Archive for the ‘Czech Republic’ Category

New Czech brewery in Rajin

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-8-14): Reader Théo Clément sent these pictures of the interior of the beef factory/bar:

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UPDATE 2 (2014-8-6): Here is an interview (in English) on Radio Praha with Martin Kovář about the brewery.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-15):


Pictured above (Google Earth): The new brewery in Rajin

One of the individuals involved in setting up the brewery gave this interview (in Czech). NK News translated some of it:

Zvu Potez Sales Director Martin Kovar said that North Korean representatives in the Czech Republic contacted his company directly, saying they wanted to open a brewery in the DPRK with Czech expertise.

“We took them to a few Czech microbreweries so they could examine them and know what to expect from them,” he said, “And they chose a type of beer that most of them liked”.

The brewery subsequently opened in December last year, with equipment brought directly to the site in shipping containers from Prague, via the Russian railway line across Siberia from Khasan in Russia to Rajin port.

According to visitors to the Rason area in late 2013, two staff from the Zvu Potez company arrived in Rajin to help set up the site and train three to four locals in how to use and maintain the brewery.

Among the Czech staff was Tomáš Novotný, who worked as Chief Technologist for Zvu Potez in North Korea for six months while the brewery was being set up.

His job, he told NK News in an email, was to give the North Koreans the “know-how” and supervise the production of the first beer, which he said would be brewed primarily for the local market.

The Czechs have now all returned home, he said, and the brewery is under the full direction of the North Koreans.

And according to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea then opened a microbrewery in the Rason Special Economic Zone in late 2013 and equipped it entirely with Czech-made appliances and hardware.

In addition to the equipment, Novotny explained that the ingredients – malt, hop, and yeast – were also imported from the Czech Republic.

In this effort, brewing technologist Novotny stayed in the North for six months, beginning last October, to teach two North Koreans what he knows about beer.

Novotny added, however, he does not know what the North plans to do once they use up the one-year supply of ingredients from his country.

So why is the impoverished country striving to improve the quality of its beer? It may be that better beer means better business.

While beer at the bar in Rason is free for locals, tourists must pay about 70 U.S. cents per pint, according to the North Korea-focused website NK News.

Pyongyang is also encouraging foreign visitors to take a tour of its various microbreweries, including the Rakwon Paradise , the Taedonggang Craft Brewery, and the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

The Czech company’s work on the Rason brewery has come to an end, and it does not intend to send more experts unless North Korea places additional orders.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-2): An article in Forbes tells us that Rason is getting a new Czech brewery:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.


DPRK seeks to repay debt in ginseng

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

UPDATE: This story was picked up by the Financial Times (8/11/2010):

North Korea has offered the Czech Republic 20 tonnes of ginseng in lieu of payment for some of its debts.

However, Prague has turned down the deal, instead suggesting that Pyongyang pays in the valuable mineral zinc, which can be resold on international markets.

North Korea owes the Czech Republic $10m from the days when the Czech Republic was under communist rule and the two countries traded with each other regularly. Communist Czechoslovakia was a leading supplier of trucks, trams and machinery to North Korea, creating a large pile of debt.

Pyongyang reportedly offered $500,000 worth of ginseng, a root which is reputed to boost memory, stamina and libido, as a down payment.

However, consumption of ginseng in the European country is low, with just 1.4 tonnes used each year.

North Korea’s economy is struggling as international sanctions tighten and it hopes to be able to barter its way out of handing over valuable cash.

Non-cash transactions between socialist countries is common, with Cuba sending Venezuela doctors in exchange for discounted oil.

A Czech government spokesman has said that the countries were in negotiation over how the debt would be paid.

“We have been trying to convince them to send, for instance, a shipment of zinc,” the deputy finance minister told the MF Dnes newspaper.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has offered to pay its debt to the Czech government with ginseng, according to a local Czech daily newspaper.

MF DNES, a daily newspaper based in Prague, reported last Saturday that North Korea has recently suggested to the Czech Finance Ministry that it would pay 5 percent of its debt — approximately $500,000 — with ginseng.

“We are trying to persuade them (North Korea) to give us, for example a bulk of Zinc instead, so that we could sell it to someone else,” Tomas Zidek, deputy finance minister, told the newspaper in Czech.

North Korea is believed to have a significant amount of zinc in deposits.

The paper went on to say the consumption of ginseng in the Czech Republic is very small, and it only imported 1.4 tons last year. The amount of ginseng worth $500,000 will be roughly 400 tons, securing the supply for more than 200 years.

But, to Czech’s disappointment, North Korea seemed to have made up its mind, as it sent a delegation with samples of ginseng.

North Korea is known to be Czech’s 10th biggest debtor, which goes back to the communist governments. The North bought many trams and vehicles from former Czechoslovakia.

Read the full story here:
North Korea wants to pay back debt in ginseng
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong


North Korean workers leave the Czech Repblic…

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Nachod is a small village in the Czech Republic around three hours by car from the capital Prague. It is an isolated place sparsely dotted with farm houses. On the outskirts of the village is a two-story factory called Snezka that manufactures sheets for cars and travel bags. Until 2007, the factory was filled with North Korean women who had gone there to work.

The European press described the women as “21st century slaves,” being watched 24 hours a day by North Korean minders and required to wire most of their earnings back to North Korea. The Czech government eventually sent back all North Korean workers by 2007, including the 90 women who had been working for Snezka.

