Crackdowns Ease Up on Alley
Song Ah | 2015-02-11 20:26
Alley merchants [also known as
grasshopper merchants]-- those who sell goods in alleyways to avoid crackdowns
by Ministry of People’s Safety [MPS] officials--are now referred to as “tick
merchants,” a term coined after their rapid proliferation, according to sources
within North Korea.
Affiliated with city and
county People’s Committees throughout North Korea, official marketplaces are
run by a management center, charged with collecting and handling fees for
vendors renting stalls from which to sell their sundry goods.
However, securing a location
for their operations is not feasible for a multitude of residents. “Many don’t
have enough money to afford to pay for a stall in the marketplace, so they
either sell goods in the alleys of villages or by crossroads in close proximity
to the jangmadang [North Korea’s system of markets],” a source in North
Pyongan Province told Daily NK on February 9th.
Regulation of these “alley
merchants,” of whom there are countless numbers, is carried out by the Ministry
of People’s Safety and patrol units falling under its umbrella. Frequently,
these officials are know to extort merchants under the pretense of regulating
illegal market activity, confiscating their goods, only to turn around and
return the merchandise as soon as their bribe demands have been met.
Despite the incessant threat
of crackdowns and extortion by these officials, “grasshopper vendors” are
determined to continue selling their items, desperate to hold onto their
“lifelines,” according to the source, who noted a marked difference in this
particular sector of the market economy since just last year.
Of this situation, she said,
“With February 16th [Kim Jong Il’s birthday] fast approaching, the number of
alley merchants has surged [to sell goods for residents preparing for the
holiday], as has the number of MPS officials." She went on to explain that
last year, however, these "grasshopper merchants" largely
abided orders, fleeing the premises after the MPS units arrived for fear of the
repercussions. But this year most are staying put in these makeshift alleyway
market areas, even saying things to the officials like, ‘If we got our rations,
do you think we would be putting ourselves through this?’
This is how the newly coined
term, ‘tick merchant’, came into existence: derived from a common __EXPRESSION__ in
North Korea--regarding how impossible ticks are to remove and keep away before
another comes along--these merchants are much the same--refusing to budge
despite the consequences, determined to claim their spot in the market system.
Recently, investigations launched by the Central Party,
aimed at rooting out reckless misconduct of MPS officials toward residents, are
also thought to be contributing to the ease on regulation of these alley
merchants. This, coupled with the bribe culture continually infiltrating the
“tick merchant” realm--just as in the rest of North Korea--has seen the number
of those engaged in these operations spike; nominal bribes of cash or goods
ensure, at least for the time being, that they can do business in relative
peace. Not unlike those with official stalls inside the market, some even
reportedly pay periodic fees directly to the market management, all but
guaranteeing their exemption from regulation.
The residents, and even the
MPS officials themselves, are not overly preoccupied with regulations and
clampdowns, because, as the source put it, “it becomes increasingly difficult
for officials to crackdown on merchants selling in the surrounding areas of the
markets, entirely reliant on selling goods to survive."
Many are concerned that the
leniency pervading these alley way operations may be fleeting, but the source
asserted things will never return to the past. “When the investigations on the
Ministry of People’s Safety officials are over, regulation of the alley markets
is expected to become stringent again. Still, at this point, it’s next to
impossible for these officials to make residents, largely dependent on business
to maintain their livelihoods, obey them, meaning eradicating these ‘tick
merchants’ is just as improbable,” she concluded.