Ланьков: в чем разница между Россией и Северной Кореей? | Ким Чен Ын, ядерное оружие, k-pop ENG SUB
South Korea is a suffering and starving colony of the American imperialists. He asked me 'What's the attitude towards Russians in Korea?' I told him 'Unfairly good'. It's a war between a distant alien nation and another distant alien nation.
One of them is definitely the aggressor, the other one is definitely the victim, but it still seems distant, like it's Africa or something. Hello everyone! My today's guest is leading expert in South and North Koreas Andrei Lankov. He taught Korean in the Soviet Union and Australia. In the 1990s, he started going to South Korea for his work.
Now he is a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, right where I met him. Andrei Lankov wrote several books about South and North Koreas, I really liked his book "38th Parallel North". I think I've already suggested that you read it. It really impressed me. It tells about the real life in North Korea, because what we generally know about North Korea is a set of stereotypes.
It's like stereotypical Russia with bears dancing on the Red Square, playing balalaikas and drinking vodka. A lot of people have a similar stereotypical image about North Korea. And Andrei Lankov wrote this amazing book "38th Parallel North", I strongly recommend it. So you know what is really happening in North Korea. And here is his latest book "Korea. Leap into modernity" this time about South Korea.
Few people know about this book. But if you find it, I suggest that you should get it too. So, today we'll talk about life in North Korea, life in South Korea, about their attitude towards the conflict in Ukraine, their thoughts about Russia and the sanctions, and, most importantly, whether Koreans still eat dog meat. I wonder if Russia will turn into a North Korea.
and if so, how it may happen. So, sit back and watch this really interesting interview and subscribe to Varlamov Talks channel if you are not subscribed yet. — What was the locals' reaction to the war in Ukraine, do people even talk about it here? Are they concerned about the events that are happening far away from here? — They are just a little concerned. A feature of Korea is that, first of all, it sees the world through the eyes of the west. Mainly the United States. When it comes to things that are not directly related to Korea, all the perceptions are taken from the American media.
Speaking about the Korean worldview, if you look at the Korean media outlets, you will see that the Koreans are interested in a few countries only. They are China, Japan and the US. By the way, Koreans know so much about China, it's amazing! A Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party makes all the headlines here. They devote a whole page or two to all the changes, appointments, shifts, to analyse the speeches. It really is a big deal here. The same applies to American elections.
Everything beyond these topics is of little interest to the Koreans. So, what about the war in Ukraine? Of course, there's unequivocal sympathy for Ukraine. There are some pro-Russian voices, both parties have them, those are people who say that Korea had better not get involved there at all, stay away from it. Such people are in the minority.
Majority, of course, expresses their solidarity with Ukraine. You can see some occasional Ukrainian flags in the city. Not as many as in Europe, but there are some. Sometimes we read about the refugees and so on. This things are there. Yet, for the Koreans, it is a distant alien war.
It's a conflict somewhere far away, where a bigger country has attacked a smaller one and did it aggressively. Moreover, it is a former empire that attacked a former colony, this fact contributes to the support for Ukraine. That is how it is perceived here.
But, once again, they support Ukraine, but it still seems quite distant. It's not something directly related to them. You can see it from the general politics: on one hand, there's solidarity with the western agenda, but they still try not to rush. It is true, there is this feature. The new government headed by President Yoon Suk-yeol, his entourage, are people siding with the US.
Note, that according to the polls, South Korea is one of the most pro-American countries in the world. Around 15-20 years ago, there was a period when a part of the society, mostly progressives, they were much younger back then, were of rather anti-American views. There were even talks about American troops' withdrawal from the Korean peninsula. While now neither the left or the right even think of it. — Is this a security issue? — Yes, it is. They have not even an opponent, but a country that they are actually in war with.
— Japan? — No. In 1965, the Treaty on basic relations between Japan and Korea was signed. This is all settled. North Korea. — Ah, North Korea. A country that also has nuclear weapons.
