Archive for October, 2005

North Koreans Are Changing

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

North Korea of 2005 is on a crossroad. Its people are not sure where to go, and its government tries hard to stay in control. But things are changing, the 50-odd years of Juche-style Stalinism are over or almost over. The long decease is not over yet, but there are clear signs of recovery. It has a future. This future is unlikely to be easy, but the country began its slow move forward.

It was a perfect sunny October day here. It was my first visit in two decades. I stood on the city’s main street, not far away from Kim Il Sung University which I attended 20 years ago, and was looking around.

A small crowd near the Chinese Embassy wall attracted my attention. People were carefully studying something inside a large window on the wall: some finished and went away, only to be replaced by others. Of course, I came closer.

The people’s attention was attracted by the pictures which were put into the Chinese Embassy’s “information window”. The pictures were large and colorful, but otherwise absolutely unremarkable. The photos and captions were no different from the stuff the cultural attaches across the globe put on the walls of their embassies – the usual boring fare about growth of shrimp production, new computer classes and state-of-the-art chicken farms. However, in North Korea of 2005 such mundane matters would attract a crowd. Those pictures gave a glimpse of the overseas life.

This small episode was a sign of what was in the air in North Korea of 2005: people are eager to learn more about the outside world. They are less afraid to show their interest in what once was forbidden knowledge, and they are increasingly uncertain about the future.

At a superficial glance, it feels as if the entire city has remained frozen in time since the mid-1980s. On my first day, I walked some 5-7 km across the downtown, and had no reason to worry that I might loose my way. All old buildings were still there, and very few structures appeared over those two decades.

The North Korean capital is still the same city of somewhat dilapidated Soviet-style apartment projects (with traditional huts hidden inside the blocks), nearly absent traffic, uniformed police girls on the crossroads, and crowds dressed in the old good “Mao suits”.

As a matter of fact, “crowds” might be an exaggeration. The city felt empty, and at all probability it was half-empty in those days. As part of the regular mobilization program, most of its population was sent to the countryside to work at the fields or to join the “battle for harvest” as this rather mundane operation is known in North Korea.

Like other socialist economies, North Korea has serious troubles with agriculture, and the townsfolk is required to provide manpower for the farms twice a year, during planting and harvesting.

However, this impression of unchanged city is misleading. The conversations with people clearly demonstrate that over those decades Pyongyang has changed – or rather its people has changed. It was the same city, but a different society.

People were frank – not as frank as they would probably be in most other countries, of course, but still much franker than in past.

When none of our supervisors was hanging around, it was possible to strike a meaningful conversation with a North Korean. And in a matter of minutes the conversation would slide to issues nobody was insane enough to approach 20 years ago.

People wanted to know how the life overseas looks like. They asked about salaries and prices, travel and housing. Well, these questions might sound a bit too materialistic for some of our readers.

Perhaps, but the North Korean government has always insisted that it is second to none when it comes to meeting material demands of the populace. And it seems that the North Koreans are beginning to feel doubts about truthfulness of these long-standing claims.

There are good reasons for such doubts. Even grossly privileged Pyongyang does not look like a rich city, to put it mildly. Of course, statistics about the large and growing gap between two Koreas (approximately 20-fold if per capita GDP is used) is widely known, but it is altogether different matter to see this disparity with one’s own eyes.

However, one cannot see Pyongyang as really impoverished. The serious poverty could be encountered in the countryside.

We could catch a glimpse of it on our way to the city of Kaesong. Compared to destitute north-eastern provinces, this is still the privileged part of the country, but the picture was disturbing.

The Pyongyang-Kaesong highway is a road of reasonable quality (albeit with bad paving), but it was completely empty, with hardly a dozen vehicles encountered over hundred kilometers.

There were almost no signs of agricultural machines in the fields, with harvesting made by bare hands of farmers and city dwellers who are mobilized to join the “battle for the harvest”.

The landscape was free from all those intrusive details of modern civilization which so often annoy tourists (of course, the tourists assume that they would have access to such amenities back home).

No mobile phone antennas, few motor vehicles, very few powerlines. Sometimes it was easy to imagine oneself transported back to the times of Tang Empire when the kings of Silla dynasty ruled the Korean peninsula.

This might be a good feeling, of course – as long as one does not think too much about people who have to live in this “romantic” area under nearly medieval conditions.

And these people looked bad – worse, actually, than 20 years ago when a motor harvester was still a usual sight in a North Korean paddy field. People in the countryside were undernourished, badly dressed, their brown seemed faces covered with deep wrinkles.

Kaesong was clearly one large step down the North Korean hierarchy of prosperity (or lack thereof). It was strange to think that we were merely two hours drive from the hyper-modern and affluent Seoul – and the sight of Kaesong makes one think about the likely impact which the unavoidable “discovery” of South Korean affluence will have on those destitute people.

It also makes to have second thoughts about unification – it is difficult to imagine how those destitute farmers will find the common ground with their brethren from another side of the border. They will do it somehow, no doubt, but adjustment is bound to be painful.

