Villages and Landscapes of North Korea: Frühtau’s Photos

These photos were taken by German photographer T. Mosler, who publishes under the Flickr alias Frühtau. He visited the DPRK four times between 2003 and 2011. He seems to have been granted unusual latitude in exploring the countryside through a camera’s lens.

His are uncommon photographs. Widely circulated photos of North Korea tend to illustrate its political ideology, its industrial backwardness, its poverty, its natural disasters. Instead, these photos reflect something of the everyday in North Korea—the shared common ground. You can see villages and landscapes that look like they could be taken anywhere in East Asia, not just North Korea. There’s a sleepy feel to most of these scenes, a stillness or quietness.

Here are the photos. Click on any image to see them all full-size in a carousel (I recommend doing this; it lets you see each image on its own, without distraction).


북한이탈주민 자살률 “이대로 좋은가?”

“통일부로부터 받은 자료에 따르면 국내 정착한 북한이탈주민 전체의 0.09%

(전체 북한이탈주민 24,010명 중 22명)가 자살로 생을 마감하고 있는데,

이는 OECD 회원국 자살률 1위인 우리 국민 자살률 0.03%

(국민 10만 명당 자살률 31.7명)의 3배에 이르는 수치이다”

(현대건강신문, 2012.10.24일 자)



우리나라는 1998년도부터 자살률이 급증하여 OECD 국가 중 1위, 최고의 자살률을 기록하고 있다. 세계적으로 자살이 많은 나라로 알려진 헝가리, 일본 등을 제치고 계속해서 자살이 증가하여 「자살대국」이라 불리고 있다. 그래서 자살문제의 심각성을 인식한 우리나라는 2011년 3월 「자살예방 및 생명존중문화 조성을 위한 법률」이 제정되었다. 2012년부터 서울시가 5개 구를 중심으로 시범사업을 시작하였고, 경기도 및 수도권 몇 개 지역의 정신보건센터를 중심으로 자살예방활동이 시작되고 있다.


2013년부터는 예산이  더욱  확충되어 서울시 25개 구 전체에서 실시할 예정에 있고, 그 외 광역시 및 지방 여러 곳곳에서 자살예방의 필요성을 느껴 자살예방대책안을 마련하여 실시하겠다는 강한 의지를 내보이고 있어 기대된다. 하지만 2012년은 사업시작 초반이라 미흡한 부분이 여러 곳곳에서 보이고 있어, 올해에 좀 더 보완되어 성숙하고, 좋은 외국 성공사례를 포함해 다양한 대책이 시행되었으면 하는 바람이다.


우리나라 자살문제가 심각한 상태에 있듯이 북한이탈주민의 자살률도 기사에서 본 것과 같이 더욱더 심각한 상황에 있다. 온갖 고통과 역경을 겪으며 잘 살아보겠다는 의지와 마음가짐으로 죽을 힘을 다해 국내에 입국했는데, 얼마나 외롭고 고통스러우면 힘듦을 견디지 못하고 가족을 저버린 채 자신의 목숨을 스스로 끊겠는가? 여기서는 우리는 한 번 더 심각하게 생각해 볼 이유가 있다.

자살은 많은 연구와 실전에서도 볼 수 있듯이 우울증이라는 한 가지 병 때문에 자살하는 것만은 아니다. 자살의 원인은 가정문제, 경제적 문제, 건강문제 등 다양한 문제가 서로 얽히고설켜서 일어나는 복합적인 문제로 알려졌다.


북한이탈주민의  자살원인은 모든 것이 새롭고 낯선 곳에서 부적응, 언어 및 가치관 문제, 북한에 대한 사회적 편견 등으로 인한 지역주민과의 갈등, 국내 입국하기만 하면 정신적으로 안정되고, 의식주 문제가 모두 해결될 수 있다는 기대감, 생활고, 건강문제 등 사회 복지적인 문제가 더욱 더 클 것으로 생각된다. 이런 다양한 문제가 어떤 것 하나도 해결되지 않고 치료하지 않은 채 계속 이어진다면 결국엔 자신 스스로 목숨을 끊는 정말 안타까운 현실이 계속될 것으로 전망된다.


통일 염원을 기대하며 국내 입국한 북한이탈주민들이 이같이 자신 스스로 목숨을 끊는 현상이 계속된다면 우리나라가 지향하는 통일은 무슨 의미가 있겠는가? 다시 생각해  보게 된다.


그러면 어떻게 북한이탈주민들의 자살을 예방할 수 있을까?


첫째, 북한이탈주민들의 자살예방을 위해서는 실태 파악이 가장 중요하다. 통계청에 따른 정확한 자살통계가 나와야 한다. 그리고 북한이탈주민들이 가지고 있는 문제점 등 자살원인 및 동기를 파악하여 이것을 바탕으로 한 체계적이고 실질적인 자살예방대책을 세워야 한다. 둘째, 자살의 이해 및 대처, 지원방법에 대한 자살예방교육을 실시해야 한다. 셋째, 자살 고위험군 발굴 및 정서적 안정을 위한 1:1 멘토링 서비스를 마련해야 한다. 넷째, 각 지역의 지역복지관 및 정신보건센터, 학교, 병원 등 여러 기관과 네트워크 구축 등을 통하여 필요한 지원을 바로 받을 수 있는 연계가 필요하다.


해외상생기자단  일본릿쿄대학교 박 혜 선


North Korean Defector Resident’s Suicide Rate: “Can This Continue?” 


“According to the data from the Ministry of Unification, 0.09% of the total North Korean defectors living in South Korea (22 out of the total 24,010 North Korean defectors) end their lives by suicide. 

This is a figure that is 3 times higher than our country (South Korea)’s suicide rate of 0.03%, which is the highest among OECD member countries, (suicide rate of 31.7 people out of 100,000 citizens).”

(Hyundai Health Newspaper, date 10.24.2012)


Since 1998, our country’s suicide rate has increased drastically, resulting in the highest suicide rate amongst the OECD nations. Our country’s suicides continuously rose surpassing other countries known for frequent suicides such as Hungary and Japan, causing our country to be labeled as a [suicide nation]. To acknowledge this serious problem, a [legislation on creating suicide prevention and life respecting culture] was established in March, 2011. Starting in 2012, it was put into effect centered on 5 districts in Seoul as a test project and a suicide prevention activity centered on the mental health center in Gyeonggi-do and a few metropolitan areas began as well.


In 2013, the budget will be increased so that the legislation will be implemented in all 25 districts of Seoul, and suicide prevention program in other metropolitan cities and other regions are expected to increase due to the growing need for suicide prevention. However, since many of these projects are at their initiating stages, they need some improvements. Hopefully in the near future, supplementary actions and growth with the inclusion of looking at successful foreign cases will take place.


What is worse than our country’s current suicide rate as a nation is that of North Korean defectors residing in South Korea. The pain and hardship North Korean escapees had to experience while settling in South Korea must have been undoubtedly great for them to take their own lives after surviving the grueling flight from the North. This is a reason why we must seriously address this issue.


As it can be seen in many research and case studies, depression isn’t the only reason people commit suicide. It is known that the cause of suicide can come from a combination of issues such as family problems, economic problems, and health problems.


