GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 407, June 15, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Editor’s Note: “Increasing Food Production - can Farm Mobilization be the Solution?”
All-out Mobilization for Farm Villages, the Arduous War at its Peak
“How can I Offer Help when I cannot even Feed Myself?”
Power and Wealth, a License to Flee the Reach of Farming Mobilization
Potatoes Stolen by Soldiers before they are Ripe
The Spring Hardship Season Hits the Soldiers in the Forefront Areas
Kkotjebis (Homeless Children) in Harsh Environment even in Collective Farms
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Editor’s Note: “Increasing Food Production - can Farm Mobilization be the Solution?”
“Farming is the lifeline in resolving people’s livelihood problems” - it sounds quite heavy. Farming, which is supposed to support the people, becomes the main frontline where they risk their lives. It’s time for the rice planting battle again and residents are dragging themselves to farms with a sigh of dismay. All family members, from little students to parents, become combatants in the farm mobilization combat. With more than 80% of the population assisting in farming, total crop yields still fall short of total rations. We hope that South and North Korea can cooperate and resolve the issues in the near future.

All-out Mobilization for Farm Villages, the Arduous War at its Peak
Due to the order of all-out mobilization of agricultural areas nationwide, almost all residents have been forced to go out in the fields and aid with farming efforts. This New Year’s Day Joint Editorial gave directions stating, “Agricultural frontlines are lifelines for solving people’s life problems. It is necessary to learn from the exemplary units that have been realizing great plans for the construction of agricultural industry, and to contest for securing and increasing grain harvest per jungbo (unit of land, equivalent to 2.45 acres).”

The Chosun Joongang TV broadcasted celebration programs by sending actors from the Pibada (“Sea of Blood”) Folk Music Group and the National Folk Art Troupe. The Samji River Collective Farm was celebrated for being the first to finish planting rice only taking 10 days, and the Okuk Collective Farm in Anak County for planting rice with high quality at a proper season. In the Mikok Collective Farm in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, distinguished actors and actress, including Kim Yunmi, performed. This collective farm produced more than 10 tons of rice per jungbo couple of years ago and was conferred the rare and honorable title “My Beloved Farm” by the Dear Kim Jongil, only reserved for special farms like the Mikok Collective Farm.

These celebrations are part of the rigorous efforts to support national agriculture. Kim Iljoo, one employee of a factory for daily necessities in Sariwon, watched the celebration program on TV and demonstrated mixed feelings. He said he was not happy watching the performance, stating, “Since we produced more than 10 ton per jungbo in 2009, they must be pushing us to produce more.” He added, “People boasted that they improved the seeds, they would be able to farm in techno-scientific ways, and that they could follow the juche farming methods. But nobody believes these announcements.”

In reality, most farms are lacking in seed and vinyl film. Workers in factories and public enterprises, members of the district offices of the Democratic Women’s Union, and middle school to university-age students are mobilized without any basic preparation. Consequently, these supporting hands only suffer under the blazing sun, and are not able to provide any substantial help. For them, the farm support efforts are regarded as “arduous wars” they would like to avoid.

“How can I Offer Help when I cannot even Feed Myself?”
The reason why people are reluctant to participate in farm mobilization activity is not only because of the physical hardship but also because of time constraints. If they participate, they need to sacrifice their own time at earning a living. Especially members of the Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) who make a living by selling in the market are strong opponents of this activity. If you are an office worker, factory worker or a student, you do not have to worry about making money for a living (since a ration is provided). However, if you are a housewife or a DWU member, besides working in the farm mobilization activity, you need to do additional work to make your own living. The farm mobilization work starts at 8 a.m. and lasts until 2 p.m. The activity is on a daily assignment basis. Therefore, if you have not completed your daily assignment on time, the ending time runs beyond 2 o’clock. Since they are allowed to sell in the market only from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the women frequently skip their lunch times to get the jobs done on time and to be able to go to the market before 4 p.m.

If the women have children, the situation gets even worse. If there is no one at home to take care of the children, they need to put their children in a daycare center. Due to the prevailing negative image towards daycare centers that they do not provide any food for the children and the teachers are not very caring, the mothers do not like sending their children to daycare centers. With very few options to consider, mothers with infants end up taking their babies to the farm. During work hours, the babies are normally looked after by women who are too sick and cannot work in the fields. It is not rare to see some of the infants having heat strokes and carried to a hospital. They cannot endure strong sunlight for extended hours.

“How long should we live like this? We do not have the luxury of helping farms. Our own life itself is a constant struggle for survival. Our grownup children and husbands are all taken to the farms. Now we are also called for the farm mobilization activity. There is no one left at home to take care of the family. In such conditions, how can we sustain ourselves? Who is going to feed us? How can I offer help to others, when I am dying of hunger?” laments the poor laborers.

Power and Wealth, a License to Flee the Reach of Farming Mobilization
‘Haves,’ notably wives of lawyers, party officials and rich men, unjustly flee the reach of farming mobilization which is supposed to be universal. It is not a secret at all that those with power and wealth can take themselves out of farming mobilization with impunity. Rice planting season began in Hamjubeol, the breadbasket of South Hamgyong Province, and farmers have difficulty making progress. Due to the serious oil shortage, agricultural machinery is not much utilized and harrowing the ground with limited number of laboring cows becomes more difficult.

Lim, Soon-deok (pseudonym), a member of DWU (Democratic Women’s Union), was mobilized in Hamjubeol and grumbled that only those who are poor and starve end up in farm mobilization, where most work is done by manual labor due to the lack of farm machinery. She also said, “Only the poor like us are mobilized to plant rice in sun-scorched afternoons when the sun burns our faces. Just one day of our absence from work is a big deal, whereas an absence of a wealthy wife is not an issue. Party officials, including those working on propaganda at the City Party, exempt their wives from mobilization while they encourage the mobilized to work hard. Nobody listens to the over-practiced cliché pep talks from the party officials.”

Jeon, Yong-sook (pseudonym), from Dongheungsan dong, Dongheungsan District, Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, recently had an annoying experience with a wealthy wife while Jeon was selling children’s stationery after farm mobilization work. She is completely physically exhausted every single day from managing two jobs - farm mobilization work in the morning and selling stationery in the market in the afternoon. What really annoys her about farm work is the unfairness – the wealthy wives shamelessly relax at home while she is physically exhausted by the heat wave.

A couple of days ago Ms. Jeon as usual felt exhausted after planting rice in muddy water all day long on a sun scorched farm. In doing farm work which is a hands-on and physical job, she has to kneel or squat until the work is completed. Even a one second break is not practically possible. Whenever she looks like she is going to stretch her back, an official, who appears out of nowhere, yells at her to keep working, saying that “You may want to repay what you owe to our country. This is a good time to do so. Keep planting rice!”

It was a particularly tough day as she had cramps during her period and ate just a little bit of noodles for breakfast. Nevertheless, she almost skipped lunch to save time and continually collected herself to complete the assigned work. She could barely finish the work for the day at 4 pm with the help from her close friend, Young-nam’s mother. In the market, her energy was already depleted before she even started selling stationery. To her, even sitting in front of the market stall was physically challenging, let alone summoning her energy to shout to attract customers. Furthermore, not much business was going on since she was selling children’s stationery. After a couple of hours, a mother and her son came up to her. The young and well-dressed woman told her chubby-cheeked son to choose a notepad for himself. After flipping some pages, the kid grabbed his mother saying, “Let’s go to another shop.” After flipping some pages, the mother also complained that “These notepads are so rough. People can’t write on them with pencils. There are many Chinese products with high quality, but these are crap.”

Physically and mentally exhausted, Ms. Jeon would have let it pass without further complaint of the boy’s mother. The lady continued to complain that “nobody wants to use pens like these even if they were free.” After all, the constant disdainful attitude ticked off Ms. Jeon. She yelled, “Get out of here with your kid. I don’t want to sell anything to you!” The kid’s mom paused for a second, apparently surprised by the yelling. Then, she retorted, “You have no idea of who his father is. You should be careful about saying something to me!” The verbal fight escalated into a physical one and, finally, hair-pulling. The kid began to cry and people gathered at the scene. An enforcement officer arrived at the scene and put an end to the fight.

During the investigation at a nearby police station, the boy’s father turned out to be a prosecution official. Police officers were busy pleasing the boy’s mother, shifting all blame for the fighting on to Ms. Jeon. As a result, Ms. Jeon was fined the equivalent of more than several days’ income. She is distressed about her situation, saying that “While my life got worse due to farm mobilization, those who have husbands with power and money are immune from such obligations. The unfairness devastates me.”

