I am fascinated by North Korea and the book by Andrei Lankov intensifies my fascination. Its a bit like the guilty pleasure of gawking at an extreme traffic accident. A Stalinist monarchy that has survived its own massive and obvious internal contradictions. Lankov’s premise – the North Korean leadership is ruthlessly logical and efficient. They know they have a rotten regime but cannot release the strings too much or they will themselves be destroyed. There is a lot of anger out there! They blackmail the world and it works – at least it has until recently – and this helped offset the end of Soviet aid that closed with the disappearance of the Cold War. Markets are emerging and they are a civilizing influence. These new institutions were successful because no authoritarian regime can outlaw survival behavior by people who were starving particularly when those policing these people are also starving. It’s the “who gives a shit” imperative that dissolves most authoritarian apparati.
Can this unlikely regime continue its good run? Lankov says no! The best way to subvert it is to continue to promote contacts with South Korea and international student/academic exchanges. Even a glimpse of external realities will convince all North Koreans that their regime exists on the basis of pure lies – the physical size of South Koreans compared to their stunted Northern neighbors suggests a lot. South Korea nominally seeks reunification (as does the North) but in the South enthusiasm is waning – the people of the North are too far behind.