However, in spite of all destitution there are many reasons for hope. Within those days we managed to meet quite a few Western businessmen quietly operating in North Korea. In order to succeed in this strange and often treacherous environment, one should remain silent and as press-shy as possible, but there is a number of the foreign businesses operating there.

The businesspeople are surprisingly optimistic about ongoing changes and about the country’s future: they talk about great transformation they witnessed over the last few years. The private economy is growing fast and the local people are hard-working and full of initiative.

The officials are increasingly corrupt, of course, but this is not necessarily bad: if they are willing to accept kickbacks, they do not care that much about following the official regulations which often are remarkably unreasonable.

Of course, the growth of market economy does not mean only good things. One of few visual changes easily noticeable in Pyongyang was an increase in social inequality. Back in the 1980s, it was not that difficult to tell an official from a humble commoner. Officials were dressed better, and sported leather shoes while the commoner had the cloth-and-plastic footwear. However, the difference was not as pronounced as it is now when on the Pyongyang street there is a small minority (few percent, perhaps) of people whose dress would not be out of place somewhere in downtown Seoul.

Sometimes, things old and things new go hand in hand. In one of the companies we visited, I spotted what is probably the worst example of comically exaggerated propaganda I’ve ever seen (and somebody dealing with North Korea for 20-odd years has seen a lot of comically exaggerated propaganda).

The hand-written poster explained why Kim Jong-il was superior to all other great minds of the humanity: “Marx was 28 years old when he founded The Communists’ Union; Lenin was 25 years old when he founded The Working Class Liberation Union; but the Dear Leader was 11 years old when he founded the Group to study the strategy of General Kim Il Sung!”

The same place also had a floor plan which demonstrated what the Great Leader did when he visited the company back in the 1980s – the plan signs indicated where the great man stood for a minute and which path he followed while moving from one desk to another. However, the same factory was also a place where we saw the most rational manager, whose speech was remarkably free from all kinds of usual demagogy. This lady in her 50s spoke like any manager, from Alaska to Madagascar would probably talk to visitors.


Rallying round to boost Korean harvest

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Andrew Harding

It was early on Sunday morning, but Roh Buk-chong, a 39-year-old postman, was already striding down the road leading north from Pyongyang.

“I am a volunteer,” he said. “I am going to help the farmers with the harvest – full of patriotic enthusiasm.”

He was not alone. In a scene strangely reminiscent of a 1950s Soviet propaganda film, the road was clogged with pedestrians and cyclists, heading for the nearby rice fields in the bright sunshine.

A government van passed by with loudspeakers on the roof, playing a rousing tune.

“They call me the girl who works well,” went the lyrics. “They call me the girl who works faster than the fastest horse.”

All this is part of what observers say is a concerted push by North Korea’s isolated regime to boost domestic food production, in a country where a third of the population is chronically malnourished.

It may be working. According to some predictions, this year’s harvest will be 10% larger than in 2004.

But that will not be enough, warned the UN World Food Programme’s country director, Richard Ragan.

“North Korea is chronically food insecure, so it’s unlikely in the near term that it will ever produce enough food,” he said.

Aid withdrawal

For the past decade, international food aid has helped bridge the gap for millions of North Koreans, many of whom starved to death during a famine in the mid-1990s.

The WFP now has 19 food processing plants in the country, helping to feed 6.5 million people.

It is backed up by a team of foreign monitors, who keep track of malnutrition rates.

But all that is about to change. North Korea’s heavily politicised drive for a bigger domestic harvest has been coupled with a new and more controversial move to end international food aid, and restrict the number of foreign aid workers in the country.

Although the details are being negotiated, all the WFP’s food plants are due to close within the next month.

“North Koreans are proud people,” said Mr Ragan. “They don’t want to create a culture of dependency, which makes a lot of sense.

“But there are still real humanitarian needs here, and it remains to be seen now they deal with them.”

Some aid is expected to continue in the form of development assistance next year.

China and South Korea are also likely to help make up any shortfall in food supplies.

But North Korea’s most vulnerable groups are now facing a period of uncertainty.

A key concern is how food will be distributed, and whether the army’s needs will be put ahead of the rest of the population.

High inflation recently prompted the authorities to abandon a market system for grain distribution, in favour of the old state-controlled policy – which the WFP has described as “inoperable”.


Markets on the rise in North Korea

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Andrei Lankov is a bottomless pit of information:

Until around 1990 markets and private trade played a moderate role in North Korean society. Most people were content with what they were officially allocated through the public distribution system, and did not want to look for other opportunities. The government also did its best to suppress the capitalist spirit. The rations were not too generous, but they were sufficient for survival.

The collapse of the USSR brought a sudden end to the flow of the Soviet aid.  But men still felt bound to their jobs by their obligations and rations (distributed through work places). Being used to the stability of the previous decades, the North Koreans saw the situation as a temporary crisis that soon would be overcome, somehow. No doubt, they reasoned, one day everything will go back to the “normal” (that is, Stalinist) state of affairs. So men are better off in keeping their jobs, that way they will be able to continue their careers after the eventual “normalization” of the situation. The ubiquitous “organizational life” also played its role: a North Korean adult is required to attend endless indoctrination sessions and meetings, and these requirements are harsher for males.

Women had enjoyed much more freedom. By the standard of Communist countries North Korea has always had an unusually high percentage of housewives among married women. While in most other Communist countries married women were required and pressed to continue work after marriage, in North Korea the government did not really mind when married women quit their jobs to become full-time housewives.

Thus, when the economic crisis began, women were the first to take up market activities of all kinds. In some cases they began selling household items they could do without, or selling homemade food. Eventually, these activities developed into larger businesses. While men went to their plants (which by the mid-1990s had usually ceased operation) women plunged into the market activity.

This tendency was especially pronounced among low- and middle-income families. The elite received rations even through the famine years of 1996-1999, so women of North Korea’s “top 5 percent” usually continued with their old lifestyle. Nonetheless, some of them began to use their ability to get goods cheaply. Quite often wives of high-level cadres are involved in the resale of merchandise first purchased from their husbands’ factories at the cheap official prices. But for them this was a way to move from being well-off to being rich. The lesser folks had to do something just to stay alive.

Indeed, the change in gender roles during the famine years is only a part of the gradual changes in the Korean family, and these changes are surprisingly similar in the North and South. But that is another story…


N Korea admits South kidnappings

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005


North Korea has admitted it is holding 21 South Koreans either captured during the 1950-53 Korean War or subsequently, the South Korean government has said.
Seoul had pressed the North about 52 POWs and 51 citizens it believes were abducted after the war.

Seoul has been raising the issue for decades, but has recently been wary of campaigning too hard for fear of damaging relations, analysts say.

It is not clear why the normally secretive North Korea has responded.

“North Korea has confirmed there are 11 abductees and 10 prisoners of war alive in the North,” a South Korean Unification Ministry official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

Of the other South Koreans whom Seoul had inquired about, the North said 10 kidnapped citizens and six POWs were dead, and the rest unaccounted for.

Many people in South Korea believe around 1,000 South Koreans are alive in the North.

These include more than 540 POWs, according to the Red Cross.


A number of the kidnapped South Koreans will be able to see their families again during the next round of reunions between relatives who ended up on different sides of the Korean border after the war ended, Yonhap news agency reported. This is scheduled for 5-10 November.

Japan also believes its citizens are being held in the North against their will.

It has been much more vociferous in its inquiries, and in 2002 Pyongyang admitted it had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 80s, but said eight of them had since died.

The five still alive returned to Japan three years ago, but Tokyo questions whether the others are really dead, and believes there may be yet more held captive in the North.


Two Pillars of the North Korean Regime, Information Politics and the Reign of Terror

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Many people wonder about how North Korea is maintains despite the chronic food crisis and many other difficulties it suffered for a long time.

In South Korea, people would have organized more than a dozen of popular riots.

What would be behind the silence in North Korea? The answer is the notorious two pillars in North Korea, information politics and the reign of terror.

The National Security Agency in North Korea is the core agency for information politics. Since the Chief of Agency Lee Jin Su died in August, 1987, no other head of the agency was appointed. The role was taken over by Jang Sung Taek, #1 vice director of Organization and Guidance Department, and Kim Young Ryong, the former National Security Agency #1 Director (deceased in 1998).

Kim Jong Il directs the agency himself, making them believe his right over the agency is that the agency is for the security of the Supreme Commander, which is himself.

There are about 50,000 employees under the National Security Agency and its branch offices. It is estimated that about 20,000 are directly involved in the information activities. This means there is one agent per 1,000 North Koreans.

The security agents secure their sources individually, train them and collect information in their secret places. Even among the peers and friends, all the people mistrust each other because they do not know who the sources are for the agents.

According to the agency principles, even among agents have double or triple layers of supervision. One of the main reasons why the anti-regime force did not become active remains in this very system of mistrust

The North Korean regime, through the collective living style, ▲encourages mutual criticism and self criticism and increases mistrust among them, ▲The agents keep watch of the people and arrest them, ▲ the safety agency (police) make sure people do not meet in group through the people’s department. This is the reality of North Korea.

Securing Sources, Training in Secret Places

Security sources and training is done according to the characteristics of the agent. The agency runs secret places especially for training.

In November 12, 1992, Kim Jong Il changed the name of the National Security Agency to the National Safety and Security Agency and ordered to strengthen the training in crack down the anti-party, anti-revolution forces.

It was in 1993 when such secret places were made. It was of course made in top secret. Those involved in building such secret places believe they must be apartments for high level officials, such as honorary revolutionists of the independent movement (against Japan) or war heroes. However, these “luxurious apartments” were for the people receiving training, who spend ten to fifteen days there.