The causes of suicide for the North Korea defectors specifically are failure to adapt to the unfamiliar environment, issues of language and values, conflict with the local residents due to the social prejudice against North Korea, expectations that they will become mentally stable upon entering and that all the issues on food, clothing, and shelter will be resolved, hardships of life, health problems, and other social welfare issues. Without tackling these various issues, this unfortunate phenomenon will continue to plague the North Korean defector community.


What significance does our hope for unification have if North Korean defector residents continuing to take their own lives while settling in South Korea? 


Here are some of the preventive measures that could be taken in order to decrease suicides of North Korean defectors.


First, to prevent North Korean defector residents from committing suicide, an accurate understanding of the current situation is most important. An accurate statistics on suicide needs to be released from the National Statistical Office. Then, systematical and practical suicide prevention measures based on the understanding of the problems and its motives the North Korean defector residents are faced with needs to be formed.


Next, an education on suicide prevention, specifically understanding, handling suicide, and support methods, must be conducted.


Also, efficient system of discovering high-risk suicide patients and a 1:1 mentoring service for emotional stability must be established.


Finally, forming a network of local welfare centers and mental health centers in each region, schools, hospitals, and various institutions to provide support is essential.


Ministry of Unification Overseas Correspondent (Rikkyo University, Japan)

 Park Hye-sun

한국의 대통령 선거를 바라보는 일본 언론-대일・대북(対日・対北)정책을 주시

안녕하세요? 이번 기사에서는 한국의 대선을 바라보는 일본 언론의 입장을 소개해 보려고 합니다. 일본의 대표 언론기관인 요미우리 신문은 11월 27일 신문 사설을 통하여 한국의 대통령 선거에 대한 입장을 밝혔습니다. 사설의 제목은 「한국 대통령선거 대일, 대북 정책을 주시해야」입니다. (韓国大統領選挙 対日・北政策を注視したい)

우선은 한일 관계에 주목하며, 일본에 큰 영향력을 줄 선거가 될 것임을 말하고 있습니다. 또한, 새누리당 박근혜 후보와 제1야당인 민주통합당 문재인 후보의 사실상 양자 대결이라고 평하고 있습니다.

박근혜 후보에 대해서는 일본과의 국교정상화를 통해 한국을 고도경제성장노선으로 이끈 박정희 대통령의 딸이라고 소개하고 있습니다. 한편, 문재인 후보에 대해서는 김대중 정권 이래의 흐름을 밟았으며, 박정희 대통령 시절에 장기 독재에 반대하고 투옥되었으며, 인권변호사로서 활동하고, 노무현 대통령의 비서실장이었다는 사실도 소개하고 있습니다. 같은 세대이지만 너무나 다른 두 사람의 정치색은 선명하며, 격렬한 논쟁이 될 것을 예상하고 있습니다.

흥미를 끄는 것은 독도에 대한 문제입니다. 특히, 문재인 후보는 독도문제에 대하여 「더 이상 조용한 외교를 하지 않을 것이다」라고 표명했으며, 위안부문제에서도 일본정부에게 법적 책임을 물으려고 한 것에 대하여 유감을 표명하고 있습니다. 마지막으로 강경책으로 한일관계를 정체시킨 참여정부의 재현이 이루어질 수도 있음을 우려하고 있는데요, 대표적인 보수 언론답게 암시적으로 박근혜 후보를 지지하고 있음을 느낄 수 있었습니다.

두 번째로, 북한과의 관계에 대해서도 주시하고 있습니다.

문재인 대통령 후보는 대북융화정책을 계승하려고 하며, 식량과 비료를 대규모로 지원하려 함을 소개하고 있습니다. 문재인 후보에 대해서는 핵 폐기에 대한 요구를 어떻게 할 것인지 명확하게 하길 원하고 있습니다.

박근혜 대통령 후보에 대해서는, 관계발전을 위해서는 정상회담도 거부하지 않겠으나, 북한의 도발을 저지하며, 동시에 신뢰양성에 근거한 관계를 만들어 나가려 한다고 소개하고 있습니다. 박근혜 후보에 대해서는 현실적인 정책이라고 평가하고 있습니다.

 현재, 일본의 분위기는 중국, 한국과의 외교 관계에서 위기를 맞고 있는 만큼 보수층이 결집하고 있는 모습입니다. 어느 나라이건 불문하고 외교에 대하여 사람들은, ‘외교만은 국익을 절대적으로 중시해야 한다’는 경향이 있다고 생각합니다.  그렇지만, 내셔널리즘으로는 진정한 평화가 있을 수 없습니다. 이상적인 이야기이지만, 앞으로는 점진적으로 「양보의 외교」가 실현 되었으면 좋겠습니다. 그렇지 않으면 어느 한 순간 균형이 어긋나게 되고 역사는 반복될 것이기 때문입니다. 이상적인 세상은 이루는 것이 아니라 다가가는 것이 아닐까요? 이상 김주영 기자입니다.


The Japanese Media’s Perspective on the South Korea’s Presidential Elections:

Its Focus on Korea’s Japan, North Korea Policies

This article will present Japanese media’s perception and specific interests regarding the South Korea’s presidential elections. Yomiuri Newspaper, one of Japan’s prominent newspapers, announced its stance on South Korea’s presidential elections through a November 27th editorial. The editorial was titled [South Korea’s presidential election policies on Japan and North Korea must be observed].

First it paid attention to the relation between South Korea and Japan, and stated that the elections will have a profound impact on the South Korean society and its surrounding region. Also, it commented that the elections can be simply put as a confrontation between the incumbent Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye and the largest opposition party, the Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in. It introduced candidate Park Geun-hye as the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee who had led the great economic development of South Korea through the normalization of the diplomatic relations with Japan. Meanwhile, it introduced candidate Moon Jae-in as entering the political scene following Kim Dae-jung’s administration, and for being jailed for opposing the prolonged dictatorship of Park Chung-hee during his time. It also introduced him as a lawyer who was active in the human rights movement, and also for being President Roh Moo-hyun’s chief secretary. The two of them are from the same generation but they have a very different political color and forecasted a very intense argument between them.

  The issue on the island of Dokdo drew a lot of interest. Candidate Moon Jae-in indicated that [there will no longer be quiet diplomacy] regarding the Dokdo issue, and it regretted to hear that Candidate Moon was seeking to have the Japanese Government take responsibility for the issue on the comfort woman. It also worried that Roh Moo-hyun’s administration’s hard-line policy towards Japan, which resulted in stalling South Korea-Japan relations, would be revived. As a noted conservative media, one can sense that it was silently leaning towards supporting candidate Park Geun-hye.

Secondly, it observed the candidates’ North Korea policies.

It stated that presidential candidate Moon Jae-in would implement a policy of achieving harmony with North Korea, and was planning to send large amount of food and fertilizer as aid. It also wanted a clear answer from candidate Moon on how he would handle the nuclear wastes.

On presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, it stated that she wouldn’t decline a summit in order for relations to progress, but she would block the provocations of North Korea, while working to make a relation with confidence building measures. It has evaluated candidate Park Geun-hye’s policy as being more realistic.




