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Avatar of GI KoreaBy on May 10th, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Lankov On Post-Reunification Revisionism In North Korea

» by in: North Korea

Andrei Lankov has an article posted in the Asia Times that outlines how after the fall of the Kim Jong-il regime that a revisionist history of the regime may eventually develop. Like with just about anything written by Dr. Lankov this is a must read. Here is an excerpt from the article:

We cannot know the future, but currently it seems that the eventual unification of Korea under the Seoul regime is the only possible long-term outcome of the Korean crisis. But once the Kim family regime is gone, the 25 million human beings who lived under their rule will have to make something of their sad and terrifying experiences. Frankly speaking, the entire era was a massive waste of time, resources and lives, but can the average North Korean person accept and admit this? Some people, no doubt, will come to such painful conclusions, but many more will probably not.

There will be no shortage of people who are bound to lose out from unification and/or regime change in North Korea. The Kim family has produced a small army of professional indoctrinators and overseers. Many a well-educated North Korean has made a decent (that is by North Korean standards) living by lecturing his/her compatriots about the finer points of the Juche (self-reliance) doctrine or the heroic deeds of the Kim family. Many others have been employed to enforce the manifold regulations and rules. Under the new system, these people will instantly find out that their arcane skills will be of little use. They are bound to feel unhappy about the new world and they are also bound to search for ways to justify and embellish their past. 

The social and material difficulties of these people can be trivialized by describing them as “willing collaborators of a brutal regime” (as if informed career choice would have been possible in their youth). However, in the post-unification Korea there are social groups whose problems cannot be dismissed so easily. 

Once the country is unified, the majority of North Korean professionals will find out that in the new world, their skills are of little if any value. What can be done by a North Korean medical doctor who knows nothing of 95% of all the procedures and treatments which are routine in modern medicine? What can be done with an engineer who has spent all his life repairing rusting industrial equipment of 1960s’ Soviet vintage?

What about a school teacher who has spent decades teaching Korean literature but still has no clue about the majority of authors who really constitute its mainstream (Korean literature as understood in North Korea is essentially a collection of eulogies to the Leaders, whilst everything produced in the South since 1945, as well as a significant part of the colonial era literature is ignored)? [Asia Times]

Read the rest at the link but Lankov goes on to explain how the educated workers by North Korean standards will find themselves limited to low-paying jobs in a unified Korea. This will ultimately lead to resentment despite the overall improvement of North Korean living standards post-unification. This is all true if it is allowed to happen. For example if the North collapses and carpetbaggers from the South are allowed to purchase large amounts of land and businesses in North Korea and regulate the vast majority of North Koreans to low-paying jobs then yes I can see the historical revisionism happening.

However, if North Korea is given some autonomy post-unification and South Koreans are forbidden from purchasing property and businesses in North Korea this may reduce any potential resentment and more slowly ease North Korea into integrating with the South and the rest of the world in general. Likewise North Koreans should be greatly restricted from moving into South Korea because if they are seen by South Koreans from taking low-paying jobs from them like for instance bus drivers or factory jobs than this could create resentment in the South as well. It would also help prevent the trafficking of North Korean women into South Korea that will surely create resentment. By North Korea managing their own governmental bodies this should decrease possible resentment post-unification.

For example the teachers in North Korea may not be able to teach at the same level of a South Korean teacher, but they will need to be re-trained until they are. That is why I have advocated for North Korean defectors to be schooled in important post-collapse professions like teaching to help their fellow countrymen after regime collapse. The reconstruction of post-collapse North Korea has to have as much of a North Korean face on it as possible. Likewise with the security forces in North Korea. South Korean military forces at the initial onset of regime collapse will be needed to fill a potential security vacuum in the North. However, if they linger too long it will appear to be an occupation which will cause resentment. That is why security will need to be handed back over to North Korean policemen, coast guard, military, etc. as soon as possible. These forces will need advisers from the South to assist them in the modernization of their forces, but they cannot appear to be puppets.

I could go on and on about post-regime collapse North Korea but I think everyone gets the point that any collapse of the North Korean regime will have to be responded to with a detailed plan that puts as much of a North Korean face on the reconstruction of the country as possible to avoid the resentment and follow on revisionism that would occur if North Koreans feel like 2nd class citizens when compared to their fellow countrymen in the South.

You can read more on this topic over at the Marmot’s Hole.


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  • someotherguy
    6:35 pm on May 10th, 2011 1

    I think the author makes the critical assumption the the “unification” is an overnight thing. One day everyone goes to bed as NK vs SK, then the next morning we wake up and it’s fully unified. We all know that’s not going to happen, it would utterly destroy the SK economy. In all likely hood the change would be a gradual one. First the Kim dynasty comes to an end, either through internal revolution, some sort of military coupe, or some future heir taking the Chinese route and opening up their economy. All these methods result in a NK with an more open self sustaining economy. Then we can talk about reunification.