And also, just to make it even more "fun", it is now working on tactical nuclear weapons, intended for use on the battlefield, not the weapons destroying whole cities, but those destroying battalions. This year, in April, Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong and then Kim Jong Un himself, said they would destroy the army of South Korea if needed. Before, they said they would never use weapons in the Korean peninsula. Now they say they will. Obviously, here are the options for South Korea: they either make their own nuclear weapons, which is almost impossible for a number of reasons, although many want it.
65-75% of South Koreans are reported to be in favour of their country developing its own nuclear weapons. There are not so many countries with this high level of support. But since it is more of a dream, as they look at the US, for their president Yoon Seok-youl, it is even more obvious, because South Korean conservatives have always been pro-American. It's what they have been like for 150 years now. They have always been looking at America. That's why if Americans ask Yoon Seok-youl to impose some extra sanctions against Russia, he will do it.
So, the current authorities would be more prone to support Ukraine, and impose sanctions against Russia. But don't be delusional, the other political group would do the same, maybe with less enthusiasm. This would be the only difference. — Do I get it right: South Korea joins the sanctions under the pressure of other countries, it is not their sincere desire? — No, it's not a sincere desire. They would do it as a symbol, because they sympathise with Ukraine. But not to the scale that would hurt their own country.
Money to support refugees - yes. As much as they need. Maybe even supply some non-lethal military aid. Some helmets or I don't know. But nothing more. They are doing everything else... not really under pressure, but more because of the fact that in the current circumstances, there's no alternative to siding with the US.
So, some people see it as something wrong, but necessary, others are really happy about their country being friends with the States. I mean, there may be different opinions, but the idea of siding with the US being the only option is undeniable here. — But I still have a feeling that South Korea is not as radical with sanctions as Japan, for example. — Sure. It's really different. Furthermore, I was recently asked by a friend, he asked me 'What's the attitude towards Russia in Korea?' I told him 'Unfairly good'. Although, in the history of Russian-Korean relations, there were a lot problems, with Korea almost always being the suffering party, it's not common in Korea to dwell on the past.
So, nobody recalls the end of the 19th century, nor the deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union, nor the Korean War. I mean, there are issues that can be picked on, but nobody does that. Unlike in Japan, where the attitude is much worse. So, yes, as I said, if the Americans ask for it, they'll do it without much resistance. Because this is other people's war, there's sympathy for Ukraine, and, most importantly, because the alliance with the USA is the biggest priority. But they'll only do as much as asked, not an inch more.
— If I understand correctly, Korean brands keep working in Russia. Like, Samsung... — Yes, as long as they can. But... if the American ambassador calls the President's office and ask: 'What's going on? Why Samsung is still working there?' Then the President's office will call Samsung and tell them: 'Why are you working there?' Maybe they'll even drop a hint like 'Why don't you do it through Kazakhstan?...
Don't be so obvious! Our American friends don't like it. And we need them.' And the CEO of Samsung will reply: 'I know, Mr President, that we need them'.
And maybe they'll find a way or maybe they'll just leave. — What's the attitude towards Russians here? As I know, there are quite a lot of Russians living here, and most of them are here illegally. — There are very few Russians residing here illegally. There are a lot of illegal migrants from post-Soviet countries, though.
From Russia - just a few. — As I know, they are doing some hard work here... — Those are not Russians! —... doing construction works. — They are not Russians. They are migrants from post-Soviet states. There are few Russia's citizens among them. There are some, but few.
Mostly, from the Far East. But there are very few of them. People who work at factories seem like Russians to the Koreans, because they speak Russian, but mostly they come from Central Asia.
A lot of people from Uzbekistan, it's mostly people from Uzbekistan. — If I'm not mistaken, there's even an agreement with Uzbekistan, facilitating the process... — Yes, yes, yes, yes. Remittances that Uzbek workers here send back home make up a significant share of the state budget of Uzbekistan. — There are a lot of Koreans in Uzbekistan as well.
