From Oct. 1 to Oct. 10, North Korean authorities reportedly launched an intensive crackdown on street vendors, otherwise known as “grasshopper merchants,” in Hyesan ahead of Party Foundation Day. The crackdown resulted in a great deal of resistance, including fights between crackdown enforcers and merchants.

“About 30 street vendors were dragged off to forced labor brigades,” a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Wednesday. 

According to the source, the Hyesan branch of the Ministry of Social Security mobilized agents and other personnel to crack down on street merchants. In particular, agents insisted on confiscating the vendors’ goods, regardless of the reason for the bust.

In the process, fights broke out between enforcement agents and merchants. The Ministry of Social Security immediately arrested people who put up serious resistance, sending them to forced labor brigades after questioning.

In North Korea, Party Foundation Day is a national holiday. Because of this, the authorities generate a festive mood with various events and fireworks.

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A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, in August 2018. / Image: Daily NK

However, they also strengthen controls over the people, warning them against “even a single incident, accident, or abnormal issue.” This is to say, everyone needs to “be alert” even amid the festive atmosphere.

The same dynamic was at work with the crackdown on the “grasshopper merchants.” The authorities hoped to put people on edge, sending them the message that behavior contrary to disease control rules and the law will never be tolerated. 

According to the source, a woman in her 30s, identified by her family name of Kim, got into a physical altercation with enforcers from the city branch of the Ministry of Social Security in Hyegang-dong, Hyesan, on Oct. 8.

Kim was selling cabbages on the street to families preparing for the Oct. 10 holiday.

Kim was selling the cabbages in the rain with a two-year-old child on her back. However, the enforcers told her that she should not be selling on the street because doing that is in “contradiction to party orders.” Then they demanded cigarettes to smoke during the holiday.

When Kim said no, the agents threatened her with confiscation of the cabbages and a fine, and the two sides began to fight. Her husband and his family, who had been watching the scene, joined in, turning it into a major altercation.

“During the holidays [in North Korea], law enforcement personnel from the Ministry of Social Security, Ministry of State Security, and elsewhere demand money or cigarettes, ostensibly because of orders from above,” said the source. “Recently, with controls on street commerce intensifying, they’ve been really keen on seizing any reason to get even a pack of smokes from street vendors, who are suffering the most.” 

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