    But honestly, I don’t see a single Korean country anytime in the next 30 or 40 years.

  • Tom Langley
    8:03 pm on May 10th, 2011 2

    The article had many good points particularly about not letting SK carpetbaggers exploit the situation. German reunification was a piece of cake compared to what Korean reunification will be. Millions of people are going to have to be deprogrammed, fed, & trained to be elevated from a 4th world economy to a 1st world economy. There is no way that SK will be able to do this on their own although of course they must be in the lead. This whole process to my mind has no real parallel in human history to my knowledge. When Spain conquered the new world the inhabitants were forced to make many changes such as being forced to learn a new language, a new religion, and a new culture in a couple of generations but that was a result of military conquest not total collapse. As someotherguy talks about in comment #1 maybe after KJI dies maybe the new leadership will follow a path like Red China did by encouraging entrepreneurship. If & when NK is absorbed into the ROK times will be very tough for many, many years.

  • archieb
    2:14 am on May 11th, 2011 3

    There’s a lot of “maybes” in this analysis. You really think that if the DMZ was torn down tomorrow the North Koreans could deal with the real world? Or that China would let it happen? As for the revisionists, it’ll ALL be blamed on the USA and Japan. We all know it.

  • Flights
    5:48 am on May 11th, 2011 4

    The author makes a lot of good points about how to proceed with re-unification.

    The problem is that it is all based on the collapse of the regime in North Korea, after the passing of Kim Jong-il. There is, however, little evidence that this will occur any time soon. The current leader seems to have assured that his policies will survive him.

    Until the people of North Korea free themselves of the likes of Kim Jong-il, unification will remain a dream.

  • Burma Bob
    7:03 am on May 11th, 2011 5

    All of that religious fervor has to go somewhere. I have always thought that South Korean evangelists will seize their moment and rush into NK in droves, and enjoy a land office business. Of course carpet baggers, criminal gangs, new age gurus, multi-level marketing entrepreneurs, and would-be social engineers of every stripe will be piling in as well.

  • setnaffa
    10:46 am on May 11th, 2011 6

    Photo looks like an Obama rally… :mrgreen:

  • John
    10:51 am on May 11th, 2011 7

    #6
    I think Obama fans wish if Americans obeyed Obama’s wish as happens in NK, but we know that’s not happening…

  • John
    10:52 am on May 11th, 2011 8

    #5
    NO ONE will be piling into NK from anywhere IF NK collapses.

  • Sam
    12:02 pm on May 11th, 2011 9

    People have been talking about reunification for decades. It will never happen, simply because China will never allow it to happen. China doesn’t want a free country on its borders.

  • Glans
    3:16 pm on May 11th, 2011 10

    Oppressive political systems and their aftermath bring this book to mind: Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941–1968, written by Heda Margolius Kovály in 1973. Michael McDonald has ‘retroviewed’ it.

    ‘Her memoir recounts … : the horror of life under the Nazi occupation; a brief period of postwar hopefulness; and the horror of life under Czechoslovakian totalitarianism.’

    ‘The process of dehumanization [under Nazism and under Communism] leads to ashes in both instances. She demonstrates how the worst elements under the Nazis became, after 1948, the most “patriotic” Communists by concealing their wartime activities “under loud proclamations of loyalty to progress and socialism.” The only difference between the two totalitarianisms is that the Communists vaunted their good motives and their adherence to a common progressive heritage.’

    But ‘There is today no stigma attached to being an ex-Communist Party member as there is to being an ex-Nazi. Communism has somehow preserved its international legitimacy in amber …’

    You can read McDonald’s retroview at The American Interest.

  • Glans
    3:18 pm on May 11th, 2011 11

    I got filtered again. Is it a sin to name a book and its author? It was a book and an author I’ve never metioned before, honest.

  • fx25565
    5:53 pm on August 18th, 2012 12

    interesting…

    btw, archieb can foad.

  • Teadrinker
    6:34 pm on August 18th, 2012 13

    An excellent and thorough assessment.

    “In most cases their inferior social position will be a result of their low skills but one should not count on them admitting and accepting this.”

    Yes, and we saw a glimpse of what’s to come a few years back when a group of North Korean defectors protested, demanding high-paying government jobs while pointing to another North Korean defector who was given a position in a government think tank. What they were unable to grasp is that he had valuable skills, having been educated in prestigious European universities.

 

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