We have recently been reading through the Korea Institute for National Unification’s (KINU) terrific Online Paper Series and came across a discussion of recent legal changes by Lee Kyu Chang (“The People’s Safety Enforcement Law (Formerly the Social Safety Enforcement Law) and Stronger Control of North Korean Citizens”). In conjunction with the transition, several internal security laws were revised in a typically contradictory fashion: on the one hand, making reference to rights and enshrining protections against abuses; on the other hand, in fact tightening controls over citizens.
A particularly intriguing component of the new law was the inclusion of specific activities that are now subject to enforcement. Following is the list taken directly from Appendix 2 of the Chang paper with a few comments. As we argued in Witness to Transformation, legal prohibitions on market-oriented activities provide the basis for extortion and blackmail on the part of officials. On the other hand, the inventory suggests that once marketization begins it is hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Moreover, if it’s illegal, someone is probably doing it.
○Illegal hoarding of equipment or materials from an agency, workplace or group, or unauthorized establishment of service facilities for profit such as food stands
○ Organizing of employees of an agency, workplace or group for illegal money-making activities
○ Failure to properly manage farm equipment or laboring animals, or violation of orderly storage and use of agricultural materials such as pesticides
○ Acts which waste electricity such as illegal use of power cables, etc.
○ Redirecting labor from an agency, workplace, or group for another purpose or failing to mobilize labor for planned activities in a timely manner
Comment. The foregoing suggest a process of de facto privatization. Managers and workers are diverting the capital stock, inputs, labor and power into other uses that are probably more productive than what the enterprise can do.
○ Spreading superstitious behavior, falsifying or distorting the facts, or spreading rumors
○ Violating the proper registered use of recording materials such as computers, printers, digital cameras, solid-state radios
Comment. The possibilities with respect to this last injunction are endless, from listening to illegal broadcasts to printing samizdat to recording garage bands.
○ Harassment of women or defilement of other people’s clothing
Comment. As we say, if its illegal someone is doing it and we certainly hope that the regime acts against harassment of women. But defiling other people’s clothing?
○ Walking along railways or automotive roadways, or violating the established
order and public morality of areas near tourist roads
○ Destruction of equipment attached to trains, trams, or buses, or interference with their orderly operation
○ Manufacturing alcohol for the purpose of barter or commerce, trading in banned materials, or trading outside of official marketplaces
○ Illegal smuggling or sale of goods, or unauthorized transit across national borders
○ Concealment or trade of stolen goods
○ Driving while intoxicated, or dispersion of harmful fumes exceeding emissions standards
○ Acts of violence, defiance, or insults directed against persons issuing warnings or notifications of legal violations
Comment: in some ways, this last injunction is the most interesting. Authoritarian regimes rest not simply on coercion but acquiescence and compliance. Nothing is more threatening than a public that stands up and says “no.”