Because there is danger of discovery of identification, only one person is trained at a time. Those who leave home for the training their wives they are leaving for work.

Training is done directly by the secretary of the agency or designated security agents. They give off the belief, saying, “With the trust of the Great Commander, 00 (name of the trainee) is to engage in the national security activities.”

The agent provides professional training to the trainee such as how to approach the targets, inducement to conversation, such reporting. After the training, they are sent back to their workplaces.

The persons in charge of the secret places are selected among the sources, and he is to cut of all the contact to the outside world. Looking at expensive cars going in and out of a remote place, people are only wonder about what kind of house it would be.

Even the Former Detention Camp Prisoners and Wanderers Selected

The security agents have their own ways of contacting each other such as leaving memos under a rock, between a crack on factory walls, or inside a rotten tree trunk. The agents even select former prisoners and wanderers as one of their sources, but they are not given the special training session.

This is because only through such sources information about anti-regime or anti-party forces could obtained. The agents use both credence and threat to manipulate their sources. Sometimes, they used to give compensation as much as 100Won (in 1990, average worker’s monthly wage was 70Won), but after the food crisis, such cash awards stopped altogether.

There also exist some conflicts between the agents and the sources. In local place, one of the sources asked his agent to issue him a travel permit. When he could not, the source spread a rumor that “the National Security Agency has less power than the Safety Agency” which made a big issue in the region.

There is no compensation for providing high level information while people get arrested for ambiguous things they commit, so the people who were selected as sources become distressed. Recently, there is an increase of the people who prefer to not cooperate with the agents.

Also it is known that the information agents (sources) and the security agents together take advantage of their status. The sources report the security agents of the people who do business with prohibited goods such video tapes from another country, and they make benefit themselves by confiscating of all such goods.


Tobacco firm has secret North Korea plant

Monday, October 17th, 2005

The Guardian
Ian Cobain and David Leigh

Firm with Tories’ Ken Clarke on payroll runs factory in country with grim human rights record

British American Tobacco, the world’s second largest cigarette company, has secretly been operating a factory in North Korea for the past four years, the Guardian has learned. The company opened the plant in a joint venture with a state owned corporation shortly before the regime was denounced by George Bush as a member of the “axis of evil”, and despite widespread concern over the country’s human rights record.

BAT has never mentioned the factory in its annual accounts, and it is thought that many shareholders are unaware of its links with the country.

The discovery of the secret factory comes two years after BAT was forced to pull out of Myanmar, formerly Burma, under pressure from the UK government and human rights campaigners. The human rights record of the communist regime in North Korea is widely regarded as even worse than that of the brutal military dictatorship in Burma.

The disclosure of the existence of the plant comes a day before the first ballot in the Conservative leadership election in which Ken Clarke, BAT’s non-executive deputy chairman, is a candidate.

BAT confirmed that Mr Clarke, who has been on the company’s payroll since 1998, was aware of the decision to invest in North Korea. The firm has also said that as chair of BAT’s corporate social responsibility audit committee, Mr Clarke “would oversee human rights reports on all countries where we operate”.

Mr Clarke declined to comment, although he has previously denied any impropriety in his role with BAT.

The anti-smoking group Ash said: “It seems that there is no regime so awful and no country so repressive that BAT does not want to do business there. It beggars belief that an MP like Ken Clarke could be taken seriously as a candidate to lead a major political party.”

Mr Clarke could face an investigation by the Commons health committee over accusations that he gave false evidence to parliament when he denied BAT was embroiled in international cigarette smuggling. Mr Clarke dismissed the smuggling claims as “nonsense” five days after BAT’s lawyers had confirmed that certain claims were true, in an internal letter which subsequently came to light in the US. Mr Clarke has denied giving false evidence.

BAT launched its business in North Korea in September 2001 after forming a joint venture company with a state-owned enterprise called the Korea Sogyong Trading Corporation, whose main interest had previously been exporting carpets. BAT made an initial investment of $7.1m in the enterprise, and owns 60% of the company they formed, which is known as Taesong-BAT. It has since increased its investment, but declines to say by how much. This company employs 200 people at its factory in Pyongyang, the capital, producing up to two billion cigarettes a year. It initially produced an inexpensive brand called Kumgansan, named after a mountain in the east of the country, and is now producing brands that are known as Craven A and Viceroy. Despite its previous involvement in smuggling, BAT denies that any of its cigarettes produced in North Korea are intended for the Chinese market, and insists that they are all for consumption in North Korea.

The company says that it has worked to improve the working conditions of its employees in Pyongyang, that it provides workers with free meals, and that they are “well paid”. When asked how much the employees were paid, however, the company said it did not know. BAT even said that it had “no idea” how much its cigarettes cost on the North Korean market as the operation was run by the company’s Singapore division.

Questioned about its apparent reluctance to disclose the existence of its North Korean operation, BAT said that it listed only its “principal subsidiaries” in its accounts, and added that it was not obliged to inform investors about an investment of that size.

