North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security has been ramping up restrictions on the consumption and sale of alcohol at restaurants in Pyongyang. Local sources are describing the efforts as an attempt to hamper political conversations from occurring amid the country’s increasing international isolation due to its nuclear and missile programs.
“Starting from the beginning of November, the Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) has been plastering decrees on restaurants in Pyongyang and those outside the city on collective farms (but run by individuals) declaring that the pervasive drinking culture must be eradicated,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on November 22.
The flyers state that the following are absolutely forbidden: a) homebrewing of alcohol; b) more than three people gathered together in any one place drinking alcohol; and c) public disturbances while intoxicated.
The announcements also inform Pyongyang citizens that they should not engage in idle chatting at drinking parties and that organized gatherings like birthday celebrations and weddings, where people dance and sing, will be equated with excessive alcohol consumption. “If one finds themselves at a drinking occasion due to unavoidable circumstances, they must report it to their affiliated societal organization and be finished no later than 10pm, upon which the establishment must shut down,” the ordinance warns.
Following the appearance of the decrees, restaurants and markets in Pyongyang have limited the sale of alcohol and even cadres are avoiding the simplest of home gatherings (with food and alcohol) with colleagues for the time being.
The authorities have intermittently called for the reassertion of public order and more focus on ideological teachings and ways of life in North Korea. But the recent posting of ordinances in restaurants and the crackdown by the MPS is being seen as unprecedented.
A former supervisor with a provincial unit of the the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League (formerly known as the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League) who has since defected to South Korea said that during public lectures and ideological study sessions, there were previously teachings focused on eradicating rambunctious drinking. However, it is clear that these efforts have failed to achieve the desired goal and the authorities are now upping the ante by posting these decrees in restaurants with parallel enforcement by the MPS.
“I saw a lot of crackdowns on bootleg liquor, but restrictions on drinking-related activities only happened when cadres were somehow complicit in a specific incident,” he said, explaining that this would typically involve drunk and disorderly conduct at an establishment serving alcohol or when someone was caught making remarks perceived as anti-state.
He recalled warnings from the government of severe punishment for anyone leaking secrets or engaged in anti-Party talk or “factional” activity, thereby concluding that the recent mandates in Pyongyang pertinent to drinking behavior are probably politically motivated.
“Of course the restrictions are on some level aimed at entrenching social order but the priority is clearly to control public thought and opinion,” the Pyongyang-based source said.
“Much of the impetus for this crackdown on alcohol-related gatherings and behavior stems from incidents where officials like those with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who know a great deal about international affairs, have been caught talking about the true state of North Korea vis a vis international society,” a source in North Pyongan Province added..
“The authorities are concerned about the backlash that could ignite from people realizing how isolated the North is as a result of the regime’s actions and so they are hoping to pre-empt any such potential developments.”