There are Korean collective farms in Tashkent. — There was forced relocation in the end of the 1930s, Speaking about the attitude, I'd say it's generally good. I would say that before the events in Ukraine, Russia was perceived as an exotic country with a lot of snow, where everybody drinks vodka, where there is Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and classiсal music. The older generation of Koreans read a lot of Russian classics. This generation doesn't really read it.
But there's still some respect to Tolstoy, to Dostoevsky. It's true. The classic perception of us that we are making missiles, that we are good in ballet. This is shared by a lot of people. Ballet, music, high art and, at the same time, military and not only military technologies. Beautiful women, fur hats and vodka. Ans a lot of snow.
A bit stereotypical but overall positive image. How will it change with the war? I don't think it will change radically. It doesn't really cause serious problems.
Especially taking into account that the Russian-speaking community here is divided. And I feel that there are much more people supporting Ukraine and speaking against the current Russian politics among Russians living in Korea. I repeat, the community is divided. Sometimes personal ties get broken, sometimes people avoid each other not to get into a fight.
This is normal. Overall, we should not forget that Koreans do not get very emotional about this whole situation. It's a war between a distant alien nation and another distant alien nation. One of them is definitely the aggressor, the other one is definitely the victim, but it still seems distant, like it's Africa or something.
— Let's talk about a closer war. Recently, rocket launches have become more frequent here, in the north. — Yes, engineers do their job. Come on, guys. People work and they want to play with their "toys". They fly, they buzz. — What do people in South Korea think about all those launches? — You know, this is also a classic case, that I like to speak about, Since Korea usually appears in the world newspapers due to some North Korea's stuff, journalists come here expecting that that's all the locals think about.
But they come and find out that the locals don't really think about it. — They don't care? — Not exactly. Of course, they are tense. 70-75% in support of developing its own nuclear weapons mean something... Even people that used to burn American flags are now dead scared of the American troops' withdrawal - It means something. But it's not something they are constantly thinking about. It's somewhere on the periphery of their mind.
The feeling of threat is there, but it's very weak. It's like a background feeling. You know, there are about 30-40 huge pages in an average Korean newspaper. Only in the main part. Plus supplement. And if you look at these 40 pages, most of the time you won't find information about North Korea every day.
I mean, they write much more about China here. Much more! And about America and Japan. North Korea is at the periphery of their mind. They don't write a lot about it, they don't speak a lot about it.
It's not really interesting. — Do South Koreans want to unite with North Korea? What's their understanding of North Korea? Like a territory temporarily occupied by some weird regime? — For the older generation, yes. — What about young people? — No. So, the older generation sees it exactly as you said.
So, they basically think that China and Russia did something to establish the damned communist regime there. Once again, it doesn't lead to hate towards Russians. And these communists should be kicked out. But only people over 80 y.o. really believe this. Another generation, let's say, people over 65 y.o.,
think of North Koreans as brothers, who they should unite with and who should be saved. Then, there are people between 40 and 65 y.o. Those are former participants, not necessarily very active ones, but at least supporters of the leftist nationalist student Marxist movement at the end of the 1980s.
Those who burned American flags, demanded the resignation of military dictators when they were young or at least sided with people who did this. At the time, a lot of them liked North Korea. So, at the end of the 1980s, among the left radical students among student activists, it was very common to think that North Korea was the example to follow. So, there is North Korea, and we have to build an even better socialism, because the working class is happy there, right? — They are given apartments for free! — Apartments - for free. Education - for free. And other things! This idea was there until the early 1990s.
In the early 1990s, it collapsed in just a couple of years. It was a painful blow for many. Because, first, there was the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They were sure that those were people's systems, and suddenly they saw people protesting against the existing regimes, communist parties and so on.
