In preparation for the 85th anniversary of the military’s foundation, the North Korean authorities ordered residents to donate relief items to give to the Korean People's Army [KPA].
"The regional authorities set up collection points for daily necessities like soap, wild chives, and tofu in various locations including Masan District of Hyesan City. The materials were collected on April 24 and sent to military bases. Every year, the state collects even small donations of food in the name of supporting the troops," a source from Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on April 25, adding that the directive was in effect nationwide.
"Enterprises and local government organs are encouraging people to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste. Officially, the regime suggests that the contribution of support materials to the army is voluntary, but of course nobody can take that at face value. Everyone gathers up these items because you don’t want to risk the misfortune that will befall you if you don’t.”
The burden of providing support materials is not limited to adults. Students are also instructed to bring at least one or more daily necessities under the same mandate, which inevitably becomes the responsibility of their parents “even if the authorities know their family can’t afford it,” the source said.
"The whole family gets exploited by the state, the father at his workplace (factory), the mother by the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea (a.k.a. the Korean Democratic Women's Union), and the child at their school. This is unjust for poor families. The military support project is nothing more than systematic exploitation by the regime," a source in North Hamgyong Province added.
According to both sources, until only a few years ago, residents were required to donate cash (approximately 3,000-5,000 KPW) adjusted for working type and age. The authorities used to explain that the money would be used to purchase basic items for the army. But as standards of living worsened, public criticisms over the cash contributions became intense, so the regime began permitting people to donate items instead of cash.
"There is not much difference between paying money or donating materials. Military provisions are of course important, but to strengthen the army through the exploitation of people who can barely feed themselves is not understandable," the North Hamgyong Province-based source said.
"After Kim Jong Un's instructions not to burden residents with extra contributions (financial donations) was handed down, it got harder for cadres to demand money. But they still tell people who don’t have the materials on hand to offer cash.”
"Of course," she added, "the cadres keep that cash. They are only interested in filling their pockets and do not care much about strengthening the national defense."