North Korea inspects party membership cards after alcohol bill goes unpaid

Membership in the Korean Workers’ Party used to come with perks and prestige. Now few want to join.
By Chang Gyu Ahn for RFA Korean
2022.12.23
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North Korea inspects party membership cards after alcohol bill goes unpaid North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raises his Party Membership Card to vote during North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 29, 2016.
NKO via AP

Authorities in North Korea are inspecting membership cards for the ruling Workers’ Party after a man used his to get out of paying for alcohol, thereby sullying the party’s good name, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

Membership in the Korean Workers’ Party was once seen as prestigious as it conferred many benefits to citizens, such as preferable job placement and access to better education and housing. To be a member of the party requires exemplary action, such as superior military service.

But with the country’s economy in shambles, the government is no longer able to provide the same advantages to party members.

RFA was only able to confirm that the inspections are happening in the coastal city of Chongjin, in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong.

“I found out [about the inspections] the next day,” a resident of Chongjin told RFA’s Korean Service Wednesday on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “It was because a male party member … bought some alcohol, left his party membership card, and promised to pay the next day.”

According to the source, the man did not return, even 15 days later, so the seller turned over the card to the local party committee and reported him. Shortly after, local authorities began a citywide inspection, and party members in every organization in Chongjin had to show their card was well cared for as a sign of their continued respect for their membership.

“They looked at the condition of the card, the case and bag used to insert and hold it, and the condition of the strap used to wear it on the body,” said the source. 

All members are required to carry their cards with them, displayed in its case on the left front of the chest and secured with shoulder and waist straps. But most members only bring their cards to party meetings and other special occasions.

The source said the inspection is the first widespread review since the party introduced the current version of the card in 2013.

“After the inspection, the local party secretary emphasized at the next meeting of party members that they should not tarnish their honor and take good care of their membership card,” he said.

It is believed that anyone caught without a membership card in good condition will be expelled from the party, the source said. RFA could not confirm any party expulsions.

Members are supposed to have their card inspected when they pay their monthly party fees, which amount to 2% of their monthly income, to their cell leader. Members in one company were surprised that it was the local party secretary, who has a much higher position than the cell leader, performing the inspection, said a worker in the company who declined to be named.

He said the secretary checked to see if the card was properly laminated and shielded from moisture.

“But it seemed like he was really just trying to see whether each member was carrying the card,” the second source said.

Members have now become indifferent to their status as party members, and few people are striving to join like they used to, he said.

“In the past, every man devoted himself to becoming a party member,” the source said. “But among the relatively young people in our company who are not members … there is not a single person who is trying to become one.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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