Equality gap persists in North Korean recreational facilities

youth recreational facility
A recreational facility for young North Koreans located in the northern part of North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

Recreational facilities for officials at powerful institutions are better supplied than similar facilities for ordinary North Koreans, demonstrating that high-ranking party officials continue to enjoy special privileges, sources in the country told Daily NK on Wednesday. 

North Korea has about 100 recreation centers nationwide that are equipped with athletic, entertainment and health facilities so that workers can enjoy the holidays. 

After various instances of improper conduct among party officials came to light during the 2017 purge of Kim Won Hong, the former deputy director of the General Political Bureau, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly issued a direct order to eradicate special privileges and abuses of power by party officials.

These special privileges have now made a reappearance, Daily NK sources said. For example, recreational facilities operated by the Ministry of People’s Security – one of North Korea’s most feared security agencies – in Sinpa County (Kimjongsuk County), Ryanggang Province, are better stocked with canned oil and canned fish than other accommodations in the province.

“Facilities for university students or laborers exploring revolutionary sites honoring great figures [Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il] are not usually so well-stocked,” one of the sources said. “In some instances the accommodations don’t even have wood for heating on cold days. That would be unheard of in recreational facilities for party officials.”

North Korea’s local governments typically ensure that accommodations used by officials are kept in good order, while recreational facilities used by ordinary North Koreans are less of a priority.

“Any facilities used by officials from powerful institutions will receive preferential treatment, wherever they are. Even the soybean paste or soy sauce at these facilities taste better because they are stored properly,” the source added. 

The North Korean leadership has even expressed distaste at the poor quality of some recreational facilities for ordinary North Koreans.

In July 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during a visit to the Onpho Recreational Facility in North Hamgyong Province, remarked on the dirtiness of the baths, saying, “They are shabby and worse than a fish tank.”

The various recreational facilities for powerful officials are well cared for by the state, so they even get out-of-season vegetables, not to mention fruit and seafood, the source said.

“Recreational facilities for ordinary people, on the other hand, have to grow their own food on-site,” added the source. 

Increased foreign tourism has led to a shift in the quality of some recreational facilities in the country, Daily NK sources also reported.

Daily NK sources in North Hamgyong Province reported that the influx of foreign tourists to Mount Chilbo has led to an improvement in food quality at accommodations near the mountain. The Mount Chilbo Tourism Bureau has reportedly turned recreation facilities used by ordinary North Koreans into accommodations for tourists.

“The managers of the facilities are happy, because unlike when the accommodations were just for ordinary North Koreans, there is now a certain guaranteed quality for goods,” one of the sources said.  

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@gmail.com.

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 dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.