Are you special, basic or complex? Behind North Korea’s caste system
‘Songbun’ separates citizens according to ancestral and social standings – or whether they’ve had their photograph taken with the great leader. NK News wonders how will it coexist with Kim Jong-un’s proposed reforms
North Korean Army soldiers and civilians on the stands of the Kim Il Sung Stadium, a photograph by Ilya Pitalev which won at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2013. Photograph: Ilya Pitalev/Sony
Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.00 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 4 March 2015 12.13 GMT
It might not be obvious from the outside, but experts agree that North Korea is undergoing significant upheaval. Kim Jong-un’s regime is said to be serious about reforms, with the so-called “30th May measures” promising to increase personal income and allow greater social mobility.
But this has left many wondering how North Korea’s strict songbun system of social classification will coexist with such unprecedented reforms.
Songbun was most important element in the social structure of Kim Il-sung’s North Korea. Sung, who established the Democratic People’s Republic in 1948, initiated the system of social classification in the late 1950s, dividing the population into groups according to the actions and status of their paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War.
Songbun determines, among other things, whether North Koreans are allowed to live in the capital or in special cities, the workplace they’re allocated, and what kind of education they can receive.
While there has been some research into songbun, much of it is either outdated or incomplete. Researchers aren’t allowed to access official North Korean documents of this kind, which are always classified, but fortunately I have a friend who served in the North Korean police and is very familiar with the songbun documents, who was able to explain it in more detail.
Brahmins and untouchables, North Korean style
According to this system of social classification North Korean society is divided to five groups, from the best to the worst: special, nucleus, basic, complex and hostile. Earlier research has usually only mentioned three strata, because the existence of the special class was largely unknown, and the complex classification was only introduced in the 2000s.
Nucleus, also known as core, is the standard. Special is very rare and acts as a bonus in status. In contrast, basic (also known as wavering) can lead to slight discrimination, while people deemed complex and especially hostile face substantial prejudice.
‘Awarded with an audience’ is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more
A possible exception from this system would be blood relatives of the Kim family, who are seemingly excluded from all official documentation, although this remains to be verified.
Songbun is calculated from two factors. The first measures the social position and actions of one’s paternal ancestors during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War. Did they fight with Kim Il-sung and later remain close to the Great Leader? Congratulations, your ancestry songbun is as good as it can be. Or, did they work as a clerk in the colonial administration, or worse, were they part of a faction in the independence movement that later proved hostile to Kim? Well then, your ancestry songbun is very bad and you’re unlikely to advance to any meaningful position in society.
The second – social songbun – measures the place occupied by a person in North Korean society; a worker, farmer, military man, teacher or policeman. There is, however, one variation of social songbun which overrides all others – party member – and another, the strange sounding “awarded with an audience”.
Portraits of North Korea’s national founder Kim Il-sung (left) and late leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photograph: AP
The latter is a title given to North Koreans who have talked to the leader for 20 minutes or more, or who have had their picture taken with him. That’s why commemoration photos printed in the official newspaper of the ruling Worker’s Party, Rodong Sinmun, often include thousands of people – the songbun of all of them has just increased.
Songbun influences many aspects of life in North Korea. If your songbun isn’t good enough, you cannot live in Pyongyang. Or, you cannot enter a good university, no matter how smart you are. You cannot be employed as a teacher or a policemen with bad or even average songbun. And if you want to join the ranks of the secret police (as many North Koreans do) not only you, but all you relatives up to the sixth generation must have a good songbun, or you do not qualify.
Can you alter your songbun? When it comes to ancestry , the answer is almost always no. Records are kept in four locations: at the local administration office, ordinary police, secret police and at specific organisations, like the Worker’s Party, Women’s Union, or labour union.
The situation during the Kim Il-sung era was much the same: a person of bad ancestry could not get a good job, so his or her songbun remained bad too. However, many things have changed since Kim Il-sung died in 1994, and the role of this system of classification is one of them. Now, a person who has worked for three years gets a new social designation decided upon by the decision of the local party committee. And these days even people of questionable ancestry can join the party. Some North Korean officials have also started to simply ignore songbun, reasoning that punishing someone for the sins of their ancestors is unfair and unjust.
The role of songbun is gradually reducing, as the country embraces new ways and new economic models. If Kim Jong-un really wants to proceed with promised reforms, one of the necessary steps would be to abolish songbun, at least in practice.
A version of this article first appeared on NK News
Scotland Yard detectives to return to holiday resort where Madeleine McCann vanished ‘within days’ to follow up new leads | Mail Online
Scotland Yard detectives to return to holiday resort where Madeleine McCann vanished ‘within days’ to follow up new leads
New leads: Scotland Yard detectives could travel to Portugal in the coming days to follow up on new leads in the case of missing Madeleine McCann (pictured)
Detectives searching for Madeleine McCann could fly to the Portuguese holiday resort where the youngster went missing within days to follow up on new leads.
Metropolitan Police officers could potentially interview suspects, search properties and even make arrests in the Algarve where Madeleine disappeared while on a family holiday in 2007.
The Crown Prosecution Service has written a Letter of Request to Portuguese judges this week asking for permission to work in the country to gather evidence alongside local police.
According to the Daily Mirror, the letter included the names of some of the suspects that police wish to speak to regarding the case and an outline of a number of offences being investigated.
Madeleine went missing from an apartment in Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007, as her parents dined with friends at a nearby tapas restaurant.
The shambolic Portuguese inquiry was shelved in 2008, but Scotland Yard began a Home Office-funded review in 2011 – known as Operation Grange – following the intervention of David Cameron.
The Met said earlier this month that it was preparing to swoop on 38 suspects ‘scattered across Europe’ after announcing a full criminal investigation.
Among them are a dozen British nationals who were visiting or living in the Algarve at the time the then three-year-old went missing.
Investigators said that they have no prime suspects but said that they had found no evidence that the youngster had been murdered.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, who is leading the inquiry, said: ‘We continue to believe that there is a possibility that Madeleine is alive.’
Crime scene: The Ocean Club Resort in Praia da Luz where Madeleine went missing in 2007
New hope: Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry McCann welcomed the Met’s announcement that it had new leads earlier this month
The Met’s announcement came toward the end of a two year £5million review of the case which officers said has created a ‘unique picture’ of what happened in the Algarve.
Hopeful: Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said that police have no evidence that Madeleine was murdered
Mr Redwood said the painstaking review has brought together all the information about Madeleine for the first time.
He said: ‘That has given us the ability to see this case with fresh eyes, and through that bring out new – genuinely new – lines of inquiry.
‘I’m hopeful that when we pursue those lines of inquiry, we will be able to bring some sort of resolution.
‘Whether we will be able to solve it is a different issue, but I hope we will be able to have the ability to move the investigation on.
‘I believe that this is an important moment for Madeleine. It is a great opportunity which we intend to exploit to the full.’
A Met Police spokesman refused to comment on when detectives will be sent to Portugal as part of the investigation and the CPS was unavailable for comment.
Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered the review of the case back in 2011.
The cheapest places in the UK and world for petrol
Petrol prices vary wildly from region to region and country to country, so where’s cheapest?
The bank holiday is an opportunity for people to head out of (or into) town and visit friends, relatives – or even jet overseas for a short break.
But those driving in the UK will not just encounter a change of scenery, but a large difference in the cost of filling up the car.
Figures from Santander show there’s a 16.2p a litre difference in the petrol prices paid by Brits in different parts of the country, meaning filling up could cost you £10 more (or less) depending on where you go.
Where’s cheapest then?
Looking at credit card data, Santander compared the prices paid for unleaded at petrol stations across the country – the cheapest region to fill up in was Grampian in Scotland with an average petrol price of 129.7 pence a litre.
Outside of Scotland, Denbighshire in Wales has the cheapest price per litre of 130.9p.
Regionally, north-west England was cheapest at an average of 131.9 pence per litre of premium unleaded fuel.
Where to avoid
As well as the cheapest place to fill up in Britain, Scotland is also home to the most expensive – with a litre of unleaded the Shetland Islands costing 145.9p on average, more than anywhere else.
After the Shetland Islands, Humberside was the next costliest place to fill up, where petrol costs 137.9p a litre. That high price helped push Yorkshire and Humberside to the top of the most expensive region table.
Average petrol costs by region
Yorkshire & Humberside
133.4 pence per litre
133.2 pence per litre
133.1 pence per litre
133.0 pence per litre
132.8 pence per litre
132.8 pence per litre
132.5 pence per litre
132.3 pence per litre
East of England
132.3 pence per litre
132.2 pence per litre
132.1 pence per litre
131.9 pence per litre
[Related feature: The real reason UK petrol prices are so high]
The savings available to people in different countries dwarf those available to people in different parts of the UK.
New research from car dealers Evans Halshaw shows Venezuela is the cheapest country to by petrol in for the second year running.
At just 8p a litre, the South American state has a bigger petrol smuggling trade than a drug smuggling one – especially given that residents of neighbouring nation Columbia pay more than 40 times as much for their fuel.
After Venezuela, Egypt (9p a litre), Saudi Arabia (10p a litre), Qatar (12p a litre) and Bahrain (15p a litre) are the cheapest countries to but petrol in.
By contrast, Norway was found to be the most expensive country to fill up in – with petrol costing an astonishing 1.64p a litre in the Scandinavian state.
Turkey (£1.62 a litre), the Netherlands (£1.48 a litre), Italy (£1.46 a litre) and Greece (£1.45 a litre) were the next most expensive.
[Related feature: The countries where petrol costs the most]
The 10 cheapest countries to buy petrol
Australia surfer bitten in half by shark
A surfer was bitten in half in a savage shark attack off Australia’s west coast Saturday, witnesses and officials said, the fifth such fatality in the region in less than a year.
An eyewitness explains how the shark also attempted to attack him.
The man was surfing near Wedge Island, north of Perth, on Saturday morning with a friend when he was mauled by the shark, suffering severe and extensive injuries.
A man jet-skiing near the surfers said it was a gruesome scene, with "half a torso" all that remained of the victim.
"There was just blood everywhere and a massive, massive (great) white shark circling the body," he told ABC television, estimating the fish was four or five metres (13 to 16 feet) long.
"I reached to grab the body and the shark came at me on the jet-ski and tried to knock me off. I did another loop and when I came back to the body the shark took it."
Made infamous by the horror movie "Jaws", great whites are among the largest shark species in the world and can grow up to six metres long (20 feet) and weigh up to two tonnes.
Beach patrol officials confirmed that the attack was fatal, and a large-scale air, coast and sea search was underway for the remains of the victim, who was reported to be in his early 20s.
A police spokesman told AFP: "At this stage no remains have been located."
All beaches in the area were closed until further notice, and fisheries were hunting the shark in order to kill it.
"We’ll go right through to nightfall tonight, we will then resume that tomorrow morning and make some decisions tomorrow," a fisheries spokesman said.
It was the fifth fatal shark incident off Western Australia since September — an unprecedented spate of attacks that sparked calls earlier this year for a cull.
Local marine scientists have described Australia’s west coast as the deadliest shark attack zone in the world, and a tagging and tracking programme has been launched in a bid to limit fatalities.
A sea kayaker narrowly escaped the jaws of a great white last month, with a friend managing to pluck him from the water after he was rammed by one of the marine predators off Perth’s Mullaloo Beach.
That attack came just hours after another great white, thought to be five metres long, lunged from the water at a crab fisherman at a dive park south of Perth.
Sharks are common in Australian waters but deadly attacks are rare, with only one of the average 15 incidents a year typically proving fatal.
Experts say the average number of attacks in the country has increased in line with population growth and the popularity of water sports.
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Weather alert as deluge expected
More than a month’s rain is expected to fall over just two days in parts of the UK this week.
A severe weather warning has been issued by the Met Office, with fears of flooding and disruption on Friday and Saturday.
Central and northern England is expected to be worst affected, with an amber alert – the second most severe category that can be given – in place for north-east England.
Up to 100mm (3.9 inches) of rain could fall in 36 hours during the downpours. The average UK rainfall for July is 69.9mm (2.8 inches), and 64.4mm (2.5 inches) for the north of England.
Met Office chief forecaster Martin Young said: "We are expecting outbreaks of heavy rain across a wide area of the UK, with worst affected spots likely to be in central and northern parts of the country.
"Rainfall totals could be 40-60mm (1.6-2.4 inches) widely across warning areas, but some places could see up to 100mm (3.9 inches) of rain through Friday and into Saturday.
"Given the saturated ground from the record rainfall in June, this could cause disruption – including difficult driving conditions and flooding in some areas."
