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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Sources: Lankov on Russia, the Koreas and Koreans

by | September 8th, 2012 | 07:00 am

Even when we disagree, Andrei Lankov is one of our favorite observers of North Korea. His rightly-cynical writings and voluminous columns are infused with his late-Soviet experience and deep reading in the Russian archives. For those with an historical interest in North Korea, his two books on the early postwar period are must-reads: From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea and Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of Destalinization 1956.  The latter, in particular, details the economic as well as political fights that took place in the wake of Khruschev’s secret speech on the excesses of Stalinism and the cult of personality at the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956. Needless to say, this speech did not sit well with Kim Il Sung, who—like Mao—turned left. Lankov also has a nice touch on issues of daily life, visible in his collection of columns entitled North of the DMZ.

Lankov has started a blog, Quiet Flows the Han, to keep us apprised of developments in Russia’s relations with the Koreas, including its own dwindling Korean diaspora. This should be a useful source given under-reporting on that side of the Six Party table. As we noted earlier this week, for example, the Russians appear to be investing in the Rason project.

According to our friend Chris Nelson, Lankov was making the rounds in Washington several weeks back. Lankov apparently now believes Fat Boy—his term not ours–is serious about reforms but he will fail; the result will be Romania-like revolution of rising expectations. A recent Asian article spells out his thinking.