Rural residents in North Korea are complaining that their government is unfairly giving the best quality apples and peaches to citizens of the capital Pyongyang ahead of Saturday’s Chuseok holiday, sources in the provinces told RFA.
Chuseok is the Korean version of the autumn harvest festival celebrated throughout northeast Asia. The holiday draws comparisons to Thanksgiving in the U.S. as people both in North and South Korea travel to be with their extended families and pay tribute to their ancestors by preparing a large ceremonial feast in a “jesa” ceremony.
In a typical jesa, various foods are arranged on a table in a specific way to honor the ancestors, and no jesa table is complete without fruits arranged into a pyramid, with the tops lopped off to signify they are meant for the deceased.
But all of the best fruits in North Korea went to the privileged residents of Pyongyang this year, angering inhabitants of the provinces.
“The best apples have been supplied to all households in Pyongyang and were said to be examples of [North Korean leader] ‘Kim Jong Un’s compassion and love,’” a resident of Tanchon in the eastern province of South Hamgyong told RFA Korean on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Many people out here are outraged by the news that Pyongyang residents get the finest apples and peaches. It’s like we in the provinces aren’t really considered citizens,” he said.
The military was even mobilized to deliver the fruits to the produce stores in the capital starting Aug. 26, according to the source.
“The fruits are then given to every household. Due to the large population of Pyongyang, only a few fruits are provided to each resident, but not even a single fruit has been given to the provincial residents,” the source said.
According to the source, the peaches come from Kwail county in South Hwanghae province, and apples come from the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm. The government used citizen labor to build fruit farms and processing factories in both locations, promising that an abundance of various kinds of fruits would be supplied nationwide.
“However, the fruits they produce are only supplied to high-ranking officials and Pyongyang citizens. I feel outraged that the Workers’ Party has deceived the provincial residents,” he said.
“It is not the first time that the authorities discriminated against provincial residents,” the source said. Living in Pyongyang is a privilege reserved only for the most loyal citizens. Those lucky enough to live there have better access to food, jobs, and education, and receive other perks and benefits unavailable to their provincial counterparts.
“It is no exaggeration to say that [Pyongyang and the provinces] are two different countries,” he said.
The people of Pochon county in the northern province of Ryanggnang, meanwhile, are angry and frustrated by the government’s show of favoritism this Chuseok, a source there told RFA.
“I was selected as part of a mobilization effort … in the construction of the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm over a six-month period,” he said. “I worked hard by leveling the land and planting fruit trees. There must be a lot of funds and materials that each provincial family was forced to donate for the construction of the fruit farm.”
“Tremendous effort and sweat of countless provincial residents has gone into each fruit that comes out of Taedonggang, but the fruits are only supplied to Pyongyang, so who would not complain?” the second source said.
The second source was critical of Kim and the ruling Korean Workers’ Party for trying to solve the country’s problems by making life better in Pyongyang.
“The authorities’ favoritism for Pyongyang residents is unfair treatment that ignores and discriminates against provincial residents. We are more than eight times the population of Pyongyang,” he said.
Translated by Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.