But the main strike was when a famine started in North Korea, and a flow of illegal migrants went to China from North Korea. At some point, there were around 200,000 illegal North Korean migrants in China, at the end of the 1990s. And China was open to South Koreans. So, a lot of young fans of North Korea would go there. In China, they would meet those illegal migrants who worked there, and they saw that it was far from good to be a worker in North Korea, much worse than suffering at Samsung factories under capitalist exploitation.
Most importantly, you couldn't blame state propaganda for it, it was in front of their eyes. These talks got spread immediately. A significant part of the activists suddenly became right.
If you look at those who are trying to organise a revolution in the north, while being based in the south, there are a lot of former activists among them, who were against right pro-American military regimes in the 1980s. They are quite old now. But the majority have lowered their expectations, while the north stays not an example for them now but a poor kitten that has to be adopted, that needs some milk.
So, for the elderly, it is a dragon that has kidnapped a princess, and here, it is like something that needs our help, 'They have kids too! We need to find a compromise!" Basically, there were people like this in the previous President's office of Moon Jae-in. The attitude of the youth is really simple: 'Why don't they all just get lost?' So, the youth does not consider them as people of the same nation. Young people do not perceive the north as their compatriots. It is a strange country, Theoretically, a dangerous one, but actually a country that doesn't make any difference. A very poor country, a ridiculous country. They are like clowns.
They are screaming something, they have these idiotic slogans in a language resembling ours for some reason. Not exactly our language, but something very similar. Whatever! Moreover, now there's justified understanding that the unification would cost a lot, and a South Korean taxpayer will be the one paying for it. I have a very good friend, who I work with a lot and who I really like, he is really bright, he is young, he's a bit younger than 30. He understands very well that keeping Kim in power is in the long-term interests of the South Korean people — What do they thing about the south in North Korea? — The official stance, until recently, well, until the 2000s, was the following: South Korea is a suffering and starving colony of the American imperialists. American soldiers are driving drunk in their Jeeps, shooting people there.
In Jeeps, because other cars can't go on these broken roads. That South Koreans are suffering, dreaming of the time when the north will liberate them and so on and so forth. This official stance was over in the 2000s, because information about South Korea's prosperity was spreading in the country. And North Korea's propaganda... that's interesting: we think it is blunt. But it's blunt to us. Until recently, now there are guys or actually ladies working on it, They are a bit more flexible.
Until recently, North Korean propagandists were scared to modify their texts for foreigners, they would simply translate it into rather bad English or Russian, although it was written for the Koreans. When they work for their audience, they are much more flexible, and their propaganda is much more efficient than what we think. In 2005 or around that time, a number of people, including those working directly with Kim Jong-il at that time, started saying: 'Why are we doing it? Everybody knows we are lying'. That life in South Korea is good. That's why the official stance was changed.
It was decided to react to the new reality. On one hand, they started speaking far less about South Korea at all. But until 2010, there was a separate page in Rodong Sinmun [newspaper] devoted completely to South Korea. Then they merged the South Korea department with the international one, cutting it by half. The international department was downsized, and now North Korean news is really something special. On the other hand, they don't focus on financial problems anymore, but on inequality, on the great Korean culture spoilt by the west, Americans, etc.
So, basically, ulcers of capitalism. And they often get the data from leftist South Korean newspapers. Because there are some far-left trade unions here, there are local communists here, although formally communist parties are forbidden, but it can exist in disguise. But they do exist. The radical left even have one or two seats in the parliament. — So, it's like Soviet TV? — Yes, exactly. So, they use these 'ulcers', existing problems.
As good propaganda, they are not lying, they are not telling the whole truth. There are two sides to everything, but propaganda just uses what they need. This is the official stance.
Now about the informal stance. So, the elites have nowhere to go, that's what our people don't understand. I am not talking about 3, 5 or 10 families.
