In advance of Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16, one of North Korea’s biggest national holidays, the authorities forced residents to contribute money to the state. The financial burden of this and other de facto taxes North Koreans are required to pay is creating some level of discontent in the country.
“The approaching Day of the Shining Star (Kim Jong Il’s birthday) has led to an order by the government toward factories and enterprises in Chongjin and even farms in Onsong County to contribute foreign currency,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source on February 15. “The authorities are ordering these entities to pay 10,000 KPW per person (employee) to the state.”
North Korean efforts to raise foreign currency began in the 1972 when Kim Jong Il ordered that institutions and citizens contribute items that could be sold for foreign currency to the state in celebration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday. The government originally requested gold, pine mushrooms, and animal pelts but now demands foreign currency outright.
In North Korea, 10,000 KPW is equivalent in value to approximately two kilograms of rice in the markets, or 1.22 USD. This is not a lot of money, and many residents have become more financially well-off through their earnings in private business activities and have not complained about this form of “tax” to any great extent.
The issue with the state’s demand, however, centers on those North Koreans who are in more difficult financial situations, and it is those in the poorer classes that are raising issues with the financial burden it imposes on them.
“To some workers in enterprises who don’t conduct private business activities, 10,000 KPW is a lot of money,” said a source in Ryanggang Province. “The authorities don’t even give them proper wages, so it’s cruel of the state to be asking them for money.”
What’s more infuriating for local residents is that the government, through Party committees in the factories, is demanding that money for the loyalty funds be automatically deducted from workers’ monthly wages without their express permission.
“The factories just decided on their own to take out the funds from workers’ salaries because they didn’t know when or if the workers would be able to save it up themselves. But these workers are so poor that they don’t even have the money to bring their own lunchboxes. The workers don’t complain openly about the situation but I heard that many are really fuming because of it,” an additional source in Ryanggang Province reported.
“The authorities are taking money from people to pay for all sorts of construction projects and to prepare election sites (for the upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly elections),” he said.
“The government crackdown on what people are allowed to say in advance of the upcoming [politically sensitive] events and elections means that people are not openly talking about what they’re going through.”
The North Korean authorities are actively leaning on ordinary North Koreans to supply funds needed for construction projects in Samjiyon County, the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal Tourist Area and other major projects.
North Koreans are showing less interest in [the spirit of] Kim Jong Il due to an increase in discontent toward the state and its practices during celebrations for the deceased leader. The government has moved to mobilize its citizens to take part in a range of events to help celebrate Kim Jong Il’s birthday, but the genuine fervor of previous years has largely abated.
The North Korean authorities also mobilized people to form “loyalty singing groups” within each work unit, but the general response to this has largely been negative, according to a source in South Hamgyong Province.
“People were asking when they’re able to rest when they have to work all day and then sing at night,” she said.