so-called “people’s groups”. Each such group consists of 30-50 families living in the same block or same apartment building and is headed by an official whose task is to watch everything in the neighborhood.

The new instructions, obtained by the Good Friends, a well-informed non-governmental organization dealing with North Korea, specify the deviations that are of particular importance: “secretly watching or copying illegal videotapes, using cars for trade, renting out houses or cooking food for sale, making liquors at home”. All these are “anti-socialist activities which must be watched carefully and exterminated”. The struggle to return to Kim Il-sung’s brand of socialism continues.

Still, North Korean authorities are fighting an uphill battle. In a sense they are lucky, since many foreign forces, including their traditional enemy, South Korea, do not really want their system to collapse and thus avoid anything that might promote a revolution. However, the regime is too anachronistic and too inefficient economically, so a great danger for its survival is created by the very existence of the prosperous world just outside its increasingly porous borders.

In the long run, all attempts to maintain a Stalinist society in the 21st century must be doomed. However, the North Korean leaders are fighting to buy time, to enjoy a few additional years of luxurious life (or plain security) for themselves. How long they will succeed remains to be seen.

Dr Andrei Lankov is a lecturer in the faculty of Asian Studies, China and Korea Center, Australian National University. He graduated from Leningrad State University with a PhD in Far Eastern history and China, with emphasis on Korea, and his thesis focused on factionalism in the Yi Dynasty. He has published books and articles on Korea and North Asia. He is currently on leave, teaching at Kookmin University, Seoul.


Travel more difficult

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

From the Daily NK:
Transportation Chaos in N.K… “1 Train Operating Every 10 Days”

A dire source from North Korea informed on the 5th that the main railway Pyong-ra line (Pyongyang-Rajin) connecting east North Korea with the inland was suspended leaving people in extreme transportation chaos.

In a phone conversation with a reporter, Kim Min Chul (pseudonym, 47) of Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung province said “It took me more than 1 month to travel from Pyongsung, Pyongan province to Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung province.” Kim who went to Pyongsung and Suncheon in Pyongan province at the end of last July for trade revealed “I returned barely alive and having spent all my money on the road.”

Kim said “The passenger train that connects Pyongan and Chongjin, North Hamkyung province only operates once every 10 days and so the majority of people ride trucks or buses.”

The Shinuiju-Chongjin train service that departs Chongjin, North Hamkyung province for Shinuiju can only operate unto Kowon, North Hamkyung province as restorations for the railroad at Yangduk is not yet complete. The train that arrives at Kowon is then returned back to Chongjin, however this seems to take 10 days.

According to Kim, this past April an accident occurred on the railroad between Yangduk, South Pyongan province and Kowon, North Hamkyung province. A train was overturned and before any restorations could be made, the flood that coincided blocked the tunnel and the rail roadbed was washed away. In some parts of the region, 50m of the rail is warped and in mid-air.

On April 23rd 2006, a 13 carriage train collided with a freight train between the regions of Yangduk-Kowon on its way from Pyongyang to Pyonggang, Gangwon province. It was a large-scale accident where 270 soldiers and 400 civilians were concealed on the train. Kim supposes that at the time, North Korean authorities feared the accident would become public, therefore ceased railway operations for a period of time.

Kim said “At present, traveling long distances is particularly inconvenient as trains are not operating properly. As a result the main services between Yangduk, Pyongyang province, and the east with the inland have become virtually nonexistent.”

Train ticket cost a minimum of 5,000won ($1.67)

As trains are suspended ‘paying to car-pool’ is increasing, as costs rise dramatically.

One North Korean source said “It is becoming a custom that you automatically show a 5,000won($1.67) the moment you board a car. In the case you are carrying luggage, each baggage costs an additional 5,000won.” The cost of traveling from Wonsan, Gangwon province to Kowon, South Hamkyung province is 5,000won, from Wonsan to Pyongyang 20,000won($6.67) and from Wonsan to Hamheung, North Hamkyung province 10,000won($3.33).

The source said “People using trains ride cars between Yangduk to Wonsan and then board trains like ‘a relay race’ only barely returning home.”

The source relayed, unfortunate people travel by walking for over 10 days from Yangduk to Sudonggu, North Hamkyung province through the Bukdaeryeong mountain paths renown for it’s rugged terrain. These people climb over mountains eating stolen potatoes and corn in nearby fields, which has led to a rise in complaints by the people.

Having a bad influence throughout the economy … Skyrocketing prices

As the belt between the east and inland is disconnected, adverse affects are impacting throughout North Korea’s economy and the lives of the people. Even North Hamkyung province which encountered little flood damages is facing restraints as goods cannot be delivered. The people in the majority live off trade are in a situation where they cannot even embezzle goods from each other as trains have been suspended.

The railroad is a critical means of transportation to the point it is called the ‘Economy’s Artery.’ As an important railroad such as this has been suspended, the whole economy has recoiled and signs of shortage in food prevalent.

Accordingly prices at Jangmadang are escalating. In a phone conversation with Kim Sun Mi(pseudonym, 35) of Onsung district, North Korea, confirmed this fact. Kim said “As roads and railways throughout the country are becoming immobilized, prices are skyrocketing.”

Kim said “The cost of rice has risen at Jangmadang at 1,300won ($0.43) per kilo, corn is 300won ($0.1), corn oil is 2,800won ($0.93) a bottle, bean oil is 3,200won ($1.07) and pork 3,300won ($1.1).”

Kim said “At present, Kotjebi (street children) are becoming more prevalent in the districts of Chongjin, North Hamkyung and Dancheon, South Hamkyung province. With an obscure thought that ‘You can only live if you go to the borders’ they are drawing to the districts near China and the border areas such as Hoiryeong, Musan and Onsung.”

In the mid-90’s, as the country faced difficulties due to lack of power and old equipment, trains operated once every 10~15 days. In those days, when a train stopped briefly, people would detach windows and chairs putting them to fire.