It's about hundreds of people. The thing is, when the Soviet Union fell, who was the main beneficiary? The officials, the elites. Or their kids. Recently, an article was released where they found out that 60% of the top leadership, top echelon of the political elite in today's Russia are people from Soviet officials' families. 60%! So, it's either the officials or their kids. We see the same in many other countries, even the most democratic ones of post-Soviet, post-socialist states.
With very few exceptions. But in North Korea, if the regime starts faltering, if there's some kind of revolution in the country, it won't be a "colour revolution", it'll be a bloody revolution. Or the colour will be red, like blood. But if this happens, if Chinese don't send their troops, maybe in disguise, like "little green men", you know, to suppress it. And the government alone won't be able to suppress it. Not only government, but half a million people that risk losing everything, they will fight until the end. But if this is the case, what will happen to North Korean secret service officers? In the Soviet Union, they transitioned from KGB to FSB and they live a happy life now.
It's like this almost everywhere. What will happen to North Korean journalists? What will happen to history teachers? What will happen to heads of factories? In the Soviet Union, they privatised public property, then they got investments, usually foreign ones, sometimes domestic, they upgraded the factory, because they already had the premises, where they put new machinery. And they are happy now. Not all of them, cause there's competition, but still. Heads of factories in North Korea, let's take their main car factory, there's a better one now, they produce Chaju trucks, they look like Soviet GAZ trucks, which are the upgraded version of the American Jeep Willys. And they copied GAZ without even upgrading it. Do you think it can compete with Hyundai? No, it can't.
— So, they'll be useless. — Yes. Moreover, the new bourgeois - people who made a fortune, because there's a big private sector there.
It wasn't there before, but in the last 30 years, there has been the private sector. They made a fortune. They can have a house, two houses or even a whole district in Pyongyang, okay, maybe not a district. But they can get several houses, the most advanced of them.
They own millions of dollars. But what are millions of dollars if after the unification, South Korean investors who work with billion of dollars, will come there? What's interesting: these people get it. — So, they will stick to their system, won’t they? — Yes, including even the bourgeois, the new-bourgeois, the "new North-Koreans", like we had the "new Russians". These people generally understand that the regime which causes a lot of resentment, protects them.
That’s why South Korea is a source of problems for the elites. Why so? What can cause the unrest among people? The dissemination of information about South Korea. The ordinary citizens shall be cut off the information about South Korea as much as possible in order to provide the stability in the country. — They don’t know what is happening in the south? — They can guess because the information isolation system sagged grievously during the rule of Kim Jong-il. He paid less attention to it than his father or his son. During that period an illegal flow of movies and TV-series appeared in huge numbers.
But at the moment Kim Jong-un is trying to regain control over it, he combats smuggling of the things made in the west. Sentences increase. They existed before, but de-facto people weren't prosecuted for it. Now one can go to jail for a long time not for watching something, no. News about people being shot for watching James Bond movies are fake.
They don't shoot for it. Worst case scenario, they'll be scolded at a meeting and won't be promoted next year. But if you are importing those movies, if you are distributing them, then it's different.
In the past, even this was not punished. Not anymore. People should stay isolated. People can imagine that South Koreans live better, but they don't know how much better. And it should stay like this. The penal code provides for 5 years in prison for possession of a radio with free tuning. They have their own operating system. Actually, not their own, it's a variation of Linux.
It doesn't let you open stranger files on your computer. So, you insert a flash drive. If there's no 'censorship permit' for a certain file, it is called 'signature', then your computer won't open it.
There are regular check ups of computers. A lot of interesting things. Even Red Star OS, their variation of Linux, it makes occasional screenshots. And they cannot be deleted. And the police can check what you watched. So, if you are watching a South Korean band's concert, there's a chance your screen will be shot exactly at that moment, the police will discover it during an obligatory regular check up, you will have problems.
Once again, you won't be taken to jail for watching pretty South Korean girls dancing, but you will have enough problems. — There is no Internet freedom either? — There is no Internet at all. They have their own Intranet. It used to be called Kwangmyong, but they stopped using this name.