Potatoes Stolen by Soldiers before they are Ripe
In Hwanghae Province potatoes come out after June 20th, but there are many incidents where people have already started to steal the potatoes that are not yet ripe. It is more disappointing that the potatoes being stolen are the works of soldiers from nearby military camps. The farmers are disappointed that even if they report the incident they have no way of getting compensation. They make reports numerous times a day to “Stop destroying the relationships between civilians and soldiers” but it is an unworthy attempt. From nearby towns people even have been crying out that “We can’t live next to the army because it is so nerve wrecking.” Hwanghae Province Baechun County’s Baechun-eup cooperative farm has already been the victim of the soldiers more than ten times this month. The farmers are letting out sighs of grief not knowing if they will have enough food left for themselves. Jang Myung-Gook (alias) says “These times are when the citizens have to keep an eye on the soldiers from stealing, not the time when the soldiers protect the citizens.” He even said that the soldiers who help out farming would probably just steal the crops colloquially, so they are even scared of the soldiers coming to help out. One farm in Baechun County actually returned soldiers that were coming out to help by saying “It’s ok.” The soldiers are not gaining trust from the people any longer.

The Spring Hardship Season Hits the Soldiers in the Forefront Areas
The famine is affecting the soldiers stationed in the forefronts of Kangwon and South Hwanghae Provinces. The food supply has been scarce since the last distribution of Chinese corn, which occurred in February this year. For some troops meals are given only twice a day. This has led to soldiers roaming around nearby villages to steal food. Howitzer Unit under the 4th Corps located in Baechun County is even having trouble conducting proper drills due to the failing health of the soldiers. The high ranking officers expressed their grievances as well, saying “No one would be able to fight if a war broke out when soldiers in the forefront are weak like this and the food is in acute shortage. It would be difficult to mobilize the troops immediately even if we are ordered to start action.” The number of soldiers raiding the villages has peaked this year, so the army provision issue is ever more imminent in the military.

Kkotjebis (Homeless Children) in Harsh Environment even in Collective Farms
Orphaned kkotjebis (homeless children) of middle school age from kkotjebi welfare institutions have been chosen and placed in farm youth groups at collective farms. Homeless children ages 15 and older have been sent to collective farms in Pyongyang and Kumgang County by the kkotjebi welfare institution in Wonsan City, Kangwon Province. An employee from the institution commented, “It’s hard to place them in regular work places since they are not educated at all, growing up without parents. It is the best to send them to the farm, seeing as the institution doesn’t have enough food to feed them.” Now, more homeless children have been removed from the public eye, who are in terrible condition from years of harsh street life without proper care. In reality, life at the farm youth group is much worse for homeless children than at the welfare institutions.

The North Korean government has upheld young people and put them in difficult jobs under the national slogan, “Young workers are the core of the Strong and Prosperous Nation and the strongest troop for achieving the goals of the party.” At the time when teens just out of middle school in Kangwon Province were placed in the Pyonggang County Collective Farm, there were many farm youth groups and youth work units allied. The initial purpose of this deployment was to “place young workers in the right places”, but young workers evaded being sent to the collective farms. As a result, collective farms started to establish a farm youth group of the kkotjebi youth.

The Pyonggang County collective farm has a farm youth group that consists of fifty orphaned kkotjebis, whose parents were either dead or lost. At least when the kkotjebis were on the street, they were free to go anywhere they wanted, but now they are at the one place with no freedom at all. They must get up at 6:30 AM and work until 7:30 PM with almost no breaks. Farming on such a tight daily schedule is much too hard for these malnourished homeless children.

Not only do supervisors of the kkotjebi youth group deprive the children of freedom, they also “tighten up strict supervision on them in order to control their bad behaviors like stealing and irregular lifestyle.” Children are not allowed to go out to buy clothing and shoes in need. They just have to wait until the farm provides for them as a group. Chae, Geom-Sil (alias) who was placed in the farm youth group last year described the situation: “We’re called farmers, but we’re really locked-up prisoners. We have no control, not even over our own food. If the farm didn’t give us food, we would die from starvation. I think about running away from the group many times throughout a day. ” There are twenty members of youth women like Ms. Chae in the group. They look worn out by harsh farming. Ms. Chae swears to get out of the farm youth group, saying, “I’m twenty, but I look like I’m in my thirties. I feel like that I’ll wither to death if I stay here any longer. I survived through bagging since I was a kid. I am sure I will survive no matter where I go.” In fact, a couple of kkotjebi group members have run away from the farm and returned to the life on the street.

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