Anger mounts as police crush street sales

After unleashing a “70 day battle” to increase mobilized labor and limit market hours ahead of the May Party Congress, North Korea has also started to
clamp down on unofficial alley markets and street vendors. Until now the response from the
public had remained somewhat tempered regarding the mobilization, but the crackdown on
street sales has fired up complaints.

“We haven’t been able to sell things
properly because of the mandate forcing every resident to take part in
mobilization and ‘uphold the Party with loyal beads of sweat to build a strong
nation’ in relation to the 70 day battle,” a source from Ryanggang Province
told Daily NK on March 6. “These days, MPS [Ministry of People’s Security, or
North Korea’s police force] agents are on patrol all the time to crack down on
street vendors.”

This chain of events has been particularly
distressing for vendors in Yonbong 1-dong, Songhu-dong, Baenamugol, and
Yonpung-dong of northerly Ryanggnag Province. For sellers in those locales, unfettered street selling is the primary, it not sole, means of
livelihood. In the face of continual crackdowns, worries about weathering the
new host of difficulties brought on by the “70-day battle” thus weigh heavily
on already weary minds.

“Some people have tried bringing a bit of
food out with them to sell before mobilization work, but they’ve had all of it
confiscated,” the source said. “In the recent years, people weren’t really
worried about being mobilized because the state didn’t crack down on market
actors and their activities. So of course when you suddenly slap restrictions [on what residents see as their right] people are going to complain.”  

Indeed, the decree runs contrary to market regulations, or rather lack there of, during the Kim Jong Un era. Since assuming power in 2011, he has pivoted away from the suffocating market policies of his father while incrementally expanding the nation’s official marketplaces. 

However, following the pronouncement of plans to hold the first Party Congress
scheduled in 36 years, Kim Jong Un has severely diminished people’s primary channel of
survival in order to produce more “achievements” ahead of the

This unforeseen change of tack, a different source in Ryanggang Province reported, is what local residents find impossible to reconcile and has precipitated such a strong response.

“Who would want to work hard during
mobilization if they’re choking our businesses like this? We’re not doing this to save up cash–we’re doing it simply to survive!” the source said, citing a number of merchants in the area.

She then added her own voice to the roiling mix, pointing out that “if you want to eat, you’ve got to work.
How are you supposed to defend your country if you can’t do that?” 

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to