When the Hermit Leaves the Kingdom


North Korea is a nation notorious for its isolation. Perhaps it is for this reason that an air of mystery surrounds both the country and her inhabitants. Growing up as a Korean-American, I found it absurd whenever I was asked whether I’m from the North or South. Movement both within and outside of the country is strictly monitored by the state. It might even be easier for a citizen living in the provinces to defect from the country, than to visit the glorious capital city of Pyongyang. Generally speaking, if you’re a North Korean living outside of North Korea, it means one of two things: 1. you defected, or 2. you were sent. Although seemingly unlikely, North Korea boasts a significant population of expats living outside the impermeable walls of the hermit kingdom. I’ve even met a few.

Over this past year I’ve spent time listening to the tales of North Korean refugees secretly hiding in China as they tearfully shared their stories of escape, I’ve delivered presents to orphaned stateless children who were abandoned by their Chinese families after their mothers were caught and forcibly repatriated to North Korea, and while in South Korea this past summer, I spent a great deal of time getting beat-up by my female North Korean high school students who liked to translate their affection into pokes, slaps and punches. However, there is a stark difference between those North Koreans who left their country by choice, and those who were sent; between those for whom ideological indoctrination is less a survival tool than a profound allegiance.

From the expat North Korean waitresses adorned in hanboks performing North Korean songs on the gayageum, to the elite university students studying abroad in prestigious institutions overseas, their calculated, uniform response to routine questions such as “what is your favorite song?” or, “who is your hero?” indicates that there is something uncomfortably unfamiliar about them (Arirang and Kim Il-Sung are the typical replies, in case you’re wondering). The North Korean exchange students studying in my department are no different.

With their Kim Il-Sung badges neatly pinned to their shirts over the heart on the left-side of their chest, these North Koreans never travel alone, always accompanied by at least one other peer. The theory behind their “camaraderie” is that they are required to monitor and report each other’s suspicious actions and movements. Although they are from the elite class, these North Koreans are much shorter in stature than their South Korean counterparts (food is reportedly scarce even in the affluent neighborhoods of Pyongyang). Since encountering these students for the first time, I made it my aim to befriend one of them.

Ryu Jung Chul; you can pick him out as a northerner just by the sound of his name. Many Korean surnames are pronounced differently in the North than they are in the South. For example, one of the most common Korean surnames 이, pronounced Yi, is pronounced Ri in North Korea. Although his accent is another dead giveaway, Jung Chul’s soft face and cheery demeanor separates him from the crowd of emotionless expressions.

The first time we talked I had caught him while he was riding his bike to his next class. The ride created enough distance for me to have a private conversation with Jung Chul as his other North Korean peers rode on ahead. If I was a South Korean, Jung Chul would have stopped talking to me on the spot, as North Koreans are forbidden to speak to or communicate with South Koreans. So we conversed in Chinese and English, until I eventually revealed that I was an American of Korean descent who couldn’t speak Korean very well (which was not too far from the truth – although a bit of acting on my part was required). The revelation was noticeably a bit unnerving to him, but he must have been as intrigued by our contact as I was, as he calculated that technically he was not breaking any rules by communicating with me.

Our conversation continued and over the course of the next few weeks I bumped into Jung Chul quite a few times. With each encounter I bowed my head in respect and greeted him formally, as is customary between Koreans. Sometimes words were exchanged, other times we passed each other by in silence. But after a few weeks of random encounters, as I was lost in thought staring at an announcement board waiting for the elevator, Jung Chul nudged me to acknowledge his presence with the faintest grin spread across his face. His companion on the other hand remained emotionless, even to my gestures of friendship, and kept his eyes off me the entire time, even when giving a curt reply to my questions. It struck me at that moment, the “forbidden” aspect of these exchanges.

With a foreign student population of 3,500, nearly half of all the international students at my university come from South Korea. With so many Korean students you would never think twice hearing people converse in Korean, nor would you ever feel the urge to approach one of them. But the same doesn’t seem to apply to those North Korean exchange students… Maybe it’s that air of mystery that shadows their very existence. The fact that North and South Korea have been separated for so long, coupled with the North’s extreme isolation, only seem to fuel this intrigue. I begin to wonder, will reunification eventually leave us indifferent and indiscriminate to North or South Korean; or will the immense pain from generations of separation result in an even greater joy, leaving us with a stronger sense of unity and brotherhood? Only reunification will tell; in the meantime, I can only wait and pray.

*names in this article have been altered8-chris-name-card



Park Geun Hye’s new approach to North Korea


After the heated election of 2012, it is now official that Park Geun Hye, the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee, will be serving South Korea as the first female president for the next five years. What future lies ahead for the two Koreas? What kind of policies will Park implement during her 5 years in office?

Park is distancing herself from Lee Myung Bak’s hard-line policy approach that now seems to have failed but rather presented a so-called “trustpolitick” policy in which South Korea will support with continuation of aid and contracts for North Korea which will in turn create an atmosphere of trust and peace between the two Koreas and even into the international community in the long run. Because the two Koreas are under such a tough and constrained relationship under Lee’s policy, Park will have no choice but to work hard to find a good balance between Lee and his two predecessors (Kim Dae Joong and Noh Moo Hyun) who attempted to engage with North Korea through the “sunshine policy”.

In May 2012, Rodong Sinmun, which is the official newspaper of the North Korean government, condemned Park by calling her the “Ice Princess” to criticize her dispassionate personality. North Korea still remains unenthusiastic in reconciliation with the South and even labeled Saeunri Party “traitorous” and “thrice-cursed”. Despite all the reports and North Korea’s recent launch, Park promises to keep her words to send humanitarian aid including water, food, and medicine for those in need. She showed her interest in having conditional talks with the North Korea leader, Kim Jong Un.

Interestingly enough, even after the controversial rocket launch by North Korea which has received a great international criticism, factors related to North Korea still had not been a major issue for the South Korean voters. In fact, the most important factor for the South Korean voters at poll was about the economy, showing a very similar trend of the November elections in the U.S. With the issue of the North Korea, South Korean voters preferred to avoid any radical change and preferred to have stability. I hope to see good progress and positive feedback with Park’s watchful rapprochement in dealing with North Korea.


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The “German Comparison”, Part III (Possible Alternatives)


In order to highlight the unique situation between the two Koreas, it has been the aim of my two previous articles to make a case for the historic and economic differences between German re-unification and the current status quo on the Korean peninsula. The last part of this series will therefore discuss possible alternatives.

The first alternative is found not too far away, namely when looking at the integration of Hong Kong into mainland China (the same applies to Macau). This possibility of a one-nation, two-systems unification was recently discussed in an article by the Korea Times1. Based on a report by the Bank of Korea, it has been argued that North Korea would be significantly “better off” under a Hong Kong-style integration. According to the report, it would benefit with respect to GDP growth, GDP per capita and unemployment. Especially the last component is very important because full integration implies that North Korean workers will have to compete with their Southern counterparts on a unified job market. This would result in an average estimated unemployment rate in the northern part of 36.4 percent over twenty years. A Hong Kong-style approach, on the contrary, will leave North Korean workers to compete among themselves, thereby drastically reducing the estimated unemployment rate over the same period of time to 1.6 percent.