People living in the affected areas have been warned to be prepared for flooding.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: "Heavy rain on Friday and Saturday may lead to significant flooding of properties across parts of northern England. We urge people to remain vigilant and prepared for flooding by checking the Environment Agency website and signing up for localised river flood warnings."
Last month was the wettest June since records began, with double the average rain falling during the month. Provisional figures from the Met Office showed the UK received 145.3mm (5.7 inches) during June, beating the previous record of 136.2mm (5.4 inches) in June 2007.
Cool of the wild: From sunhats to ice-cream, how animals around the world have taken tips from us to cope with the hot weather
By Nick Enoch
An ice lolly, a dip in the pool, deckchairs… when it comes to cooling off in the hot weather, these animals don’t play by the rules.
As Britain enjoys a heatwave, with the mercury hitting 27c (81f) today, these are just some of the cunning ways our furry friends cope.
And as the pictures below show, it’s not just those here who are feeling the heat – from China to Germany, Indonesia to the U.S., animals are scoffing at what they’ve seen in nature documentaries and trying something a little bit different…
Let sleeping dogs lie: Tara the dog opts for a sunbed and parasol to see her through the blistering heat in Britain
Bird bath with a difference: Jacquille the parrot cools down in a tea cup in Costa Rica
One cool dude: Dudu the walrus beats the summer heat in China, at Qingdao Polar Ocean World; right, a squirrel gets stuck into a frozen treat in Swindon, Wiltshire
I’ve got this licked: An African lion in Brookfield zoo, Chicago refreshes himself with a block of ice
Sealion solution: Keepers at Qingdao Polar Ocean World have come up with innovative ways to keep their animals cool; right, Eski the snowy owl could do with a towel in the New Forest, Hampshire
Flew what a scorcher! A tufted titmouse suns itself in Massachusetts
Spread the whirred: This chilled dog has found himself a new fan; right, Chino the donkey enjoys an ice-cream at Pennywell farm in Buckfastleigh, Devon
Furry nice! A squirrel takes a dip in a swimming pool in San Antonio, Texas
Does it come in banana flavour? A baboon enjoys an ice lolly at Hangzhou wild animal centre, China; right, a meerkat at Marwell Wildlife Conservation Park, Hants
To hell with the diet… An orangutan at Ragunan zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia
Just follow my lead: Harland the poodle on Southsea beach in Hampshire; right, a fur seal relaxes in Stromness, South Georgia Island
White tiger cubs Jeevan and Ashoka cool off in a paddling pool at a safari park in Germany
Trunks, glasses and parasol…this pooch looks good – and he knows it
I’ll be finished in about nine hours… A young gorilla chews on a block of ice containing fruit at Los Angeles Zoo
Do I look like I want to share? A ring-tailed lemur at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Herts
Pass the oinkment, dear: Some pigs tan themselves in Cambridgeshire
It’s bacon hot! A piglet falls asleep in a doll’s house deckchair
Amazing ‘tsunami cloud’ hits Florida coastline
At first glance, it looks as though a tsunami wave is about to crash into a swathe of high-rise tower blocks.
But for beachgoers and surfers alike along Panama City Beach, Florida, there was no need to panic, the giant wave was just an curious illusion caused by harmless sea fog rolling off the Gulf of Mexico.
The tsunami-like clouds are just a harmless weather phenomenon.
So what’s the science behind the captivating photograph taken from a helicopter earlier this month?
This ‘tsunami cloud’ effect is believed to be caused by a phenomenon known as the ‘Kelvin–Helmholtz instability’ that can occur in both air and water.
This is when a fast-moving layer of fluid or air washes over a slower, thicker layer – creating the wispy wave effect.
According to helicopter pilot JR Hott, the clouds appear a few times a year but normally further down the coast.
Mr Hott wrote: "When the temperature, humidity and winds are just right, we’ll get this fog that forms on the high rise condos on the beach.”
He added: “The event, while it can form quickly, moves gently and slowly. It isn’t something that happens with more than a gentle breeze.”
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Costa Concordia cruise tragedy in photos Photos | Costa Concordia cruise tragedy in photos Pictures – Yahoo!
Investigators approach the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia which leans on its starboard side after running aground in the tiny Tuscan island of Isola del Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. The Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday.