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North Korea's 'Garbage Bombs,' A Window to Life in Pyongyang

Balloon-delivered garbage bombs and feces provoke controversy, highlighting Pyongyang's unconventional tactics and deeper national tensions with South Korea.



Debris believed to have been carried by balloons from North Korea scattered on the streets of Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, June 1 (© Yonhap News and Kyodo)

"Garbage bombs" sent from North Korea to South Korea via balloons have sparked debate. Alongside paper scraps, pieces of clothing, plastics, and cigarette butts, these balloons even carried livestock feces. This constitutes national-level harassment against South Korea. Considering the more common threats of missiles and nuclear weapons, resorting to garbage balloons is quite unusual. It once again underscores North Korea's unique or rather aberrant nature as a nation.

The Value of Trash

North Korea's decision to send these balloons was in direct response to South Korean civic groups launching balloons into North Korea. These balloons carry leaflets criticizing the regime, along with videos, money, and food. North Korea dismissively labels these items as suregi (meaning 'garbage' or 'trash'). Incidentally, North Korea frequently uses insults like "human suregi" towards South Korean dignitaries.

A balloon from North Korea that fell in the outskirts of Incheon, South Korea, June 10 (© Kyodo)

When I think of North Korea and garbage, I recall an incident involving Professor Toshio Miyazuka. A North Korean researcher, Miyazuka is a former professor at Yamanashi Gakuin University. During his visit to Pyongyang, he was apprehended by North Korean authorities while rummaging through a garbage bin. In the enigmatic and tightly controlled nation of North Korea, garbage sometimes provides valuable insights into its reality. At the time, I admired Professor Miyazuka's dedication to research and his acute perception. 

A car reportedly damaged by a balloon suspected to have originated from North Korea. June 2, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea (courtesy of South Korean police and Yonhap News)

Similarly, depending on one's viewpoint, the debris from these balloons could also offer similar insights. Analyzing animal feces, for instance, could reveal conditions related to livestock in the North.

Could Pyongyang have refrained from sending human feces to avoid exposing its food shortages? Or perhaps they were considered too valuable as fertilizer to use.


Read the article in Japanese.

Author: Katsuhiro Kuroda