If a German-style unification is the inevitable wish of the Korean people then, taking into account the economic differences outlined in the previous article, the only realistic option is to significantly stretch the involved time horizon for full integration. Given that economic support from former West Germany to former East Germany is officially expected to end in 2019, making a total of 30 years of support, South Korea would have to support North Korea for a significantly longer period of time. This can be done, but obviously requires careful planning and financing.

Lastly, it is also possible to unify the two Koreas in a presently unknown fashion. The uniqueness of the situation will, at least in my opinion, very likely lead to a unique solution. Given current parameters, it is not possible to say how such a concept would look like but NGOs, think-tanks, private businesses, etc. can certainly play their part in developing feasible ideas.

Concluding this series, I hope to have shown that just because “the Germans can do it, so we can do it too” is not always a relevant argument. The historic and economic differences are apparent and the uniqueness on the Korean peninsula requires a unique and fresh approach. I would like to finish by saying that however such an approach may look like and whatever the means and associated costs, we should never forget that Korean unification is a common goal that will have to be achieved in some way, shape or form.


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Movie Review: “Camp 14 – Total Control Zone”



“Our sole purpose was to follow the rules of the work camp and then die.  People on the outside call this place the Total Control Zone.” ~ Shin Dong-Hyuk

Documentaries are especially important in the case of North Korea because they provide important insights into what is commonly referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom”. These insights are invaluable when it comes to preparing for unification. With that in mind, I would like to present one of the best documentaries I have seen so far – Camp 14: Total Control Zone, directed by Marc Wiese.

Camp 14 is a joint South Korean/German production, also available in English that follows the life of Shin Dong-Hyuk who was born inside the Kaechon internment camp. It chronologically follows his dramatic life from birth to his accidental escape and current situation in South Korea. Furthermore, a former North Korean camp guard (Hyuk Kwon) and secret service police officer (Oh Yangnam) are also given a voice. Marc Wiese manages to interview each protagonist in such a way that they can all tell their story from their perspective. This very respectful way of dealing with each individual is perhaps the biggest strength of Camp 14, because unlike many other documentaries about North Korea, it refrains from being judgmental and knows that it’s dealing with real people. By remaining objective, it draws a very comprehensive picture of a North Korean internment camp without intentionally trying to assign blame.

Furthermore, Animation is partially used, based on Shin Dong-Hyuk’s memory, when there is no footage available. This rather unconventional way of presenting a documentary is however very fitting and aids the purpose. In addition, secret footage shot by Hyuk Kwon and Oh Yangnam is also presented. Overall, these different features of story telling contribute to a very balanced and genuine view of what life may be like in a North Korean internment camp.

The only thing that I have left to say is that Camp 14, put simply, is special. It is special because it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t point fingers and it doesn’t blame. It is what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that. As such, it is currently one of the best documentaries about North Korea and I highly recommend anyone to watch it.


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Political Consistency in the North’s Pendulum Swinging Economic Policy

The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is perhaps the last among its fraternal socialist allies to have maintained the orthodox socialist centrally planned economic system. Since the armistice in 1953 that ended the Korean War, the Kim Il-sung administration proclaimed Juche as the national ideology in 1955 and centralized the economy by 1958. After defaulting on foreign loans in the 1970s and experiencing brutal economic crises, it took 40 years for the North to legally allow partial decentralization of its Stalinist economy in 1998.[1]

The DPRK claims that its economic centralization was initiated by the North Korean Provisional People’s Committee in March 1946 accomplished by 1958, when the state completed its socialist reform of means of production (Korea Institution for National Unification 2009, 181). In 1946, 74.1% of the North’s total work force consisted of private farmers, but by December of 1958, the percentage of the private workforce of not only farmers, but also of private craftsmen, entrepreneurs, and merchants fell to 0% according to the DPRK central yearbook of 1961. Moreover, property rights fully belonged to the state, and the central planning mechanism determined the allocation of resources.

The Stalinist start of the North’s collectivized economy, galvanized by Kim Il-Sung’s organizing and motivating talents that he developed as a guerilla fighter, was adequate enough to outpace the South’s development for about the first two decades after the end of the Korean War.[2] Moreover, in 1945, compared to the agricultural South, the Northern half of the peninsula was in charge of 76% of the total mining production, 92% of electrical-generating capacity, and 80% of Korea’s heavy industry (Hassig and Oh 2009, 69). Joan Robinson, a well-known post-Keynesian economist who visited the DPRK in 1965 once said, “all the economic miracles of the world are put in the shade by these achievements” (1972, 208).

Although the DPRK government completely bypassed the economic miracle that the South had, both the South and the North had to reestablish their economies from the destruction caused by the Korean War. The North’s process was rapidly stimulated by the inflows of aid and materiel from its fraternal communist governments, and their support – mainly from the USSR and China – well lasted with sufficiency until the mid-1960s.[3] Yet, the Sino-Soviet split which started in the 1960s, and the economic crisis in China made the inflows less secure for the DPRK. Moreover, the ideological split between the communist states was the most decisive factor that allowed Kim Il-sung to justify his prioritization of the military industry over the civilian industry. Eventually, as the ‘dual track development of military and economy’ was formalized through the General Assembly of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea in October 1966, a military-industrial complex started to appear in the North’s economy.

             Facing difficulties with receiving assistance from its fellow socialist nations since the mid-1960s, the North’s economy entered the path to becoming a complete autarky. Furthermore, the North’s national ideology of Juche (characteristically translated as national self-reliance) was dominant enough to prevent the North from joining the communist brethren of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). Hence from the 1970s, the DPRK government took initiatives in establishing economic relations with capitalist states. However, the DPRK ended up being heavily in debt due to its efforts to import foreign capital goods, and defaulted on foreign loans by the late 1970s.

             The North’s financial crisis, however, did not hinder its efforts of importing foreign capital and technology. In 1984, North Korea passed its first Joint Venture Law, and Kim Il-sung paid his state visit to Moscow in the summer of the same year. The efforts brought Soviet subsidies and investments from pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans in Japan which accumulated to a modest amount of US$ 150 million (Eberstadt 2009). The Soviet’s political support and subsidies, of course, aborted after its collapse in 1991, and worsened the situations for the North to accomplish the ‘independent national economic construction’ that it dreamed of since the proclamation of “Juche for the economy” in 1956.

What hurt the Republic’s people most was that the North’s central distribution mechanism fell into a decline. Dating back from the 1960s, when Kim Il-sung initiated the state’s excessive emphasis on national defense, the North propelled the ‘heavy industries first development’ program, which rapidly shrank the manufacturing and agricultural industries. The Republic’s industries, hence, were polarized between the military industry and the civil industry. From early as the 1980s, the Republic suffered from shortage of people’s basic necessities (Institute for Unification Education 2012). In 1990, the government officially suppressed the people’s consumption with the “let’s eat two meals a day” campaign (Haggard and Noland 2011).

Indeed, external threats, such as the Bush’s “axis of evil” speech of 2002 were hostile enough for the DPRK to consider the needs of taking a conservative stance at the cost of keeping the military-industrial complex (Carlin and Wit 2006). However, Pyongyang’s internal political dynamics also reflected the DPRK’s such stance (Haggard and Noland 2011). After the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994, Kim Jong-il chose military as a key base of his political power and support from the existing political elites who were entirely of his father’s generation, and when he passed away in December 2011, Kim Jong-il’s official title was Chairman of the National Defense Commission. Moreover, as Kim Jong-il further consolidated his power with Songun or “military first” politics, the military gained the absolute first call on the country’s resources (Hassig and Oh 2009). After and even during the most disastrous famine in the 1990s, North Korean government further justified the Songun politics with the rationale that the economic development will be witnessed when the military industry grows further and starts spilling-over positive externalities in civilian industries (Institute for Unification Education 2012).

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, however, the North’s military and civilian industries went into a decline and the North’s economy entered a path of deterioration, which eventually brought about in the 1990s the “only-ever famine to be visited upon a literate urbanized population in peacetime” (Eberstadt 2006, 247). Killing about 600,000 to 1 million people in the so-called arduous march period of 1994 and 1998, the famine became a “national trauma” (Haggard and Noland 2011, 6). The deterioration of the central planning system led to expansions of the North’s unregulated market activities, and eventually became one of the pillars that sustain the economy of the DPRK to this day.

In response to the economic crisis, the Republic has partially allowed decentralization since 1998. In July 1st of 2002, the DPRK initiated the July 1 Economic Management Improvement Measure that functionally decriminalized market activities and allowed South Korean investment in Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang. However, the Measure caused a hyperinflation of the overall price level by roughly 1000 percent (Haggard and Noland 2011, 9). Therefore, the July 1 Measure could not bring about the “partial allowing of market activities under the centrally planned economy”, and left cracks in the Kim regime’s credibility with regards to its economic policies.

The North’s and its foreign watchers’ high hopes have waned as the policymakers in Pyongyang appointed Park Nam-ki as the economic policy director in order to reinstate the public distribution system and ban private grain trading in 2005. Also, in 2009 the state initiated a confiscatory currency reform to revive orthodox centrally planned economy and abolish market activities. Yet, chaotic “civil disobedience and sporadic protests” ultimately led the state to abandon the “reform in reverse” and announced a new party directive that reopened retail markets, allowed citizens to hold foreign exchange, and firms engaged in cross-border trade to operate more freely (Haggard and Noland 2011).

The DPRK government has never fully engaged a reform policy, and even recentralized the economy when there were signs of weakening in the Kim regime. Within the boundaries of the “socialism of our own style” (urisik sahoejuui) the Republic’s economic policies have swung inch-by-inch between decentralization and recentralization. Thus, the DPRK’s own style of socialism may have experienced some pendulum swings of its economic policies, but little or almost none of the political basis on the economy has been modified. Based on the idea of self-sufficiency (jaryukgaengseng) and the national ideology of Juche, North Korean economic policies have maintained the three major stances of ‘independent national economic construction’, ‘heavy industries first development’, and ‘dual track development of military and economy’. After the collapse of the USSR, North Korea’s miserable economic performances were threatening enough to bring some changes to its stances, yet the adjustments were made accordingly to the Kim-family administration’s survival strategy of military-first (songun) politics. Based on what has been observed outwardly, the North has arguably shown a political consistency in its economic policies at any given period of time in the Republic’s economic history.

[1] The government made constitutional amendments to partially extend property ownership limits of individuals and social cooperative groups.

[2] The conventional wisdom and econometric evidence suggest that the centrally planned economies (CPEs) show faster industrialization than average performance in the initial stages, but fall below the average performance when allocated inefficiencies become ever more costly (Noland 2000, 60).

[3] Eberstadt claims that the USSR, China and the countries of Council for Mutual Economic Assistance Europe provided free machinery equipment, and even entire industrial enterprises (2009, 65).


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You For Me For You




Minjee and Junhee live in a country side of North Korea. Minjee, the older sister, has been sick for years, but a proper medical treatment is not available. Tired of hunger and their incompetent country, Junhee, the younger sister, pays a smuggler to help her and Minjee flee North Korea. However, Minjee is too sick and unwilling to make it across the border. Instructed by the smuggler, Junhee races escapes to New York City and promises to come back for her sister. Captivated by the new life in a freer world, however, Minjee becomes forgetful of her promise…

Without giving away too much, above is a summary of a play that I went to see this month. In late October, a close professor introduced me to a play making its world premiere in downtown D.C. Although I was unaccustomed with the idea of watching stage plays, this particular play was based on a topic that is very familiar to me, so I was intrigued to see it. You For Me For You, written by Mia Chung, is a “moving comic fantasy”[1] about two North Korean sisters trying to escape to the United States. This particular topic was familiar to me, but it was surprising to see such an unknown and perhaps an uncomfortable subject being played on the American stage. I did not know what to expect even as I was walking into the theatre.


Upon entering the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, I was first presented with an opportunity to look at Song Byeok’s art exhibition. I had heard him speak in the city before, but I never had the chance to look at his works up close until that day. Some of his famous works were displayed throughout the waiting area of the theatre. His satiric paintings of North Korean regime went well with certain elements of the play: the suffering of North Korean citizens for the regime’s survival and their struggle for a better life.

To be honest, I was nervous at the beginning of the show. While I trusted that much research and consideration were dedicated in order to portray this sensitive subject, I was worried for possible misrepresentation or over-dramatization of North Korean defectors, especially since most of the audience was Americans. To many Americans, North Korea is still a mysterious country. Personal testimonies and terrifying stories from North Korean defectors or experts only add to the existent fear towards North Korea. Even Mia Chung, the writer of You For Me For You admits that people know little about life in North Korea. In a playbill, she writes, “there is so much [the outside world does not know] that we have no choice but to imagine.”[2] Hence, this play strives to portray somewhat imaginative and unrealistic depiction of what North Korean refugees face.

Overall, this new experience was worthwhile. Combined with artistic and theatrical elements, the play delivered a miraculous story of ordinary people having no other choice but to leave their beloved country. Furthermore, I think this dark and whimsical play was successful in leaving the audience with questions, and perhaps increased interest in the mysterious country and its people.


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류우익 통일부 장관, 미래 중국 지도자들의 의식을 바꾸다


지난 10월 29일 중국 베이징대학교 정대국제회의센터(正大国际会议中心) 2층 회견장에서 류우익 통일부 장관의 강연회가 있었다. 왕지스 베이징대학교 국제관계학원 원장이 주축이 된 김구논단(金九论坛)의 연사로서 참석한 류우익 장관은 ‘동아시아 정세와 한중관계의 미래(东亚形势与韩中关系的未来)’라는 주제로 두 시간가량의 강연을 했다. 이날 강연장에는 통일방면 한국 정부 대표의 한 마디 한 마디를 듣기 위해 수많은 베이징대학교 학생들로 북새통을 이뤘다. 주중 한국대사를 역임한 류우익 장관답게 역사의 흐름 속의 한국과 중국의 관계로 이야기를 시작했다. 역사 속의 중국과 한국은 항상 공존하며 살아오다 중간에 1950년 한국전쟁이 발발하며 교류가 아예 끊겼지만, 92년 한중수교를 발판으로 다시금 엄청난 관계발전이 이루어지고 있다고 하면서, “현재는 변화의 시대다, 흔들리는 판의 한가운데라고 일컬어지는 동아시아에도 역시 이 변화의 시대는 강력하게 영향을 미치고 있다”고 말했다.

이 날 류우익 대사는 이제는 한국 정부와 통일부의 기조가 더 발전할 것이라고 말했다. 기존의 한국정부의 기조가 한반도 평화와 안정이었다면, 이보다 한 발짝 더 나아간 남북관계 유연화, 인도적 지원, 대화의 문 개방 등 적극적으로 통일 준비를 할 것이라는 의지를 표명했다. 그러면서 “평화적 공존만으로는 통일은 어렵다. 실질적인 통일 준비가 필요하다.”라는 말로 이를 뒷받침했다.


이번 강연회에서 류우익 대사는 앞으로 중국의 지도층이 될 베이징대학교 학생들에게 통일한국이 중국에도 분명한 이익이 될 수 있다는 점을 확실히 각인시키려 한 것으로 보였다. 그 근거로 류 대사는 중국의 동북지역을 언급했다. 현재 중국 전역에서 동북지역은 생산적, 지리적 환경에 비해 비교적 낙후되었다고 평가하면서 이는 남북한이 분단되고 사람과 물자, 정보의 자유로운 이동의 방해 때문이라고 말했다. 또한, 2008년 한국과 중국의 관계가 ‘전략적 동반자 관계’로 격상하면서 전략적 소통이 확대되고 한중 FTA가 성사되었지만, 아직 양국의 국민적 인식이 아직 수교 이전에 머물러 있는 것은 아닌지 걱정하면서, 흔히 통일에 부정적인 인식을 갖고 있는 중국인들이 논지를 전개하는 ‘완충지대’ 이론은 옛날 영토전쟁 시대의 고전적인 가설이라고 비판하며, 통일한국은 절대로 중국에 해가 되지 않는다고 역설했다.

서울대학교 교수 출신인 류우익 장관은 강연 후 질문에도 친절하고 상세하게 대답해 주는 모습을 보였다. 북한 3세대 지도자 김정은에 대해 어떻게 생각하느냐라는 질문에는 “한국 정부를 대표해서 온 사람이기 때문에 직접적이고 개인적인 평가는 할 수 없지만 한 가지 바라는 것은 슬기롭게 남북한 관계를 해결하려는 의지가 있으면 좋겠다”고 돌려 말했다. 질문 마지막에는 지리학도에서 어떻게 통일부 장관이 되었는지 묻는 중국 학생의 질문에 답하며 자신의 목표를 항상 마음속에 새기고 있다면 언제가 되든 기회가 생긴다면서 각자 꿈을 꼭 간직하고 그 꿈을 위해 정진하는 청년이 되기를 희망하면서 강연을 마쳤다.

Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik Changes China’s Future Leader’s Consciousness

This past October 29th, on the 2nd floor of the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Peking University in China, Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik held a lecture.  Minister Yu Woo-ik attended as the speaker for the Kim Koo Foundation, which is lead by Mr. Wang Jisi, President of the International Studies Institute at the Peking University, and spoke for two hours on the subject of ‘East Asian state of affairs and the future of South Korea and China’s relations.  The lecture hall was crowded with students of the Peking University, hoping to listen to the words of a South Korean government representative on the matter of reunification.  Minister Yu Woo-ik, as someone who served as the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to China, began with a historical story which embodied the relations between South Korea and China.

Minister Yu Woo-ik also stated that the South Korean government and the Ministry of Unification’s basis will go on to develop even further.  If the existing South Korean government’s key basis was the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, he argued that the next step was to improve the flexibility of inter-Korean relations, and carry out humanitarian assistance, while also opening the doors of communications to actively prepare for the unification. He supported his words by adding that “peaceful coexistence alone will not be enough to achieve unification. Actual unification measures are necessary.”


Minister Yu Woo-ik, emphasized to the students of Peking University, who are viewed by many as future leaders of China, that a unified Korea will certainly be beneficial to China. Minister Yu referenced China’s northeastern region as a basis for his statement. He stated that today’s northeastern region of China is relatively behind in its productive and geographical environment compared with the rest of the country. This is caused due to the division of Korean Peninsula, blocking people, commodities, and information from flowing freely. He also expressed concerns that despite improvement of South Korea and China’s diplomatic relations, such as the promotion of their relations to a ‘strategic partnership relations’ in 2008 and increased strategic communications resulting in a South Korean-Chinese FTA, many people from both countries are still stuck in the era before the diplomatic relations were established. Minister Yu criticized that the negative thoughts that the Chinese had on the issue of unification was spread through the ‘buffer zone’ theory, which was an old hypothesis derived from the era of territorial wars, and emphasized that a unified Korea will not pose a threat to China.


Minister Yu Woo-ik, a former Seoul National University professor, answered all questions courteously and in detail at the end of his lecture. When questioned regarding his thoughts on Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s third generation ruler, he stated “as a person who is here on behalf of the South Korean government, I can’t say anything too direct or personal, but I hope that he can show willingness to resolve the South and North’s issues in a wise manner.” On the last question by a Chinese student on how he became a Minister of Unification from a geographer, he answered by saying, if you strongly hold on to your goals, an opportunity will somehow always be presented to you. He finished the lecture by hoping that every single student would keep his or her dreams alive and continue to challenge oneself. In history, China and South Korea lived in coexistence until the mid 1950’s when the Korean War erupted leading to a complete severing of ties. However in 1992, with the start of the Korea and China’s establishment of diplomatic relations a tremendous progress in relations is being achieved, Minister Yu stated.  He went on to say that “we are currently in an era of change, and East Asia, which is known to be a region of such change is greatly influencing this era”.



일본인의 시점 – 김정은 체제 전망

남북통일은 양국의 노력뿐만 아니라, 주변국들의 역할도 중요하다고 생각합니다. 중국이나 일본에 통일의 당위성을 알리며, 동북아시아의 평화를 위해서 그들의 역할이 중요함을 알려야 할 것입니다. 이번 기사에서는, 일본인은 과연 북한 체제에 대하여 어떻게 인식하고  있는가 소개해 보려고 합니다. 그래서 게이오 대학 동아시아 연구소 현대한국연구센터(慶應義塾大学東アジア研究所現代韓国センター)의 논문을 중심으로 소개해 나가려고 합니다.

오코노기마사오(小此木政夫 (おこのぎまさお)에 의하면, 김정은 체제는 놀라울 정도로 김정일 체제와 비교해 변화되지 않을 것이라고 주장하고 있습니다. 단, 이것이 교섭의 가능성을 거부하는 것은 아니며, 즉, 김정은은 당분간 김정일로 살아가야 할 필요가 있다는 생각입니다.

그러나 김정은이 현재 맞이하고 있는 상황은 김정일 체제가 성립될 당시에 비교하여 상당한 차이가 있습니다. 김정일은 사회주의진영의 붕괴 속에서 파탄하는 국가를 살리기 위하여 「살아남는 것」을 유일한 국가의 목표로 할 수밖에 없었고, 그러므로 폭군이어야 했다는 것입니다. 그러나 김정은은 아버지인 김정일에게 두 가지의 유산을 물려받았습니다. 첫째는, 핵무기와 장거리미사일 개발능력입니다. 개발의 진행 상황은 알 수 없지만, 어느 정도의 레벨에는 도달했음을 알 수 있습니다. 두 번째로는, 중국과의 관계가 다시 구축되었으며, 중국이 북한의 옹호자로서 다시 등장했다는 것입니다. 그러나 김정일이 남겨놓은 마지막 과제, 「강성대국의 건설」은 김정은이 이뤄나가야 할 숙제일 것입니다. 다르게 말하면, 김정은은 ‘폭군’일 필요가 없는 상황입니다.

김정일의 기본 전략은, 핵무기나 미사일 개발을 포기하지 않고, 그것을 외교수단으로써 이용하며, 미국과의 관계 정상화를 실현하는 것이었습니다. 이를 위해  핵개발을 「정지」하거나 IAEA의 「감시」하에 두는 것은 충분히 가능한 일이었을 것입니다. 즉 처음부터, 핵무기를 포기할 생각이 없다는 것입니다.

마지막으로 오코노기 교수는 한국의 대통령 선거를 앞둔 이 시점에서, 남북대화 재개를 6자회담 개최의 전제조건으로 하는 이명박 정권을 한국 내에서 고립시키고, 대통령 선거 후 남북대화재개를 준비하고 있을 가능성이 높다고 말하고 있습니다. 즉, 진보정권, 보수정권에 관계없이 2013년에는 남북대화가 이루어질 것으로 예상하고 있는 것입니다. 한편, 이명박 대통령의 공적에 대해서는 북한과의 안이한 대화를 거부하고 진정한 문제 해결을 위한 대화의 필요성을 쌍방에 인식시켰다고 평가하고 있습니다. 일본의 역할로는, 고이즈미 총리와 김정일 위원장의 북일평양선언을 재확인하고 북한과의 국교정상화를 시행할 필요성이 있다고 주장하고 있습니다. 그 각오가 없다면 북한과 일본의 납치문제도 해결되지 않을 것이라고 지적하고 있습니다.

위에서 언급한 것과 같이 북한 문제는 남북 간의 노력만으로는 해결할 수 없는 복잡한 문제가 되어 있습니다. 또한 북한문제는 정치적 문제이며 현재진행형인 문제이므로, 어떠한 정책도 정답이라고 할 수 없을 것입니다. 그러므로 정권이 바뀔 때마다 대북정책이 크게 바뀌는 것은 통일에 악영향을 끼칠 것입니다. 다음 정권부터는 대한민국의 대북정책의 기본정책 방침을 마련하고 지혜로운 외교로 북한 통일에 한 걸음 다가설 수 있기를 소망합니다.

참고문헌: 小此木政夫(2012)『金正恩体制の形成-体制変化と政策継続』、慶応義塾大学出版会

 <From the Japanese Viewpoint: The Prospect of Kim Jong-un’s System of Rule>

 For the reunification of the North and South to occur, not only the efforts of both countries but the role of the neighboring countries is crucial.  Making known the imperative of North Korean reform to China and Japan and informing them of their important peace-keeping roles in Northeast Asia need to be done. This article will try to introduce how the Japanese perceive the system of rule in North Korea. In order to do so, we’ll center on the thesis by the Northeast Asia research center and Modern Korea Research Center in Keio University.

According to Okonogi Masao, Kim Jong-un’s system of rule will not differ much from the system of rule of Kim Jong-il. This doesn’t entail that the possibility of negotiations will be rejected, but it does means that Kim Jong-un will need to carry out his life like his father for the time being.

However, there is considerable difference between the times when Kim Jong-il’s rule was established and the situation Kim Jong-un is currently faced with. In the midst of the collapse of the socialist camp, Kim Jong-il had to make the country’s goal or survival its only hope in the failed country, and for this reason he had to become a tyrant.  Kim Jong-un inherited two of his father, Kim Jong-il’s legacy.  The first is the ability to develop nuclear arms and long-range missiles. Nobody knows for sure how far the nuclear capabilities have progressed, but it’s known that they have reached a certain level. The second is that relations with China have been restored and that China has emerged as a supporter of North Korea. But Kim Jong-il left behind a final task of national reconstruction for Kim Jong-un to accomplish. In other words, Kim Jong-un doesn’t have to become a ‘tyrant’.

The basic strategy of Kim Jong-il was to continue developing nuclear arms and missiles, and to use it as a diplomatic leverage to normalize the relations with the U.S. His strategy did not have to involve giving up his nuclear program but instead consisted of minor concessions such as ordering the halt of the nuclear arms development and placing the program under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Lastly, Dr. Okonogi projects that there is a high chance that North Korea’s tactic with the South is to isolate Lee Myung-bak administration, which set the recommencement of bilateral dialogue between the North and the South as a precondition for six-party talks, within South Korea and preparing to resume high level North and South talks after the regime change in 2013. In other words in 2013, regardless of whether a progressive government or conservative government takes office, the North and South talks will take place. Meanwhile, he evaluates that President Lee Myung-bak’s rejection of casual talks has made both sides realize the need for dialogue to achieve a true solution. He further argues that Japan’s role is to reconfirm the declaration made by Prime Minister Koizumi and Kim Jong-il to resolve the problems between their two countries and the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Without this determination, the abduction issue between North Korea and Japan cannot be settled.

As stated above, the North Korean issue has become an issue that cannot be resolved with only the efforts by the North and South. Furthermore, the North Korean issue is a political issue that is currently unfolding and one in which one single policy can’t be considered an answer. Therefore, a policy on North Korea that changes from one administration to the next can have an adverse effect. Beginning with the next administration, a base policy direction on the policy on North Korea will have to be decided on and consistently maintained. I hope that such a wise diplomacy will bring us one step closer to the reunification with North Korea.

References: 小此木政夫(2012)『金正恩体制の形成-体制変化と政策継続』、慶応義塾大学出版会

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A Lecture By North Korea Scholar Andrei Lankov

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov.  The speech was intended to be a primer on North Korea and he set out to clear up some of the major misconceptions people have about the country.  “If you look at everything which is written about North Korea,” he opened, “you get a fairly bad picture of a crazy country: absolutely irrational, completely unpredictable, and very, very dangerous.”  Over the course of his speech, not only did he prove these things to be quite the opposite, he also gave some insight into the current situation inside North Korea and how things have been slowly changing.  Dr. Lankov’s speech lasted about 45 minutes and covered a great deal of material, but what follows is information that I personally found to be most insightful and challenged my own ideas.

First of all, he said that those officials in the Kim Il-sung era of the ‘60s and ‘70s were not that rich.  Many people get the idea that North Korea was much like the South American dictatorships of the time, where there were a small handful of extremely rich people with a very poor majority.  Instead, Dr. Lankov described a North Korea where the typical elite would receive about 700 grams of rice from the government and eat meat about once a week, and the average worker would get about 350 grams of rice and 350 grams of corn, pork a few times a year, and fish every month.  I have to say that this surprised me as I assumed that severe equality is almost inherent to these types of regimes.

