Rich-poor gap drives resentment in Pyongyang

Lee Sang Yong  |  2015-12-03 16:20
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In order to take care of loyal inner circle, Kim Jong Un is building luxurious apartments and private housing in Pyongyang. However, this is causing serious resentment from those who do not stand to benefit from the exclusive provisions.   

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on December 1st, an inside source from Pyongyang said, Lately, people have been using the word economic stratification more frequently. This frustration and discontent stems mainly from the high-cost construction projects occurring around Mirae (future) Scientists' Street. The brunt of this criticism is that the regime has stopped the public food distribution system, yet continues to cater to the rich and politically connected class. 

Daily NK crosschecked this information with an additional source in the capital. 

Residents who live on the outskirts and suburbs of central Pyongyang do not receive electricity in a reliable manner. They are forced to exist in pitch black darkness. Some people are saying things like, The cadres exist in a separate world from us,'" he said, adding that one residents "cursed the regime while lamenting his hard fate."

Cadres who are in the Central Party or work in foreign currency-earning companies show off their wealth by blowing through US $1000 in a single meal. An entire family of ordinary people could survive off that amount for a whole year. Thats why people feel animosity towards high-level cadres. 

According to our source, Pyongyang is designated as a Special Supply Region and was therefore the first to receive public distribution. It also means that Pyongyang plays host to spas, health clubs, cafes, and fancy restaurants. The living standard in Pyongyang has improved markedly over the years.   

However, compared to the skyrocketing standards of central Pyongyang, North Korean authorities have neglected and cast aside the needs of residents on the outskirts of town. Development of these areas has slowed as a consequence. New buildings shoot up in the city center all the time, but according to residents in the outer regions, nothing much has changed in over a decade. 

The monthly salary for a worker in Pyongyangs textile factory is anywhere from KPW 300,000(about US $36.00) to KPW 1,000,000(about $121.00). At companies in fringe areas, the going rate is between KPW 3,000 (US 0.36) and KPW 4,000(us 0.48). In this sort of situation, the residents are forced to go to the markets and sell in order to make a living, he explained. 

By the sources estimation, high-level cadres such those in the Korean Workers Party and Ministry of Peoples Armed Forces account for 10% of the population but hold most of the countrys wealth. Below them are the donju (masters of money, or new moneyed class), who occupy about 20-40%. The remaining 50% is made up of normal folks, who really do struggle to get by and provide for their family. 

A while ago, it was said that even though we were subsisting on corn meal soup and scraping to get by, those in Pyongyang werent much better off. But things have changed. Now there are residents who say theyd prefer to farm in the countryside rather than watch the cadres show off their extravagant wealth, the source concluded.

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

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado

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