Weird News from Koreaon December 16, 2004 at 12:00 am
“Nork Fowl to be Imported to South Korea,” Budaechigae, http://kimcheegi.blogs.com/budaechigae/2004/11/nork_fowl_to_be.html, 29 November 2004.
“Cracks in North Korean ‘Stalinism’,” by Andrei Lankov, Asia Times, http://atimes.com/atimes/Korea/FL07Dg01.html, 7 December 2004.
“Welcome to Capitalism, North Korean Comrades,” by Andrei Lankov, Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/FL14Dg01.html, 14 December 2004.
“North Korea Will Announce New Real Estate Trading Law Next Year,” The Dong-A Ilbo International, http://english.donga.com/srv/service.php3?bicode=060000&biid=2004121677018, 15 December 2004.
“They Say Koreans are the ‘Irish of Asia,’ but…”,” by Robert Koehler, The Marmot’s Hole, http://blog.marmot.cc/archives/2004/12/15/they-say-the-koreans-are-the-irish-of-asia-but, 15 December 2004.
What is happening in North Korea?
From The Dong-A Ilbo International
North Korea is planning to announce a real estate law that partly allows individuals to sell their houses at will in the first half of next year, said a Beijing-based source Wednesday.
Since there has been an increasing number of illegal house trades among individuals after the North’s “economic adjustment policy” in July 2002, actions to legalize such trading are expected, added the source.
while in Asia Times
Women were especially prominent in the new small businesses. Many North Korean women were housewives or held less-demanding jobs than men. Their husbands continued to go to their factories, which had come to a standstill. The males received rationing coupons that were hardly worth the paper on which they were printed. But North Korean men still saw the situation as temporary and were afraid to lose the trappings of a proper state-sponsored job that for decades had been a condition for survival in their society. While men were waiting for resumption of “normal life”, whiling away their time in idle plants, the women embarked on frenetic business activity. Soon some of these women began to make sums that far exceeded their husbands’ wages.
The booming markets are not the only place for retail trade. A new service industry has risen from the ashes: private canteens, food stalls and inns operate near the markets. Even prostitution, completely eradicated around 1950, made a powerful comeback as desperate women were eager to sell sexual services to the newly rich merchants. Since no banking institution would serve private commercial operations, illegal money lenders appeared. In the late 1990s they would charge their borrowers monthly interests of 30-40%. This reflected very high risks: these lenders had virtually no protection against the state, criminals and, above all, bad debtors.
Either of these would make good fractions of North Korea’s economy freer than New York City.
North Korea is also interested in becoming “The Ireland of Asia”
The Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday that a North Korean Foreign Ministry delegation was sent to Ireland in October to study the Emerald Isle’s remarkable transformation from the EU’s poor man to economic dynamo.
Though, as The Marmot points out, they may be apeing a pre-modern past. In the Potato Famine, Ireland was depopulated while absentee landlords exported food. The same thing is happening now in the Democratic People’s Republic:
So you can export poultry to the “traitorous fascist imperialistTM” south, but your own people eat grass, tree bark, and handouts from other countries:
The happiest conclusion is that North Korea’s economy is in a tailspin…
But collapse of the Soviet Union made clear that claims of self-sufficiency were unfounded. From 1991, the North Korean economy went into free fall. Throughout 1991-99, the gross national product (GNP) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nearly halved. The situation became unbearable in 1996, when the country was struck by a famine that took, by the best available estimates, about 600,000 lives. The famine could have been prevented by a Chinese-style agricultural reform, but this option was politically impossible: such a reform would undermine the government’s ability to control the populace.
The control on daily lives was lost anyway. What we have seen in North Korea over the past 10 years can be best described as collapse of what used to be rigid Stalinism from below. In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact.
… with free information …
As a former citizen of a communist country, the Soviet Union, this analyst can confirm that Western radio propaganda broadcasts greatly contributed to the demise of the communist camp. But it seems that these days in North Korea most subversive information is spread largely in visual, video, not audio channels. The first VCRs turned up in the North around 1990, but for a decade they remained beyond the wildest expectations of the average North Korean.
The situation changed around 2000 when northeast China was flooded with cheap DVD players and newer VCRs. Old machines are now sold very cheaply by their owners, and then smuggled to North Korea via its porous (essentially, uncontrolled) border with China. In North Korea the used VCRs are resold at high premiums, but a machine still only costs the equivalent of US$35 or $40 – definitely within the reach of a more successful North Korean family. VCRs are largely used for copying and watching tapes of South Korean TV soap operas, which have become major hits in North Korea in the past few years. The South Korean actors and actresses are much admired, and their hairstyles and fashions are eagerly imitated by the Pyongyang youth.
Many more cracks are opening in the self-imposed information blockade so painstakingly constructed and maintained by Pyongyang for decades. The radio sets sold inside Korea are still permanently altered and sealed, so they can be used only for listening to the official Pyongyang broadcasts, but that does not really matter since cheap transistor radios are smuggled across the Chinese border. These radios are common enough: in 2003 a poll confirmed that 67% of defectors from North Korea had been listening to foreign and South Korean broadcasts before they fled. Of course, this is not very representative: the willingness to defect obviously makes a person more interested in listening to foreign broadcasts. Nonetheless, it’s clear: information is spreading inside the North.
… maybe the regime will implode
Of course, the North Korean authorities are not very happy about these developments, which would be unthinkable merely 10 years ago. They launched a few crackdowns – or rather attempted crackdowns, since their efforts did not quite work out as intended. The steady erosion of old Stalinist values also influenced the attitudes of lower-level officialdom and police. Young policemen sabotaged the recent crackdowns, visitors reported, being unwilling to arrest boys for wearing clothes that departed from the ubiquitous dark suit and dark tie or Mao-type outfit.
We can only hope. And pray. And support every anti-DPRK work by anyone, anywhere.