With just more than a week before North Korea is set to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, authorities are demanding donations from local residents to complete a host of improvements to the country’s third largest city, forcing those who can’t pay to leave, sources said.
In May, regime leader Kim Jong Un traveled to Chongjin, the capital of North Hamgyong province, and ordered city planners to modernize the exteriors of all apartment buildings and make the roads “more convenient” for visiting foreign dignitaries ahead of the Oct. 10 celebrations marking the founding of the party in 1945.
The decree added to a list of tasks already assigned to the city for the event, including the construction of an avenue from a memorial to Kim’s grandfather and the nation’s founder Kim Il Sung, and his father Kim Jong Il, to the former Chongjin Steelworks, as well as new high-rise apartment buildings to line the roadway.
But despite the best efforts of an army of laborers assigned to the city from surrounding counties, as well as local residents and even farmers from regional collectives, construction on the projects is far from complete, sources in North Hamgyong, near the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Workers have only finished the exterior construction of a 23-block apartment complex located in front of the statue of Kim Il Sung,” one source told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“[Other completed] apartment buildings are 12-18 stories tall and the tenants will have to complete the interior work their own.”
According to the source, workers used what appear to be pieces of repurposed oil drums to tile the roofs of the buildings, which local authorities imported from China as part of a bid to cut down on costs.
And while a second source told RFA that the modernization of apartment buildings lining a railroad between the Songpyong and Nanam districts of Chongjin “is nearly finished,” he said that authorities had been forced to collect funds from residents for the projects, as the city’s coffers were insufficient.
The source, who also declined to be named, said that the amount of money required from each household varied by location in the city, with families residing in Chongjin’s Shinam and Chungam districts made to pay authorities 300 yuan (U.S. $47) each—a small fortune for most North Koreans.
Additionally, he said, “in-min-ban” units of around 30 households in the city were obliged to prepare food for the laborers on a daily basis, straining their already meager resources.
As a result of the burdens placed on residents, many families—particularly poorer ones living near the railroad—were forced to sell their homes and move to the outskirts of the city, the source added.
The sources suggested that the inhabitants of Chongjin were at their wits end, but expected things to improve after Oct. 10.
“The residents are enduring by holding onto a ray of hope that the situation will be better following the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party,” said one of the sources.
“If the authorities keep plundering after the conclusion of the big event, the residents will no longer be able to contain their anger,” he said.
Reports in recent months indicate that North Korea’s regime has badly miscalculated the country’s readiness to mark the founding of its ruling party.
Earlier this month, sources told RFA that handlers had failed to pay several months of salary to North Koreans sent to China to bring in cash for the regime and forced them to take part in a “Foreign Currency Earning for Loyalty” campaign under the pretext of securing funds for the anniversary.
In August, sources said the regime issued a directive for each household in the nation to pay around 40 yuan (U.S. $6.30) for People’s Army soldiers who are training for a military parade and helping to build new construction projects ahead of the celebration.
Also last month, sources told RFA that authorities in North Hamgyong province were punishing misdemeanors—such as riding bicycles without bells—with labor duty as they race to complete unfinished development projects before Oct. 10.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.