N. Korean officials anger locals after demolishing graveyard

Removal occurs amid encouragement by the state to cremate instead of bury loved ones

grave site rural area north korea
A grave site in a rural area of North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

North Korean authorities recently demolished a graveyard during the construction of a new hydroelectric power plant in the Tokchon region of South Pyongan Province. This has angered the locals, Daily NK sources in the region reported on Nov. 5.

The Tokchon region people’s committee, which oversaw the construction, had not announced the destruction of graveyard, the sources said. 

According to one source, locals in the area did express anger over the wholesale loss of the grave sites of their ancestors. However, “they have no recourse against the authorities, so they can only simmer in frustration,” he explained. 

Daily NK sources said that the people’s committee further aggravated public anger by admitting that it had not been aware of the existence of graveyards in the construction area.

In the early 2000s, Kim Jong Il issued an order for all graves to be moved to “collective graveyards.” Uncared-for graves were ordered to be destroyed. As a result, many graveyards were destroyed. 

Daily NK sources suggest the people’s committee’s excuse could thus have been motivated by this past precedent. 

A CONNECTION WITH REFORESTATION?

The destruction of the graves may have also been associated with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “battle” to reforest the country. 

According to Daily NK sources in July, North Korean officials ordered the removal of grave sites and the cremation of remains near roads in South Pyongan Province as part of reforestation efforts.  

“Families could bring diesel fuel and firewood to cremate the remains of their relatives themselves,” one Daily NK source said. “Families [unable to do so] were forced to witness the destruction of the graves.” 

Given the fact that Kim Jong Un has consistently called for the construction of mid-sized hydropower plants, sources suggest that the North Korean officials likely just aimed to “clean up” the road leading to the power plant. The reforestation might have only served as a pretext to justify the ordered cremations to the people.

With this in mind, the regional authorities are likely to remain indifferent to the frustrations of the residents.

THE BURDENS OF CREMATION 

In addition, many North Korean citizens have been simply unable to afford the costs associated with cremation, Daily NK sources said. 

“Not only is there no place to cremate the remains, it also costs a lot of money to acquire diesel fuel and firewood [to cremate the remains],” one of the sources explained. “Those who weren’t able to cremate were unable to do so because of the difficulties they already faced just trying to survive.”

A further source confirmed the costs of KPW 7,600 for one kilogram of diesel fuel and KPW 120,000 for one cubic meter of firewood in Pyongyang.

Such an amount of money represents a significant financial burden to North Koreans who already struggle to cover their daily needs – particularly in the country’s continuing economic crisis.

Hence, one of the sources concluded: “The authorities went too far this time in removing the graveyard without prior warning.”

*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger

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