October 19, 2005


Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia: North Korea's Flowers of Evil (Andreas Lorenz, 10/19/05, Der Spiegel)

About 6.5 million people across the nation -- mainly children, the ill, and the elderly -- still rely on food donations from abroad for their sustenance, according to the United Nations' World Food Program. At the same time, North Korean officials say they want only long-term development aid and no more sacks of rice or beans after 2006. They hustle international workers out of the country -- according to official reasoning -- because farmers can now harvest more than before. But the truth is that Kim Jong Il also doesn't want to attend the next international talks over his nuclear program as a weakened, needy negotiator.

Many of the 130 or so foreign workers in Pyongyang suspect another motive. "We bring in too much information, an alternative lifestyle," says one. "For a some North Koreans we're the only connection to the outside world."

Aid outfits are now bargaining hectically with government officials to win permission to stay. The apparatchiks want concessions: fewer inspections, fewer foreigners in the capital. "We'll probably close down our 19 foodstuffs factories," says Richard Ragan, who has resigned from the WFP and is currently the only American in Pyongyang. The WFP factories produce mainly nutrient-rich noodles and baked goods for children and pregnant mothers.

There are other signs that Kim wants to return to the strict planned economy that he earlier liberalized in order to address the food shortage. As of this month, rice, corn, and wheat cannot be sold in private markets. These basic foodstuffs will be handed out using ration cards -- just as they were before the famine struck.

The leadership evidently wants to mollify its poorly paid workers in ramshackle government factories who can't afford the higher food prices -- never mind buy luxury goods.

...only domestic government can do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2005 11:40 AM
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