Formally, it still has the same name. It is quite an extensive net of high quality. Technologically, to the best of my knowledge, it is a common Internet which is physically detached from the global net and has no connection with it. — Don’t they have such thing.. I remember in the Soviet Union, in its later years that I witnessed myself, — The Soviet Union was a very free country. They went crazy when… — People had a desire for... they were trying to find out...
— A huge one. You know, one thing deeply struck me. for different reasons in different periods I was either loved in the North Korea, or not loved. I either had the permit to enter the country and even had a warm welcome or the other way around. So during one of my journeys there, when I was white listed, one little thing shocked me. The Chinese embassy is located... well, the majority of embassies are located on the other side of the river.
But some embassies, including the Russian and Chinese ones are located in the old centre of Pyongyang. And walking through the main street of the city you go past the Chinese embassy. There are booths there with the dumbest information prepared by the Information Unit of the embassy, like 'the fattest chicken was raised in the province Henan'. Great! And there's a small crowd standing there reading it because it's uncensored information about the outer world. They read about those chickens and shrimp catches.
People want to know! I see a sad irony here: the south doesn’t want to know anything about the north. Given the availability of information, the lack of knowledge about the north is shocking. Why so? You know, I am going to say a terribly politically incorrect thing, but I think I can still do it in Russia.
their attitude, especially the attitude of the youth but not only, to North Korea reminds me of the attitude of the majority of Russians to Central Asia. Tajikistan or Turkmenistan. One can learn a lot about Tajikistan.
Are there many people in Russia learning the Tajik language? Or any Persian language. — Or are even interested in it. — Are there many people? — No. Because the interest comes with interesting, beautiful, expensive things. It is defined by the economic and to a lesser extent by the military-political power. That's why there's this sad irony.
Globally speaking, South Korea is not interested in North Korea. North Korea is not interesting to them. And South Korea is extremely interesting to North Korea. So, if a sudden fall of the North Korean regime happens which is quite unlikely and what I don't want to happen for a number of reasons, but if it happens, I can imagine what a shock it will be to the North Koreans to find out how little other nations care about them, how insignificant, ludicrous and uninteresting they seem to South Koreans.
People who flee the country, from the 1990s until the mid 2010s, there was a 15-20 year period when it was not so hard to flee. The border with China was poorly guarded, ethnic Koreans were living (and they still live) on the Chinese side of the border, who are generally not influenced by China. yes, they are patriots of China, but culturally they are Koreans, they eat Kimchi, they love dog meat stew and they speak Korean.
And they gave warm welcome to those fleeing the country, they understood what was happening in North Korea and sympathised with refugees especially in the years of famine. So, it was possible to flee. And about 35,000 people, most of which did it during the last 20 years, reached South Korea and they live here now. And there is a certain level of discrimination, they don’t feel very good here. It is quite uncomfortable for them here. There are even some people fleeing back. But that is rare.
There were cases when people fled from the north to the south, got disappointed, fled from the south to the north. and after another disappointment they fled from the north to the south. — Is that a real case? — It’s a real case. Moreover, there were several of them. — Has anyone tried to return back from the South to the North, from the North... — It usually a three-stage process, like, from the north to the south, then the south to the north, the north-south, yes, three stages. And what’s curious is that North Korean authorities do not consider fleeing abroad a serious crime, as it used to be.
