Protests increase for ‘legitimate right’ to sell

Occurrences of both individual and group
protests by North Korean residents against Ministry of People’s Security [MPS]
officials threatening their right to economic activities continues to grow in
frequency, Daily NK has learned.

Clampdowns on markets have mitigated
exponentially since the onset of the Kim Jong Un era, which has led to
vitalization of market activities. Unlike in the past, the citizens are
adamantly protesting against the remaining regulations on market activities.
They believe more strongly than ever that the authorities should not crack down
on business activities—indispensable for people to be financially independent and self-reliant
in a system where state rations have long been absent.  
 

Daily NK’s local sources across a number of
regions, including North and South Pyongan Provinces and North and South
Hamkyung Provinces, have reported that continually ebbing market crackdowns and
regulations report that residents increasingly view forays into the business
sector as their “legitimate right” and “refuse to sit idly by and watch MPS
agents try to take these rights away.”
 

During Kim Jong Il’s era, the majority of
North Korea’s population understood market activities– no matter the purpose
behind them– as an illegal arena, rendering collective protests a rare, if
ever, occurrence. The current climate, in which state propaganda has repeatedly called for a more self-sufficient population, breeds even more residents keen to serve as economic actors. This, according to our sources, all but ensures
further and more frequent backlash against attempts by the state to hamper
market endeavors.
 

A source in North Hamkyung Province weighed
in on these developments through a phone call with Daily NK on July 14th,
saying, “There was a recent case in Hamhung wherein MPS and merchants got into
a major skirmish after the agents tried to regulate their actions. By now,
tussles and confrontation between MPS agents and vendors have become common
news.”
 

She added that the authorities have no
justifiable grounds for clamping down on business endeavors when they are
incapable of allocating provisions to the population.  “If they were to
shutter the markets or implement stricter regulations at this point in time,
every citizen would rise up [in protest],” she asserted.   
 

Citizens are not alone in sharing these
sentiments–most authorities feel that crackdowns or regulations on the markets
are gratuitous, if not futile, given how developed and widespread the
jangmadang [market] system is.
 

Not only that, on the same day, an
additional source in the same province reported a recent riot targeting MPS
agents at Chongjin’s Sunam Market. The skirmish ignited when an agent
arbitrarily targeted a male merchant in his 60s for the old middle-school
textbooks mixed in with the secondhand books he was hawking at his stall. 

When
the books were confiscated he shouted, “What does the state give us? We don’t
get rations or wages. If I got even one of those two things I wouldn’t be here
doing this!” according to the source.
 

Moreover, “Passersby and merchants alike
near the scene quickly stepped up to take the old man’s side, wasting no time
in berating the MPS officials by shouting, ‘What’s wrong with what he said? Of
course we’ve taken to market life–we’re hungry! We have to make ends meet! Why
would be put ourselves through arduous work like this if we could be full and
rich like you. Those who are full can’t grasp the hunger of others,” he
explained.
 

Others at the scene chimed in, shouting,
“Not even being able sell things without worrying–that’s too suffocating a
reality,” according to the source, who added that this micro incident is
directly reflective of a macro issue of citizens’ frustration regarding the
authorities.
 

The agent, visibly overwhelmed by the
outcries, tried to defend himself, shouting, “It’s not my fault that the state
is not giving you rations. Go take your complaints to the district office,”
according to the source, who said that he fled directly thereafter, during
which citizens yelled after him, “ You’re all the same–living off the
money of those struggling to get by!”
 

He added, “The MPS agent took off in a
flash before the altercation could escalate further. Still, the tension hung
heavy in the air long after his departure and a lot of the residents on the
scene said that it helped them get [suppressed feelings] off their chests.”
 

Meanwhile, as previously reported by Daily
NK, these latest trends come close on the heels of a riot between security
agents and vendors in Musan Market
and a tragic incident wherein a rice vendor
threw herself off a cliff in defiance of a corrupt MPS official.

*The content of this article was broadcast to the North Korean people via Unification Media Group.

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