Daily NK’s interviews with three Pyongyang residents continue with another set of questions focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on life in the city. The first round of interviews can be found here.

The interviewees include:

A: A housewife living on Tongil Street, Pyongyang
B: A university student living in Pyongyang’s Pyongchon District
C: A mid-level official in Pyongyang

Q. We’ve heard recently that Pyongyangites are facing deportation from the city. What is the overall atmosphere in the city these days? 

A: “Deportations are a constant feature of life in Pyongyang. Recently, however, things have changed. Now those who are originally from outside of the city are being chased away even though they haven’t committed a crime. Even the husbands of wives who are originally from outside of the city have to [follow their wives] in exile. People feel like they have to choose their marriage partners from those who are [originally from] Pyongyang. People I know are saying they aren’t getting married [right now].”

B: “I’ve heard that one comrade [schoolmate] in [the same year as me] was exiled along with his entire family and no longer comes to school. His best friend was sad about [him leaving] that they cried together for several days. It’s dangerous, of course, to say something about it – no matter how upset you are. Trends within the school are reported to the College Youth Alliance or school party committee, which means that sadness can only be shared [with those you trust] in secret.”

C: “All North Koreans dream and desire to live in Pyongyang because of rations and special supplies [Pyongyangites receive]. Things were all haywire due to [COVID-19] until March, when [officials] went around hanging up notices [on the doors] of people to be exiled. The municipal police, people’s committee and party committee were involved in [carrying out the deportations], and I heard many people complain about how they were forced to leave the city.”

Q. North Korea suddenly declared another vacation period for schools on July 1. Why do you think the authorities did that? 

A: “I don’t think that the [spread of the] contagious disease [COVID-19] is worse than previously thought. Just like the Party has said, I think that [the vacation was declared] to reduce the chances of people getting sick because everyone fears that they could die if they get infected.”

B: “There were some fellow students at school who had fevers. The authorities said at first that it was OK to have temperatures of 37.8 degrees Celsius, but then – suddenly – they moved to put an entire class into self-quarantine at their homes. After that, university students attended rallies condemning defectors at least seven times. Soon after, the order for schools to go on vacation was suddenly handed down. I heard rumors from among the students that a large number of people had come down with fevers or infections.”

C: “There’s no medicine to treat [the infection] if you get sick…I heard from a ‘related agency’ that the health of students – the key to the future of our country – is the most important thing.”

Q. North Korean authorities continue to emphasize disease control measures against COVID-19. That suggests their claims that there are no COVID-19 patients may be untrue. What kind of talk have you heard about COVID-19 patients? 

A: “The authorities don’t use the word ‘corona[virus].’ There has been an increase, though, of patients suffering from paratyphoid fever and colds caused by tuberculosis. People are saying, however, that those patients may be suffering from ‘that disease’ [COVID-19].”

B: “I heard that colds caused by tuberculosis had spread from March among undergraduate [students], but I understand that they were students who had latent cases of tuberculosis. There were some students who ignored this, but some thought that it was maybe the coronavirus.”

C: “Do you think anyone would go to work if we were facing a contagious disease when we are also suffering from food shortages and other difficulties? There are still places with leaflets saying the occupants are self-quarantining. The people already know everything. The state just tells [them] it’s not the virus. People, these days, are smarter [than before].”

Q. The government is emphasizing the need for people to be “self-sufficient” and engage in a “frontal breakthrough” campaign. 

A: “Women have long been practicing self-sufficiency at home.”

B: “I don’t agree [with the government on this]. I think that we need to shift to a unique kind of socialist system – like China – if we [really] want to [practice] self-sufficiency.”

C: “It’s a very important time to have ‘ideological armor.’ So we have to yell out slogans [about policies] that don’t make sense. Government officials all know that it is difficult to achieve [these policies] in the economic situation we face today.”

Q. Do you think that the loyalty people feel toward the government is falling? 

A: “I don’t really expect anything from the government. If [the government] was to do a good job handing out rations and making [people’s] lives better, nobody would [oppose] being mobilized to do farm work.”

B: “Elderly soldiers and other older people are very loyal [to the regime]. Younger generations are different. They wouldn’t say this out loud, but there are no university students studying with the intent of showing their loyalty to the Party and the Suryong.”

C: “People are loyal. Their loyalty, however, is just based on the idea that ‘there’s no individuals without the state.'”

Q. What do you think needs to be urgently improved in Pyongyang? 

A: “I’m not even asking for meat. I just want regular supplies of grains, vegetables, salt, water, and electricity. Grains and electricity are really important. [Eating] grains is only way to survive, and we need electricity to have lights on [in our houses].”

B: “I hope that medical treatments for the contagious disease [COVID-19] are imported quickly. My understanding is that even first-rate hospitals in the country lack medicine. I don’t want any young people to die because there are no treatments available.”

C: “It’s a fine idea to build [more] hospitals, but I think it’s best to ask the international community for help in regards to the contagious disease [COVID-19]. That will help us get rice, necessities and medicine [from abroad].

The state always talks about the ‘proud people’ who overcome difficulties through self-sufficiency, but I wonder if government officials have ever listened to the people. I think that the country’s policies need to be changed significantly.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Lee Sang Yong is editor-in-chief of Daily NK and previously spent a number of years working as one of the publication’s foreign correspondents in China. He can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.