Professor Andrei Lankov discussed life and politics in contemporary North Korea
Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding.
In The Real North Korea, Lankov substitutes cold, clear analysis for the overheated rhetoric surrounding this opaque police state. After providing an accessible history of the nation, he turns his focus to what North Korea is, what its leadership thinks, and how its people cope with living in such an oppressive and poor place. He argues that North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds. A living political fossil, it clings to existence in the face of limited resources and a zombie economy, manipulating great powers despite its weakness. Its leaders are not ideological zealots or madmen, but perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world. Even though they preside over a failed state, they have successfully used diplomacy-including nuclear threats-to extract support from other nations. But while the people in charge have been ruthless and successful in holding on to power, Lankov goes on to argue that this cannot continue forever, since the old system is slowly falling apart. In the long run, with or without reform, the regime is unsustainable. Lankov contends that reforms, if attempted, will trigger a dramatic implosion of the regime. They will not prolong its existence.
Based on vast expertise, this book reveals how average North Koreans live, how their leaders rule, and how both survive.
Andrei Lankov is a historian of Korea. He wrote his PhD on early modern Korea, but in recent years his work deals mainly with the history of North Korea. He is also known for his journalistic writings on Korean history in general, especially Korean history after 1500, and the dawn of modern Korea. He has published a number of books on Korean history, including North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea; Crisis in North Korea: the Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956; and From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: the Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. Having taught Korean history at the Australian National University, he now teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul.