North Korea marked a major national holiday on Thursday by offering extra corn to select groups of veterans, but the people are complaining that the government is attempting to impose their allegiance through tight regulation of the food supply, according to RFA sources.
The Day of the Sun commemorates the April 15 birth anniversary of national founder Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), grandfather of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and is the country’s most important holiday.
Festivals and festivities commemorate the founder of North Korean society on this day. To express the “Eternal President’s” love for his people, the government distributes candy to the nation’s children.
The central government directed local governments to provide additional food to veterans who were wounded in the line of duty or who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War, which killed approximately 406,000 North Korean military personnel and 600,000 North Korean civilians.
Few veterans of that war are still living in the poor nation, where men have a life expectancy of about 68 years, so the majority of those earning this year’s food bonus are so-called “honoured veterans” —former soldiers of any age who were disabled in the line of duty.
Since North Korea holds Korean War veterans in high regard, the authorities ordered that they be given marginally more food than disabled veterans, a source of contention for the latter.
Even so, local councils this year were unable to provide anyone with what they were owed, and the food that was distributed was of low quality.
“One month’s worth of food was supplied to Korean War veterans in Sinuiju on the occasion of the Day of the Sun,” a source from the northwestern city on the Chinese border told RFA’s Korean Service on Tuesday.
“The food was provided with special regard for Kim Jong Un. It’s 15 kilogrammes [33 pounds] of corn, but with the cobs, “said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
According to the source, the central authorities did not explicitly supply the veterans with food. They therefore allocated the mission and the expense to local authorities, who distributed the gift through a food sales office. The central authorities requested that the honoured veterans be given half the amount of corn that the Korean War veterans were given.
“The food sales office was only able to send the honoured soldiers two weeks’ worth of corn, most likely because they did not have enough stocks for both the war veterans and the honoured veterans,” said the source.
“Even though the corn is supplied by local offices, the Central Committee [of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party] is promoting the gift as though it were their own, demanding that the veterans not forget the Party’s grace,” the source said.
Another source reported that authorities in South Pyongan province, north of Pyongyang, were also providing food to veterans.
“On the Day of the Sun, they distributed 10 kilogrammes [22 pounds] of corn to any war hero, but only those honoured soldiers who were married and had a family received their food bonus,” said the second source.
“The honoured soldiers who were excluded from food distribution are complaining that they are unable to conduct business because they were disabled while serving in the military to defend the country, and they are now being discriminated against even for minor issues like corn rations. They blame the authorities, claiming that propaganda asking them to trust the party makes no sense because the party discriminates against them, “according to the second source.
According to the second source, residents chastised the government for dismissing the complaints of the wounded veterans.
“They think the authorities’ actions are pitiful. They are forcing loyalty by supplying food in small amounts at a time. Meat, such as rabbits, is only saved for Korean War veterans on special occasions. Residents blame the government for taking credit for holiday food delivery, despite the fact that these revered soldiers are unable to make ends meet. ”
According to the second source, the quantity of the food gift varies by area since the central government only instructs local authorities to supply the food, but the actual quantities are left to their discretion. In 2020, two weeks’ worth was considered normal for any holiday.
Food scarcity is a chronic issue. North Korea experienced starvation in the mid-1990s as a result of economic mismanagement and the unexpected fall of North Korea’s patron, the Soviet Union. According to some figures, up to 10% of North Korea’s population died, millions of children suffered stunted growth, and hundreds of thousands fled to China.