“It is a very small entity within the BAT group and, therefore, does little to justify a mention,” a spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman denied the factory was “a secret”, adding: “If we are asked about our investment there, we respond appropriately. The investor community know of it.” Asked about North Korea’s human rights record, a company spokeswoman said: “It is not for us to interfere with the way governments run countries.” She said BAT could “lead by example” and assist the country’s development by meeting internationally accepted standards of businesses practice and corporate social responsibility.

In launching its North Korean enterprise, however, BAT is quietly doing business in a country which is regarded by some as having the worst human rights record in the world. Even one of BAT’s own public relations officers, in Japan, was astonished when questioned about the joint venture company. “Business with North Korea?” he asked. “Where there are no human rights?” The depth of concern about the suffering of people in North Korea is expressed in a series of reports by the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.

Last August, in an excoriating report presented to the UN General Assembly, Vitit Muntabhorn, special rapporteur on North Korea for the UN’s Commission on Human Rights, pointed to the “myriad publications” detailing violence against detainees. He expressed “deep concern” about reported torture, the killing of political prisoners, the large number of prison camps and use of forced labour. Finally, he protested at the “all pervasive and severe restrictions on the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association and on access of everyone to information”.

In its latest report on the country, Amnesty International highlighted concerns about the torture and execution of detainees, and worries over the lack of basic political freedom. The charity said that millions of North Korean people were suffering hunger and malnutrition. It added that there had been reports of public executions of people convicted of economic crimes, and that Christians, whose churches have been driven underground, were reported to have been executed because of their faith.

According to human rights observers in South Korea, about 200,000 people are held in prison camps in the north.

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, describes the Pyongyang regime as being “among the world’s most repressive governments”, adding that its leader, Kim Jong Il, “has ruled with an iron fist and a bizarre cult of personality” since the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.

BAT carried on its business in Myanmar for four years, running a cigarette factory in a joint venture with that county’s military dictatorship. It pulled out only after the UK government had asked it to withdraw and after Mr Clarke had been forced to admit, at a shareholders’ meeting, that “Burma is not one of the world’s most attractive regimes”.

FAQ: BAT in North Korea

What’s wrong with investing in North Korea?
Britain says it will not officially support investment there because of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Others, such as Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), object to investment which props up a notoriously cruel communist regime.

What is BAT’s track record as a company?
BAT has refused to stop selling cigarettes around the world, despite proof that its product is addictive and bad for health. Instead, it has sought to increase profits despite western governments imposing more legal restrictions, by selling to unsophisticated consumers in the developing world.

What is Ken Clarke’s role in BAT?
He collects £170,000 a year in pay and perks, in return for the title of deputy chairman. As a former health secretary and chancellor, he gives BAT credibility and international connections.

Why has his behaviour caused controversy?
When the company was accused of being involved in the lucrative smuggling trade in China and Latin America, Mr Clarke falsely claimed to parliament the accusations were “nonsense”.


The North Korean ‘Salaryman’

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

“How much do they earn there, in the North?” “What are North Korean salaries now?” These questions come naturally, even if people are aware that in a socialist economy the formal size of one’s salary is less significant an indicator of wealth than it is in capitalism.
Under socialism, access to goods is at least as important as the amount of money in somebody’s possession. Since retail prices in the socialist economies tend to be subsidized, this means that many goods are not readily available in shops, but are distributed by the state bureaucracy instead. Thus, people who are deemed more deserving get such goods… goods that are not available to the “less valuable” people.

A party bureaucrat and a skilled worker often might have roughly similar salaries in a socialist economy, but their actual consumption levels may be vastly different. Apart from bureaucrats, another group of people who have privileged access to commodities are people employed in the retail system. They always can divert some goods from the public distribution system and use them either for their own consumption, or for barter with those who control other valuable commodities. Thus, the position of a sale clerk is seen as very prestigious occupation in the North.

The 2002 reforms (never called “reforms” in the North Korean press) dramatically changed the structure of wages and prices in the country. For a while it was not clear what the current price and wages levels were, but recent research by the World Food Program seems to answer a few questions. Now we know what was regarded as “normal” wages in 2004.

According to the survey, most types of low-paid workers earn between 1,700 and 2,500 won per month, with an average estimated at 2,100. Low-level professional jobs such as clerks and teachers at nursery and primary schools earn between 1,400 and 2,000 won per month. The average old age pension is just 900 won; women, in particular housewives, sometimes get pensions as low as 300_400 won.

The official exchange rate is 1,700 won per Euro (they to play down the significance of the imperialist dollar, so exchange rates are usually quoted in euros). However, throughout 2004, the actual exchange rate fluctuated between 1,600 and 2,200. This means that the average pension was something like 50 cents a month, with a nursery teacher earning as little as one dollar a month. This is not as bad as it sounds, since prices are also relatively cheap. But this is still pretty bad…

Most of the people who draw salaries live in the cities (some 70% of the North Koreans are inhabitants of urban areas), and rely on the public distribution system for their survival. The system, which almost ceased to function a few years ago, obviously has made a moderate comeback. Since all data in the secretive North is classified, nothing is known for sure, but it seems that in early 2005, the Public Distribution System was “the main source of cereals for the 70 per cent of the population living in urban areas” (such was an estimate by the FAO, a U.N. food agency).

Still, the official rations are hardly generous. According to the WFP, in early 2005 rations were cut to 250 grams per person per day _ 40 per cent of the internationally recommended minimum. People have to purchase food on the markets, and this food is expensive, with rice costing some 500 won a kilo.

According to the FAO report, “the income of cooperative farmers from the annual obligatory crop sales to the Government varies greatly from one farm to another, resulting in monthly incomes per person ranging from 500 won to 4000 won.” But farmers can also substantially increase their income by selling the produce from their kitchen gardens, and by hillside farming which is done on the steep slopes of the mountains. The latter activity has become common in the North over the past decade. It is formally forbidden but done nonetheless, and it seems that a large part of the hillside produce goes outside the public distribution system.

Unemployment is quite high, but it is hidden. Formally, everybody has a job, but a persistent shortage of raw materials, spare parts, machinery, and power supplies means that few factories actually operate at full capacity. In many cases people come to their factories and offices and sit there idly, spending just a couple of hours a day doing some meaningful work. They still have to come, since otherwise they could lose access to food rations, and this would make their situation impossible, probably even threatening their physical survival.

According to interviews with officials, and other information garnered, the WFP estimated that some 30 percent of the North Korean workers are either permanently or temporarily underemployed or unemployed.

As usual, women are more likely to become unemployed. But perhaps they do not mind. Why? Well, is it possible for a family to survive, even on two salaries, if the official income can merely buy eight kilos of rice to augment the distributed 200 grams? Of course, the answer is “no”, and even in the most difficult circumstances people need more than just rice. Hence, the survival strategy of most families depends heavily on the efforts of their women. While formally seen as “unemployed housewives”, women produce most of the income, ensuring the family’s survival. Indeed, the new-born North Korean capitalism has a female face. But that is another story…


IRA ballad hero accused by US of superdollar plot

Monday, October 10th, 2005

London Times
David Sharrock

Sean Garland, president of the Workers’ Party and alleged leader of the Official IRA, was arrested on Friday evening as he was preparing to deliver the keynote speech at his party’s annual conference in Belfast. The US Government is seeking his extradition, arguing that he and others have “engaged in buying, transporting and either passing as genuine or reselling large quantities of high-quality counterfeit $100 notes”.

It further alleges that Mr Garland “arranged with North Korean agencies for the purchase of quantities of notes and enlisted other people to disseminate” the money in the UK.

The 71-year-old IRA veteran was arrested by Police Service of Northern Ireland officers and appeared in Belfast Magistrate’s Court the next morning.

The so-called “superdollars” have been tracked for decades by FBI officers. Defectors from North Korea involved in their production have revealed that the secretive communist state intended to flood the world with the near-perfect notes in an attempt to destroy the US economy, a project which shared equal importance with the nuclear missiles programme.

Mr Garland, who lives in Navan, Co Meath, in the Irish Republic, was the subject of a briefing to the US’s top intelligence chiefs in the late 1990s, according to a BBC Panorama documentary of last year.

One US investigator conservatively estimates the number of “superdollars in circulation in the US alone at $30 million”.

Mr Garland was released on bail of three sureties of £10,000 each and on condition that he remained at an address in Co Down, Northern Ireland.

A solicitor for Garland told Judge Tom Burgess that his client “strenuously protests his innocence”, but the Crown lawyer argued that if released there was a “substantial risk” that Garland would not come back to face his extradition.

He told the court: “We say in simple terms that the defendant would have a strong incentive to flee back to the Republic of Ireland.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued on May 19, posing questions as to why the US authorities did not simply seek him through the Republic’s courts. It is estimated that around 20 extradition warrants for Irish citizens have been turned down by Irish courts in the past five years.

The US authorities now have more than 60 days in which to seek his extradition.

Mr Garland has previously described the accusations as “gross slanders and lies”, but the allegations first surfaced in a book by Bill Gertz, national security correspondent for the the Washington Times.

In 2002 a former KGB agent and two British criminals were jailed by a Birmingham court for their part in distributing the superdollars. Mr Garland was described in court as “the top jolly” of the Official IRA, the group from which the Provisional IRA split in 1969, and accused of acting as the middleman for the notes.

Mr Garland is a major IRA figure of the past century. He joined the British Army in the 1950s in order to steal weapons and later took part on a botched attack on Brookeborough barracks in Co Fermanagh, in which Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon were shot dead.

Under fire Mr Garland carried the dying South on his shoulder back across the border, earning a place in a famous Republican ballad commemorating the deed.


