Taking the Temperature of Post-Kim Society
- [② They have to allow survival]
In early March, just two months after the death of Kim Jong Il, Daily NK dispatched a team to Yanji and Jian, cities in the Sino-North Korean border region, to take a closer look at trends in public opinion and the way people inside North Korea are currently living. The team organized interviews with six North Korean citizens visiting the two cities.
They told Daily NK with one voice that they have been suffering considerably since the death of Kim Jong Il; in particular, this has been due to trade and internal travel controls, something which makes sense given that the majority of the interviewees were either private traders or workers dispatched by trade enterprises affiliated with state organs.
The voices featured did not come from a single region; opinion emerged from Pyongyang, Chongjin on the east coast of North Hamkyung Province, further down the coast in Hamheung, South Hamkyung Province, from Hyesan, just across the border from Changbai in China, Kangye in Jagang Province and also Sariwon in South Hwanghae Province.
With the exception of Pyongyang, the interviewees report that there have not been rations given since the emergence of the Kim Jong Eun regime, and there were only special rations for Kim Jong Il’s birthday in some areas. Naturally, people are complaining that if the state is not going to give rations, it should at least permit the minimum amount of trading needed to survive.
A 40-something female trade company employee from Chongjin commented, “People have to survive regardless of controls on trading, so people go and buy their rice at nighttime. They have to allow people to survive. Life is hard, and when they stop people trading those people complain.”
“In the end, it’s much the same as saying to the person trading in the alleyway who cannot pay the stall tax that they must die,” the woman added. “They don’t even give distribution. On February 16th, all they gave us was a bottle of liqor!”
Interviewees from some areas even reported news of suicides committed in despair at the current situation.
The man from Pyongyang explained, “Life is hard, even in Pyongyang, and living with parents is difficult, so there have been cases of people killing their parents then killing themselves. Most people are pretty tenacious so this kind of thing is rare, but some young people also do kill themselves.”
A 50-something trading woman from Kangye said of the situation there, “Sooner or later the time comes when there is nothing to eat, and life itself becomes painful. Some older people find it hard to trade, and rather than get looked at with contempt by their children they choose suicide. I know a few householders who have found it really, really hard to survive so they borrowed money to buy meat and some poison, then fed it to their family.”
“In Hwanghae the food situation is very bad,” a woman from Sariwon commented. “Some sick people unable to eat have died of malnutrition. I heard that 200 tons of emergency rice came into the port at Nampo, but I never received any of it.”
Although the situation is sure to change, there are almost no statues of Kim Jong Il in North Korea yet, so most people went to mourning events at local monuments to Kim Il Sung. This was not a choice; the events were organized by the Party and those who did not play their part became targets for self-criticism. People’s Safety Ministry (North Korea’s police) agents watched for people failing to attend.
The people were placed under exceptional surveillance during the mourning period, according to the interviewees. Those adjudged to have violated the ‘mourning atmosphere’ were severely punished.
The woman from Chongjin commented, “During the mourning period you couldn’t afford to put a single foot wrong. One Party secretary was kicked out of the Party and turned into a common laborer because they said he drank alcohol!”
A 40-something trader from the North Korean capital agreed, saying, “If you drank and said something wrong you got rounded up.”
Meanwhile, “You couldn’t complain about the commemoration events, regardless of your feeling,” the woman from Hamheung reported. “If you did something wrong you could be sent into exile, to a re-education camp or a labor unit.
“Chosun is a place where even couples cannot talk to each other,” the woman concluded. “There have been instances of couples fighting or relations going a bit sour and then past words getting reported back. One person who went into hospital during the mourning period got kicked out of the Party and sent into exile. Some who simply didn’t look very sad were also imprisoned.”