Rumors are spreading that the North Korean authorities have resumed public distributions in certain regions. Public distributions are allotments of food given to residents in exchange for their work in state jobs. In many regions, such public distributions have long been defunct. Given the rapid improvement in North-South relations, some residents are postulating that this could be aid from the South, while others believe it is an attempt to blunt criticism against the authorities for seizing private gardens used by the residents to grow food.
Daily NK reported in October 2017 that the North Korean authorities had shifted public distribution operations to local district offices in a reintroduced system focused only on “holiday gifts and special distributions.”
For details, Daily NK discussed the matter with an inside source from Ryanggang Province on May 31 who said, “Talk is swirling around that the managers of some state enterprises in Ryanggang Province announced during morning meetings that, ‘Even if there isn’t a full amount provided in June, there will be some public distribution given.’ Because of this, residents are anxiously anticipating getting a June allotment, and there are also positive expectations related to the improvement in North-South relations, so the atmosphere has improved a little.”
“Since there wasn’t any special reason given and the phrase ‘public distribution’ was mentioned, people immediately started thinking it’s aid from the South. This can be interpreted as a result of the residents’ feeling that the authorities have failed for years to uphold their promises, resulting in broken trust,” she continued.
Alternatively, according to the source, some residents believe that it is a trick aimed at sidestepping the residents’ complaints. Under this line of thinking, the authorities are using the promise to encourage workers to meet target deadlines, but there is only a very small chance that the distribution will actually be provided
“Some residents think that the rumor of potential public distributions in June could be related to the confiscation of private gardens. The authorities know that resistance will grow as lands are reclaimed, so they came up with this method [to calm them down],” the source explained.
A source in North Pyongan Province added, “The resistance to the forfeiture of private gardens has been smaller due to the improvement in North-South relations and the potential for a June public distribution. However, if there is no June distribution, there’s a good chance that the opposition could be even greater.”
There are already doubts circulating around the authorities’ ability to reinstate the public distribution system in the long term.
A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK, “At this point, all belief that the authorities will provide support has collapsed, and this generation has long understood that the markets offer their only means of survival. The authorities might implement a glitzy distribution to blunt criticisms, but it won’t be possible to sustain it.”
If the distribution fails to materialize as promised, there could be rising resistance to the seizure of private plots by the authorities.
“Under the simple order of ‘reforestation’ [by Chairman Kim Jong Un], land that was toiled at great effort was suddenly taken away. Residents are urging the authorities to fundamentally resolve the food shortage problem,” the North Hamgyong Province-based source said.