Secondly, Dr. Lankov also went on to describe some of the liberalization that has been happening in recent years.  While up until the mid 1990s three generations of family members were sent to prison if you commit a crime, now your family is usually spared. While the family of a prisoner would probably be exiled or disgraced, they usually will no longer go to prison.  He also stated that contrary to much of what is reported, the last five to ten years of North Korean history has been a time of gradual economic improvement.  It was only the years of Arduous March in the 1990’s that were truly disastrous for the country.  I found this interesting because I tend to see a lot of conflicting reports on the state of North Korea’s economy currently.  The problem might be the fact that news outlets tend to focus on micro trends and very recent developments instead of looking at the broader picture.  But he did say however that he doesn’t expect many reforms in the future.  The Kim regime believes that change or liberalization could be extremely detrimental to their power, and that they are probably entirely correct about this.  He expects that because people now know more about the outside world and are less indoctrinated, even if Kim Jong-eun makes gradual reforms, his time in power is limited.

He also spent a lot of time talking about China’s role and how we often get a skewed picture of the situation because China tends to be demonized by the American press. He said that it has only been in the last three years that North Korea has started to reestablish a secured border with China and to crack down on smuggling and illegal migration, and that the border between North Korea and China has been largely unprotected for at least 20 years.  He also stated that there is still no control over the Chinese side of the border, and that the brutal crackdowns on North Korean immigration by the described in the American press tends to be grossly overstated.  Rather, the Chinese are not particularly enthusiastic about finding and deporting North Koreans living in China as long as they keep a low profile.  Hearing this came as a bit of a shock as this situation is typically painted as one of the big human rights issues of the day.

Overall, the takeaway was that while the situation in North Korea is dire, they are probably more demonized than they really should be. Simply, “they’re playing a risky game and see no exit.  North Korea is riding a hungry tiger… maybe it was a bad idea to start the ride, but back then this tiger looked very nice.  You can’t say that someone is strange or weak because that person managed to sit on a hungry tiger for a few decades and is still sitting.”

저는 최근에 북한 전문가 안드레이 란코프(Andrei Lankov) 박사의 강연을 들을 수 있는 기회가 있었습니다. 이 강연의 목적은 북한에 대한 입문 과정으로서 란코프 박사가 북한에 대해 사람들이 가진 여러가지 오해를 풀기 위한 것이었습니다. 란코프 박사는 “북한에 대해 쓴 기사만 보면, 북한이 완전히 비합리적이고, 전혀 예측할 수 없고, 너무나 위험한 미친 나라라는 부정적인 이미지만 그려집니다.”라는 말로 강연을 시작했습니다. 란코프 박사는 이번 강연에서 북한은 이런 언론 보도와는 상당히 다른 나라라는 점과 북한 내부 현황 그리고 현재 점진적으로 진행되고 있는 변화에 대한 전망도 제시하였습니다. 45분 동안 진행된 강연에서 란코프 박사는 다양한 문제를 다루었습니다만, 저는 개인적으로 가장 유익했고, 제 생각을 바꾸어 준 강연 내용을 말씀드리고자 합니다.

우선, 란코프 박사는 60년대와 70년대 김일성 체제 당시의 관료들이 그렇게 부유하지 않았다고 말했습니다. 많은 사람들이 당시의 북한은 극소수의 부유층과 절대 다수의 빈곤층으로 구성된 남미의 독재 국가들과 매우 비슷할 것이라고 생각합니다. 하지만 란코프 박사는 당시 북한 관료들도 정부에서 700 g의 쌀을 배급받고 일주일에 한 번 정도 고기를 먹는 정도였으며, 일반 노동자들에게는 쌀 350 g과 옥수수 350 g, 그리고 매년 몇 차례의 돼지 고기가 배급되었고, 매달 생선이 배급되었다고 설명했습니다.   이런 독재 국가에는 불평등이 심각할 것이라고 생각했었기 때문에 란코프 박사의 설명에 저는 놀랐지 않을 수 없었습니다.

두번째로 란코프 박사는 최근에 일어나고 있는 북한의 자유화 과정에 대해 설명했습니다.   1990년 중반까지만 해도 가족 중 한 사람이 범죄를 저지르면, 3대의 가족이 모두 감옥에 갔지만, 지금은 가족 연좌제가 거의 적용되지 않는다고 합니다. 범죄자의 가족들이 추방당하거나 불명예를 안고 살아갈 수는 있지만, 감옥에 보내지지는 않는다고 합니다. 또한 란코프 박사는 대부분의 언론 기사와는 달리 지난 5년에서 10년 사이에 북한의 경제는 점진적으로 개선되어 왔다고 말했습니다. 북한이 정말 심각한 위기에 처했던 때는 1990년 ‘고난의 행군’ 시기뿐이었다고 합니다. 최근에 북한의 경제 상황에 대해 상반되는 내용의 기사들을 많이 보았기 때문에 이런 내용은 저에게 더욱 흥미로웠습니다. 언론 매체들이 큰 틀의 그림을 보기 보다는 미시적 동향과 최근의 상황에 대해 중점을 두려는 경향이 문제인 것 같습니다. 하지만 란코프 박사는 북한이 앞으로 다양한 개혁 조치를 시행할 것이라고 보지는 않는다고 말했습니다. 김정은 체제는 변화 또는 자유화가 현 체제에 심각한 타격을 줄 수 있으며 이런 판단을 옳다고 믿고 있다고 합니다. 란코프 박사는 북한 주민들이 바깥 세상에 대해 더 많이 접할 수 있게 되었고, 사상 세뇌 교육도 약해지고 있기 때문에 김정은이 점진적인 개혁을 추진한다고 할지라도 계속 권력을 장악할 수는 없을 것이라고 보았습니다.

또한 란코프 박사는 이런 정세 속에서의 중국의 역할과, 중국을 미국 언론이 나쁘게 보도하기 때문에 사람들이 현실에 대한 왜곡된 인식을 갖게 된다는 점을 많은 시간 동안 설명했습니다. 란코프 박사는 북한이 중국과의 국경을 다시 세우고, 밀수와 불법 탈입북을 단속하기 시작한 것은 겨우 3년 밖에 되지 않았으며, 지난 20년 동안 북한과 중국의 국경은 대부분 방치되어 있었다고 말했습니다.   또한 중국 측 국경에는 아직 경비가 없으며, 미국 언론에서 보도하고 있는 북한 탈북민들에 대한 잔인한 탄압은 심각하게 과장된 것이라고 강조했습니다. 더구나 중국은 탈북 후 중국에 살고 있는 북한 주민들이 큰 문제를 일으키지 않은 한, 이들을 검거해서 북한으로 송환하는 데 크게 관심이 없다고 합니다. 최근 탈북민 문제가 심각한 인권 문제로 대두되고 있는 상황에서 이런 내용은 저에게 상당한 충격으로 다가왔습니다.

결론적으로 이번 강연의 요점을 말씀 드리자면, 북한의 상황이 심각하긴 하지만, 언론 매체들이 북한의 실제보다 훨씬 더 나쁘게 북한을 묘사하고 있다는 것입니다. 강연을 간단히 정리하자면 다음과 같습니다. “북한은 탈출구가 없는 위험한 게임을 하고 있습니다. 북한은 지금 배고픈 호랑이를 타고 있는 격입니다…애초부터 호랑이를 타겠다는 것은 잘못된 판단이었지만, 처음에는 이 호랑이가 정말 멋지게 보였죠. 하지만 누군가가 몇 십년 동안 배고픈 호랑이를 타고 앉아 있다고 해서 그 사람을 이상하다거나 약하다고 말할 수 는 없습니다.”

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