Often-gloomy North Korea shows a sunnier side

Monday, October 10th, 2005

Herald Tribune
Choe Sang-Hun

Here in the North Korean capital, where ubiquitous slogans posted on deserted boulevards and carved into mammoth towers give the city the look of an off-season theme park dedicated to a bygone ideology, one message is conspicuously absent these days.
There is no mural showing muscular North Korean soldiers stabbing American troops with bayonets, as there once was. No longer is there a billboard depicting a North Korean missile slamming into Capitol Hill in Washington. And there are no shrill slogans exhorting North Koreans to prepare for “a final battle with American imperialist aggressors,” as they did in the past.
“It is true that we have removed anti-American slogans,” said Hong Sung Chul, one of the North Korean officials who recently escorted a group of South Koreans on a tour of the North. “We hope the Americans reciprocate our good will.”
Hong said the removal of anti-American slogans was part of North Korea’s effort to cultivate a favorable atmosphere amid six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. A new round of negotiations is scheduled for November.
But it is still a toss-up as to whether the banished imagery was part of an official campaign to recast the most enduring feature of North Korean psyche, the fear and loathing of Americans, or just a publicity effort for visitors.
Either way, the revamping of propaganda in North Korea’s showpiece capital was as much a sign of change here as the busloads of foreign tourists rushing through the once-forbidden city. These modest indicators offer a glimpse into a country that is gradually regaining confidence after years of famine and after tentatively increasing its contacts with the outside world.
Pyongyang is not a mirror of the rest of the country. The government stocks the city with politically reliable citizens and keeps its living standard much higher than elsewhere. But in the sales pitches and bargaining of store clerks and the relaxed manner of Communist minders escorting visitors, eager to polish their government’s image, a new measure of optimism was palpable among the country’s elite.
The government minders, part tour guides and part public relations officers for the regime, talked about the importance of rebuilding the North Korean economy and attracting foreign investment with the same rehearsed spontaneity that North Koreans once recited anti-American diatribes.
As North Korea prepared to celebrate Monday the 60th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, throngs of students and citizens have been mobilized daily to rehearse for a massive outdoor rally. Streets were festooned with red-and-yellow party flags emblazoned with the images of a hammer, sickle and calligrapher’s brush.
For almost two months, the authorities have also brought thousands of people into Pyongyang in North Korea’s version of a pilgrimage to Mecca. Here, the faithful were treated with an “Arirang” extravaganza, the closest thing to an Olympic opening ceremony in North Korea, but one with a decidedly totalitarian flavor.
In an unusual gesture of openness, the North Koreans this year opened the show to outsiders, accepting hundreds of them daily, mostly from South Korea, in a scheme driven not simply by a desire to educate outsiders on North Korean socialism, but also by commercialism.
For these outsiders, the trip was an occasion to witness the country’s cautious and clumsy steps into the outside world even as the North is still burdened with the ideas of an outmoded era. Unwittingly or not, North Korea, by opening itself to well-fed South Koreans wielding digital cameras and bursting with U.S. dollars, was casting itself as one of the world’s weirdest tourist destinations.
In between visits to Communist monuments, tourists were ushered into souvenir shops where smiling beauties sold everything from mushrooms to “adder liquor,” a leaky bottle of fiery alcohol with a dead snake in it. The women extolled the concoction’s purported effectiveness as an aphrodisiac and only accepted euros and U.S. dollars.
The South Korean tourists spent profusely, buying goods whose main attraction was neither quality nor prices, but rather the flimsy packaging and outdated design: perfect I-have-been-there mementos from the world’s last remaining “socialist paradise.”
North Korea demands that all visitors start their trip to Pyongyang by bowing before the 23-meter-tall, or 75-foot-high, brass statue of Kim Il Sung, the first ruler of North Korea.
On a recent trip, however, South Korean tourists stood upright before the statue, some with hands in pockets, some clicking digital cameras, as an official solemnly bid them to bow. If North Korean minders were enraged, they did not show it.
But questioning revealed the minders’ unique take on their country’s problems with the outside world.
“People in South Korea and the rest of the world don’t understand us,” complained Hong. “We know some countries ridicule us for our economic difficulties. We want to rebuild our economy fast. How good will it be if we can use the money spent for our nuclear weapons to buy rice for our people. But we can’t.
“We saw what the Americans did to Iraq,” Hong continued. “What option would a small country like us have but to build nuclear weapons when a big bully is determined to strangle us and gang up on us?”
Park Man Gil, a North Korean official, stressed his country’s desire for greater contact with its neighbor. “We want more economic cooperation with South Korea,” he said.
The North’s desire to make connection to the outside world was confirmed – vigorously, in fact – by a South Korean executive.
“You always hear two voices here. On one hand, they lash out at the United States; on the other hand, they are conciliatory,” said Park Sang Kwon, president of Pyeonghwa Motors of South Korea, which runs an auto-assembly factory in North Korea. “As a person who has dealt with the North Koreans more often than any other from the outside, I can say with certainty that the North Koreans really want to be accepted by, and live with, the Americans.”


Kim Jong Il Offers $20 Million Worth of Gifts

Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Kim Jong Il’s politics of gift is a well-known practice. On only on the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, but also on the day of party establishment and other national and traditional holidays.

The reason why Kim Jong Il distributes gifts to the people is to increase level of obedience and make them express gratitude towards “the Commander’s special grace.” Although it may look like a lousy way of convincing people to the South Koreans, to the North Korean people, it had been a long tradition. The reason why they offer gifts to the participants to the Arirang Performance lies along the same line. Although gift offering did exist in other former communist countries, but the level of practice is incomparably higher in North Korea.

Kim Jong Il sends to gifts to about 20,000 people every holiday, and the amount he spends on these gifts is about $20 million US dollars every year.

There was special food distribution on the day of 60th Anniversary of the Party Establishment. Apart from food distribution there is a separate group of people who receive special gifts. The number of them reach to 20,000, who are core members supporting the Kim Jong Il dictatorship.

The receivers include the family members of the liberation movement activists against Japanese colonialism, initial communists (palchisan), the party, high level officials and the military. The members of the initial communists are only about 300 in number. Kim Il Sung ordered, “The party must take care of the sons of the palchisan down to three generations” so they are entitled to special treatment.

The bereaved family department of the Worker’s Party takes care of these families. The sons and grandsons receive free education up to university, offered jobs and free cars as well as housing.

5,000 Entitled to Special Treatment

The people entitled to special treatment reach up to 5,000. The first level cadres such as of the Central Party, the People’s Arm Force, guard commanders and military commanders are entitled as main distribution everyday. The ministers of the cabinet and vise ministers are smaller in number and in a level lower than the military and party cadres.

The people entitled to gifts on the three main holidays (New Year’s Day, birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) number to 15,000. They are the cabinet cadres and military cadres above commanding officer level and cadres of different levels such as families of those sent abroad (for espionage and information gathering), foreign business workers and bereaved families.

The representatives of the Supreme People’s Assembly and provincial party secretaries, chiefs of the People’s Committee, Central Procurator’s Office, Central Court, National Security Agency, Security Office and other provincial level cadres also receive gifts from Kim Jong Il the three main national holidays. High level officials whose rank is as high as the central party secretaries in local cities and counties too are on the list of the gift receivers.

Managed by Keumsusan Accounting Department

Sending out of gifts under Kim Jong Il’s name is managed by the Keumsusan Accounting Department. All the cadres of secretarial level and above in the Central Organization and Guidance Department receive electronics, clothes and even food from Japan and South Korea. They always receive enough to eat that they prefer to receive more electronics than food.

The secretaries of the Worker’s Party and the cabinet ministers receive the most luxurious gifts they can possibly get. The gifts include two pairs of suits, two bottles of expensive imported liquor, expensive underwear, clocks with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il’s names engraved, expensive refrigerators and color TV.

The workers of the Keumsusan Accounting Department visit each government agencies and offices with the gifts in refrigerating truck used specifically gift delivery. They call the receivers in secret and distribute the gifts with vouchers.

At the time, the receivers bow to the portrait of Kim Jong Il and say, “We will repay the high political confidence and grace of the Great Leader Commander Kim Jong Il with our loyalty (devotion).”

In case of the cabinet members or military officials where the receivers are only a small number, the truck of the Keumsusan Accounting Department delivers the gifts to the houses. In local places, they gather the receivers in one place and hold a small ceremony for the gift distribution. For the local receiver, the gifts include two bottles of expensive liquor, a box of tangerines, foreign sweets, one pair of suit, and a cartridge of cigarettes, “Pyongyang.”

20 Million USD on Gifts Every Year

The defector who has an expertise in the matter says the amount of money Kim Jong Il spends on gifts every year reaches up to 20 million US dollars. The Keumsusan Accounting Department had been taking 1% of the annual national budget and directly ordered gifts from foreign countries.

He says recently, the responsibility of purchasing gifts transferred to the United Front Department of the Central Party. “As it became responsibility of the United Front Department of the Central Party to purchase the gifts, some of the gifts sent from South Korea have turned into Kim Jong Il’s gifts to the cadres under his name,” he added.

Some gifts come back to Kim Jong Il in peasant, roe, honey and mountain (wild) ginseng from the people.

Cadres do not talk about what they have received. In sometime early 1980s, Kim Jong Il once offered Benz cars to the cadres of the United Front Department and Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Party, and the cadres fought over the color of the cars. After criticisms from Kim Jong Il, cadres are not allowed comment on the gifts they received.

However, the cadres who have received gifts do not hide that they received gifts. Some of them gather the people from the department to their offices or homes and share “the Commander’s gifts.”

The party notifies the worker’s about gift receivers to arouse more fidelity out of the people by letting the party workers know that responsible workers receive special treatment and to show off that Kim Jong Il love and trusts the workers.