Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Demography is destiny, Part II

In the immediately preceding post, I noted that Mark Steyn has written a lengthy article about the problems with Europe's demographic decline. Coincidentally, the very next article I'd lined up in Firefox to read described how Czechoslovakia's demographic decline (which the article attributes to emigration) has resulted in a Faustian bargain with North Korea:

Hundreds of young North Korean women are working in garment and leather factories like this one, easing a labor shortage in small Czech towns. Their presence in this new member of the European Union is something of a throwback to before the revolution of 1989, when Prague, like Pyongyang, was a partner in the Communist bloc. The North Korean government keeps most of the earnings, apparently one of the few legal sources of hard currency for an isolated and impoverished regime living off counterfeiting, drug trading and weapons sales. Experts estimate 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans work abroad on behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. In addition to the Czech Republic, North Korea has sent workers to Russia, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Angola, defectors say. Almost the entire monthly salaries of the women here, about $260, the Czech minimum wage, are deposited directly in an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives them only a fraction of the money. To the extent that they are allowed outside, they go only in groups. Often they are accompanied by a guard from the North Korean Embassy who is referred to as their interpreter. They live under strict surveillance in dormitories with photographs of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il on the walls. Their only entertainment is propaganda films and newspapers sent from North Korea, and occasional exercise in the yard outside. "This is 21st century slave labor," said Kim Tae San, a former official of the North Korean Embassy in Prague. He helped set up the factories in 1998 and served as president of one of the shoe factories until he defected to South Korea in 2002. It also was Kim's job to collect the salaries and distribute the money to workers. He said 55 percent was taken off the top as a "voluntary" contribution to the socialist revolution. The women had to buy and cook their own food. Additional sums were deducted for accommodation, transportation and extras such as flowers for the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The women even had to pay for the propaganda films they were forced to watch. By the time all the deductions were made, they received between $20 and $30 a month. They spent less than $10 of it on food, buying only the cheapest local macaroni. Kim says that Czechs often mistook the North Korean women for convict laborers because of the harsh conditions. "They would ask the girls, 'What terrible thing did you do to be sent here to work like this?'" *** Having shed its own communist dictatorship, the Czech Republic is sensitive to human rights. But the country has to employ about 200,000 guest workers, largely to replace Czechs who have left to seek higher wages in Western Europe. [Emphasis mine.]