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Tight jeans, dyed hair forbidden as North Korea cracks down on ‘capitalist’ fashion

North Korea is cracking down on citizens who sport so-called “capitalist” fashion and hairstyles to ensure that they conduct themselves according to the ideals of socialism, sources in the country told RFA.

Wearing certain items of clothing, such as tight-fitting pants or t-shirts with foreign words, or having hair longer than a certain length, has always been potentially problematic in North Korea. But now the government is redoubling its efforts to make sure that people don’t flaunt styles associated with capitalistic countries.

“At the end of last month, the Socialist Patriotic Youth League held an educational session nationwide, where they defined the act of imitating foreign fashion and hairstyles as ‘capitalist flair,’ and examples of ‘anti-socialist practices,’” a resident of the city of Hamhung in the eastern province of South Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

The league, formerly known as the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League until last year, is modeled after the Soviet Komsomol, a group of teenagers and young adults who spread communist propaganda.

“The youth league’s patrols are cracking down on young people who wear long hair down to their waists, and those who dye their hair brown, as well as people who wear clothes with large foreign letters and women who wear tight pants,” the source said.

“This time the crackdown mainly targets women in their 20s and 30s. If they are caught, they are made to wait on the side of the road until the patrols can finish their crackdown in that area. Only then will they be taken to the youth league office in the district, where they must write letters confessing their crimes. They must then contact someone at home to bring acceptable clothes for them, and then they are released,” she said.

The country has been on a crusade against the infiltration of foreign — especially South Korean —culture.

RFA previously reported that authorities ordered members of the country’s main youth organization to turn in the cellphones for inspection, so they could determine who was watching and distributing foreign media or spelling words in the South Korean way or using Southern slang.

Patrols in the city of Chongjin, in the province of North Hamgyong, targeted the marketplace where many young people are known to hang out, a resident there told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“If they are caught, the company they work for and the Socialist Patriotic Youth League will be notified. They are then subject to criticism and in the most severe cases, the violator’s name, home address and workplace will be revealed publicly on the Third Broadcast,” she said, referring to government-controlled loudspeakers placed throughout most cities and towns to spread messages of propaganda.

“Even though they have these kinds of crackdowns all the time, the young people do not stop trying to look and dress like people in foreign films and TV.”

Illegal activities

The government is also working to suppress what it deems to be illegal capitalistic activities, an official in Chongjin told RFA.

“Recent arrests here in Chongjin caught five property brokers who illegally facilitated state-owned housing transactions and collected fees for their services. Meanwhile, six fortune tellers and a fake medicine seller were also arrested. The guy selling fake traditional medicines claimed they could treat diseases,” he said.

“Everyone was sentenced five to seven years of hard labor and put in jail,” said the official.

Chongjin authorities are also targeting the scalping of rail tickets, bribes given to train crews and rail police by merchants who don’t have the proper government permission for travel, and payments to police to look the other way when they catch someone doing something illegal, he said.

In Ryanggang province, west of North Hamgyong, authorities there have been using the Third Broadcast to warn citizens against the evils of drugs, superstitions like fortune telling, and fake medicines, a resident there told RFA.

“The people are complaining that the authorities are coming down hard on them again so soon after the April national holidays have ended, under the pretext of eradicating anti-socialist acts,” she said, referring to holidays that commemorated the life of country’s founder Kim Il Sung on April 15 and the formation of the country’s military on the 25th.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.