Interview with a Citizen of Chongjin City

Daily NK
Kim Young Jin

The DailyNK has reported North Korean news vividly with the help of the voices inside North Korea during the year 2005.

North Korea expressed farming as ‘the major front line for the construction of socialist economy’ in the joint new year editorial at the beginning of this year. In fact, it has made every effort to relieve its famine by mobilizing a number of people to farming for the entire year. In October, it also announced to its people that it would resume its ration system that had long been stopped.

The DailyNK met a citizen of Chongjin City of North Hamkyeong Province to fully grasp the recent situation of North Korea as a whole at this moment of seeing the old year out and the new year in. The interview is presented in the format of 10 questions and answers. The reader is expected to feel the reality of North Korea in mid-December, 2005 by reading the interview.

1.  How does the ration system work?
Workers in Giupso (State Owned Enterprise) receive a ration twice a month, the total ration being 700g a month. The government designated that the price of unglutinous rice is 46 won, while that of corn is 28 won. Those housewives who can work but stay home can buy 300g for 620 won. Children and the elderly, who are not able to work, can buy cereals at the government designated prices.

In short, the government has adopted a double price system. However, those who are rationed receive rice mixed with miscellaneous cereals whereas those who pay 620 won get unmixed rice.

Factories and Giupsos are assigned the farmland of No.112, and they have to produce cereals the quantity of which is equal to two month’s ration. In October, people were fully rationed, but since November, they have not been able to be fully rationed. People without the farmland of No.112 partly received their rations.

Additional question: What is the farmland of No.112?

It is a part of a cooperative farmland which is difficult to cultivate. Every factory and Giupso is assigned one. If a Giupso is influential, it is usually assigned a fertile land. It is so named because the policy was established on either November 2nd, last year or January 12th this year. I don’t remember the date.

2. How do people obtain their food if they are not fully rationed?
They get cereals in black markets. Transferring cereals in large scale is strictly prohibited, but people are selling them to acquaintances or under the cover of a bribe. Trading a large quantity of cereals is stealthily accomplished in a private home. Restaurants are also forbidden to sell processed cereals.

The price of rice has not risen. It ranges from 800 to 820 won ($0.4-0.41). The price of corn is 300 won ($0.15) while that of potatoes is 150 won ($0.075). Because people in Chongjin City do not enjoy eating corn, it is cheap here.

3. How are farmers rationed, and how much is the government’s purchasing price of cereals?
The farmland of No.112 is divided by fertility. The worst class is the 12th. 1,500 won ($0.75) is collected from 9,917.4 square meters of 12th class farmland as a tax. It can be payed with corn. 1kg of corn is bought for 24 won($0.012).

I heard a squad leader of a cooperative farm located near Chongjin say, “Every person on my farm was supposed to receive the prize of some 17,000 won ($8.5) because the government sent the prize to the farm for good farming, but the farm has not given the prize out to the people, saying that it would be a better idea for the money to be used to buy trucks and farm equipment, and thus people are full of complaints. The farm distributes ordinary rations to the workers.

4. What are people’s reactions to the resumption of the ration system like?
Most people are pessimistic about it. They grumble, “We do not understand why the government does not sell cereals indiscriminately. It has just made things complicated.” On the other hand, those who do not have a means of making a living hope for the ration system.

5. Do you have something to talk about regarding companies and work place lives?
In former years, there were people belonging to the circle called ‘the rest’ in companies. These people could do their own business by giving some part of their profits to their Giupso. However, all people are required to come to the Giupso to work these days. If there are some surplus workers, they are fired.

Since it was said that every Giupso should ration its workers, those who are not able to do their own businesses, especially women, have made every effort to be employed by a Giupso.

Rich people are not interested in companies, but the poor are full of complaints because ‘the rest’ circle was eliminated. The poor are getting much more interested in job opportunities.

6. As far as I know, the rate of factory operation is 20% or so. Has there been any changes recently?
No, there is almost no change in the rate. Earning foreign money is active, but I’ve never heard that those factories that had stopped before resumed its operation, or that they changed their business category to be operative.

7. Can you come up with a concrete example that shows that the status of partisans is getting lower?
Factories and Giupsos are reluctant to employ partisans because it is difficult to lay them off. If one says he is a partisan during a job interview, he will probably be turned down. Non-partisans are definitely preferred.

8. Is the control over people getting tighter?
The control in matters of food is getting tight. Because controlling restaurants and processed cereals has been getting tighter, more and more stalls are being emptied in markets, and the price of stalls is decreasing. A stall 50cm wide and 1.5m long for selling apparel can be bought for 120,000 won ($60).

Food for a family of 4 members costs 120-130 thousand won ($60-65) a month. The family also has to spend money for housing and clothing.

Additional question: I heard that even though many people are moving from one place to another, and a number of people dare to complain, punishments are getting weaker and weaker. Can you give me some examples regarding that?

The security agents say that they no longer arrest blasphemers. They even say that they will enforce laws on the basis of scientific evidences. (Blasphemers refer to those who blaspheme the system of the Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il regime.)

Punishments for defectors, radio listeners, and other such crimes are considerably moderated.

A neighbor in his 70’s was arrested due to his acquaintance’ betrayal. He revealed that he had been listening to the radio, but he was just called names during the investigation and criticized publicly in front of a crowd of people. That was the punishment. Even though blaspheming is said to be forgiven, you cannot call Kim Jong Il’s name. Maybe it would be okay for you to say South Korea is rich.

Additional question: Recently, it has been reported that Kim Jong Il ordered that torturing be checked and human rights be respected. Have you ever heard from security agents such a story or instructions?

No, I’ve never heard that.

Additional questions: Because punishments are getting moderated, what kind of countermeasures do North Korea take to protect the regime?

The National Security Agency is said to employ and use many informants. It lets people watch each other. According to one of my acquaintances, those who have an experience of escaping from the North are especially encouraged to watch each other.

9. How is the electric power supply like?
Electric power is supplied for 3 to 4 hours a day from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Middle class people usually have both a black and white TV set and a color TV set. They use only batteries for the black and white TV. Electric power supply is poor for winter. It starts getting better in the spring and is best in summer.

10. Recently, North Koreans are said to widely use horse-drawn or cow-drawn carriages. Is that true?
They are widely used for carrying cargo. They are seen even in urban cities. Recently, individuals or Giupsos are trading cows. The price of a cow in black markets range from 400 to 700 thousand won ($200-350). Recently, the price for using such a carriage is determined in relation to the distance instead of the weight it should carry. 3 to 4km costs 2,000 won ($1), while anything more than 5km costs 3,000 won ($1.5). The weight of the cargo usually does not exceed 700kg.

If one uses a truck, he must pay for the fuel in addition to the fee. 1kg of diesel costs 2,000 won ($1).


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