As orders from European automakers skyrocketed, the number of staff at Snezka rose to around 700, but it was difficult to find cheap and dependable workers in such a remote place. That was when the North Korean Embassy in the Czech Republic called to offer the services of “loyal” workers. The first handful of North Koreans who were hired proved to be excellent workers and the factory kept on hiring more. “From an employer’s perspective, they were ideal workers,” one executive recalls. “Unlike Czech or Ukrainian workers, the North Koreans never wasted time drinking coffee and chatting. They were very good with their hands too. They were extremely accurate in their sewing, as if machines had done it.”

The executive objects to the term “21st century slaves.” The North Koreans worked eight hours a day, five days a week in two shifts — 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. Weekends earned them an extra 75 percent of their daily incomes, a standard uniformly applied to both North Korean and other workers. Factory staff say the North Koreans led a dull existence. Three or four lived in a house supplied by Snezka, and they traveled in groups of five or six even when they were going for a short walk around the factory.

They rarely talked to other workers. One worker from Poland says, “I never heard them say a single word about their family, friends or hometowns.” In time, around half of the 90 North Korean workers were able to communicate in Czech, but they were still said to be “quiet.”

Here is the town of Nachod.  I have not located the factory yet.

Previous posts on this story here (first) and here (second).

Also, North Korea gets trams from the Czech Republic.

Read the full sory below:
Czech Factory Regrets Departure of N.Koreans
Choson Ilbo


More Czech tram cars headed to Pyongyang

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

UPDATE: Photos here (h/t Mateusz)

From Radio Prague (hat tip to David):

The Prague Transport Authority announced on Tuesday that the first of twenty reconditioned trams would be shipped to North Korea this week. The North Korean government are paying about 13 million crowns – that’s just over 800,000 U.S. dollars – for the second-hand trams, one of Prague’s most instantly recognisable symbols. But as Rob Cameron reports, they’re not the first Czech trams to be sent abroad, and not even the first to be sent to North Korea.

In the unlikely event you were to find yourself waiting for a tram at Pyongyang’s Mangyongdae station, you might well be surprised to see a Czech tram trundling along the rails towards you. But Czechs trams have long been a feature of life in the North Korean capital. The first – a fleet of new T4 trams – arrived in 1991, in time for Kim Il Sung’s 79th birthday. (The T4 is the chunky, rather boxlike model from the 1990s that runs on the number 3 line in Prague, for example.)

But the latest consignment heading for Pyongyang this week are reconditioned T3s, the older, iconic red and cream trams that date from the 1960s. The T3s were first produced by the CKD Tatra Smíchov factory in Prague (the T stands for Tatra). In all, a staggering 14,000 T3s were produced in Smichov and exported all over the Soviet bloc, as part of the Comecon system of allocating entire industries to individual communist countries.

Read the full article here:
Iconic red and cream Prague trams get new lease of life in Pyongyang
Radio Prague
Rob Cameron


North Korean laborers to leave Czech Republic by year’s end

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Korea Herald

Czech authorities have stopped extending visas of North Korean laborers in conformity with U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang and all will probably leave by year’s end, officials were quoted as saying by Associated Press.

Czech authorities stopped renewing residency permits for North Korean workers on Jan. 25 in line with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 adopted in October 2006 and laborers have gradually left since then, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The sanctions are aimed at punishing North Korea for carrying out its first nuclear test, on Oct. 9, 2006 _ a test that prompted international condemnation.

Among other things, the resolution allows cargo to and from North Korea to be stopped and inspected for prohibited goods, bans the import and export of certain military material, and freezes the assets of, and bans travel by, individuals and companies involved in the country’s programs to produce weapons of mass destruction.

On average, several hundred North Korean laborers have been working in various clothing and shoe factories in the Czech Republic since 2001, the ministry said.

The laborers have been leaving the country as their visas expired and all were expected to be gone by the end of the year, said Katerina Jirgesova, a spokeswoman for the Czech foreign police.

While 331 North Korean workers were still in the country in May, only 134 remained on Nov. 27, she said. Police have investigated allegations that the workers were used as a source of revenue for the North Korean government, she said, but she added adding that no wrongdoing could be determined. The allegations reportedly were made by a former North Korean diplomat and a major Czech labor organization.

None of the workers applied for asylum in the Czech Republic, she said.

There do not appear to be many North Korean laborers in other parts of Europe. The Italian labor ministry said it did not have a program of this nature. Officials in Portugal and the Netherlands said there were no North Koreans employed in their countries.


N. Korean workers asked to leave Czech Republic by end of year: report

Saturday, June 9th, 2007


About 200 North Korean workers employed by companies in the Czech Republic have been asked to leave the country by the end of this year, as the East European nation refused to extend their work visas, a U.S. broadcaster reported Saturday.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), quoting the Czech News Agency, said the Czech government decided to replace the North Korean manual workers with laborers from Vietnam and Mongolia, following a U.N. resolution against the North over its nuclear weapons program.

The Czech Republic’s decision also seems to be related to suspicion that wages earned by overseas North Korean workers were exploited by the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang, said the report. Some 200 other North Korean workers were already forced to return home last year for similar reasons, it added.

According to the RFA, Czech government officials confirmed that some North Korean workers had asked for their wages to be sent to “one specific account.”

The U.S. government has frequently called for countries not to hire North Korean workers, arguing their wages are being diverted to the government.

“Because the North Korean government takes a major portion of workers’ salaries, these arrangements provide material support for a rogue government, its nuclear ambitions, and its human-rights atrocities,” Jay Lefkowitz, a U.S. presidential envoy for North Korean Human Rights, said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.