‘Spy snake’ narrative stirs up Ryanggang Province

North Korean border patrol guards in some areas of Ryanggang Province are busy searching for and capturing an unseasonably high number of snakes at the behest of the authorities, who claim Seoul’s spy agency deliberately released them in the region.

“From early this month, border patrol units received orders to capture snakes before they crawl over the banks of Amnok [Yalu] River,” a source from Ryanggang Province told Daily NK in a recent telephone conversation. “The key message from the Party was that the South’s National Intelligence Service had released snakes as part of a ‘cunning scheme’ to challenge our unity.”
Multiple sources in Ryanggang Province corroborated this news.

“Under orders to capture the snakes before they reach land and hatch eggs, soldiers have no choice but to wade into the river to do so, naturally leading to complaints,” the source said. “Some grumble among themselves about the nature of the state’s claims, justifiably pointing out that not even a three-year-old would believe that the South would attack us with snakes over [anti-regime] propaganda leaflets or CDs.”

Despite the prevalent skepticism, personnel from the Ministry of People’s Security and other public agencies, citing purported snake sightings, continue to urge residents to stay alert to snake danger at all times. In some areas, rumors of people dying from snake bites are also making the rounds.

Consequently, residents in farming communities are shying away from the most basic duties agrarian life demands, such as cutting grass and weeding. Some have expressed intentions to put the blame squarely on Seoul if the cautionary negligence yields a poor harvest, according to the source. 

These types of comments, sardonic or not, may be just the type of ideological end goal the serpent narrative seeks to achieve. Underscoring the possibility of an attack from outside forces [South Korea and the U.S.] in a visceral way could be used as a mechanism to “psychologically arm the people during the 200-Day Battle,” the source explained, citing sentiments circulating among some in the military. 

For example, he added, state propaganda proclaimed in the past that the excessive number of stick insects pervading corn fields was due to U.S. imperialist scheming. “Of course, a dearth of pesticides was the actual cause of the infestation,” he noted.

“The rhetoric will taper off eventually because, contrary to this outlandish narrative, few people have actually spotted any snakes.”  

Meanwhile, the fraught environment led smugglers, who spend much of their time in or around the river, to purchase high-quality rubber pants based solely on rumors that a single snake bite could be fatal. Demand briefly surged, driving up of one pair of trousers to 200,000 [24 USD] from 140,000 KPW [17 USD], but quickly fizzled out thereafter, bringing prices back down to normal. 
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Many of her articles are featured in the Jangmadang section of the Daily NK website. She has been interviewed by the New York Times and LA Times, among others, and is a contributor on North Korea issues for TBS and KBS.