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Dire Circumstances Encourage Loggers to Run

Kang Mi Jin  |  2010-12-13 23:56
More and more North Korean loggers, who started out with fond thoughts of a Russian dream, are defecting. Even though they were full of hope, to earn money for three years and live off it for ten, they eventually had to run from excessive wage exploitation by the North Korean authorities, not to mention dire living and working conditions.

Kim Kyung Cheol, a 52-year old former administrative official for the North Korean Forestry Mission in Russia in the late-1990s and early- to mid-2000s, arrived in South Korea this year after defecting for the same reason. He talked about the reality of the Forestry Mission to The Daily NK.

- What was your life with the Forestry Mission in Russia like?

Until 2002, the authorities sent us the basic necessities like soy sauce and soya bean paste, gloves and other work clothes. This was because supplying them from North Korea was cheaper, even including the delivery costs. However, following the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure, a decree was been handed whereby supplies had to be obtained with the money workers earned.

Accordingly, the living expenses of loggers increased, so they had to take up the slack with additional jobs such as hunting or farming.

Three or four loggers are supposed to go hunting as a team, and their results submitted to Party cadres. Because they need to leave the camp for more than two weeks at a time, cadres tend to allow only those who have exemplary loyalty to the Party and the ability to flatter to go.

The profits from farming are also used for general management costs. Therefore, loggers make other, private money by secretly brewing alcohol to sell to Russians in the area or other loggers.

- What is the situation with wages?

It depends on a person's ability to work. Workers in charge of logging or driving can get $100 a month, while measuring logs or working in an office earns around $40-50.

However, workers only get around 30% of the cash and a pay stub which says $100. They are cheated out of money for Party funds, support for significant construction, condolence money for other workers or any one of several other reasons. Therefore, the real wage they get is less than $30 in practice.

- How do they send money to their families in North Korea?

Overseas workers cannot save money in the bank to use later on, because when they go to withdraw money the banks have a habit of saying there is no money or some such. Therefore, they dont use the banking system, but deliver it through a person going home on vacation in cash.

- How many workers are working in the Forestry Mission, and how long can they work there?

There are 17 forestry enterprises in Russia with North Korea loggers. There are differences depending on the enterprise, but generally there are 1,500-2,000 workers in an enterprise. The Party committee of an enterprise with around 1,500 workers generally consists of a manager, a Party secretary, a chief engineer, a National Security Agency and Peoples Safety Ministry agent and around 15 cadres from administration sections. This scale of administration and security is the same one as a third level enterprise in North Korea with around 200 to 500 workers. Since forestry enterprises are generally located in remote parts of Russia, even though it is technically abroad, they dont need many security agents.

- Why do you think defections have increased?

When the wages dropped dramatically, workers started to waver ideologically. In Russia they can easily access South Korean information and therefore many harbor bad feelings against the Kim Jong Il regime. They also generally consider defection while living abroad to be safer.

- Have you got any information about drugs thriving in forestry enterprises?

Trade and circulation of drugs in enterprises started in the late 1990s. The channel for drugs from North Korea used to be NSA document delivery agents of the forestry enterprises, because they could easily pass through the customs house on the Tumen River carrying documents on the orders of Kim Jong Il.

By the 2000s, dealing drugs had become extremely common among general workers. During vacations, workers would bring a batch of opium or ice (methamphetamines) hidden in red pepper paste into Russia. Once they passed the Tumen River customs house safely, they could hand it over to Russian gangsters.

Workers say, Even the Party smuggles drugs, so it is nonsense that we cannot do it. When they are exposed by the NSA or PSM, bribes can solve the problem.
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