If it’s not of a political nature, it's an offense, so you... — Do I understand correctly that it's impossible to legally leave North Korea for the south? — I know a person who did, with Kim Jong-un's personal permission. But I’ll keep it at that. Let's put it this way... If you can go up to the leader and ask him,
and he's in a good mood and doesn't have you shot like a traitor, if he understands, you probably can. I don't rule out some other cases. No, of course, the short answer is no, the short answer is no. — Are people still fleeing the country today? — No, they aren't, because they can't. Because of the COVID, the situation has changed. First of all, the borders are literally locked, there's an increase in patrols, not one, but two fence lines have been built. And most importantly, once you're in China...
previously you were a guest worker there, which means that people fled to China and found a job there, a simple, low-paid, dangerous. A classic guest worker job. After a while, they would make their way from China to South Korea. Now it's not an option, because... A Chinese employer, in theory, could hire a guest worker, but the risk of him getting in trouble with the Chinese police is too high. If he hires people, it will be someone from poor Chinese provinces like Gansu.
— What about sailors, boats? — Yes, of course. There are single cases. Sometimes funny ones. A couple of years... Just before the COVID, an amazing story happened. Some men, they were fishermen... Decided, well, to run here from the North. They had a boat… well, not a boat, but a little air raft. They sailed in at night
and waited so as not to get shot by accident, so no one would open fire on them. At dawn, a North Korean fishing boat sailed into a South Korean port... no reaction. They docked... Where, who were they? They calmly got out. South and North Korean wear the robes, so in the robes, in their boots, they were walking around the pier, thinking... Finally they got out, asked some guy they met for a cell phone and started calling the police, like, "We're North Koreans, we ran away here." "Ahh, well, we'll come there." Well that's a funny story, other stories, also funny ones...
The thing is, there're a lot of Koreans who fled to China, quite a lot, really, they disappear from the statistics, absolutely no one can count them, They become regularized in China. It's easier for a woman, through marriage. After a while... Well, it became difficult due to digitalization, but until five years ago it was possible. a North Korean comes to China and after a while gets their documents of a Chinese citizen, of Korean descent.
In China in general, a Chinese citizen who's not fluent in Chinese is not much of a surprise. There are such people, it's a multinational country. Like Koreans... So, a person registers in the country, settles down and lives there. These people disappear from the statistics altogether. They are women, most often, it can happen that children may not know that their mother is from North Korea, so they couldn’t blab it to anyone, no one needs them to talk about that. And I personally know a person, we met a couple times, and what was the deal with him: he had a son. He was a programmer,
North Korean, actually. They ran away at the beginning of 2000s, he settled down in China, became regularized. He had Chinese documents, passport, etc. He came to South Korea, and in the airport, his niece asked him, “Uncle, are you now going to become regularized... Are you going to ask for... Will you go to inform the authorities about yourself?"
And any North Korean is received in South Korea as their resident, so they receive social care, etc. “No, I’ll just go look around, just that.” “Well, off you go.” He had money, so he traveled for a bit, he liked that. He lived well. And then, well, amazing… He came to the police station of the Yeouido island, near the Parliament, and went like, “Hi! I’m North Korean!” “What? How?” “Here are my documents. I came here legally with a Chinese passport and now decided to turn myself in.” And he’s a man of age, so they said to him, “Well, sir, sit down, let’s have lunch... Let's call the counterintelligence department, it should be their duty.”
The counterintelligence came, he was checked once, then again, again. He now lives peacefully in North Korea. But it’s an atypical situation, because, especially in the last few years, it's become harder to flee the country, more risky. When the COVID began, it all practically stopped. It’ll all probably start again, because the main factor is not the security level on the border, even though it’s important, too, but it’s about the lack of forward airfields in China. — By the way, do people still eat dog meat in South Korea? That’s what we wanted to ask.
— I’ll answer you with the words of our Chief Medical Officer, because this issue has been discussed, though it was quite a long time ago, whether dog meat should be included in the list of allowed foods. He said no. The deputy of the Parliament asked him, “Should we eat dog meat or not?” His reply was amazing, “Of course we eat it, but it shouldn't be on the list.” — So they eat it? — Of course they do, of course, there are restaurants, the sweet meat… sorry, it’s in North Korea, here it’s boshintang, ”the longevity soup”. They do eat it, of course, but the thing is that… it’s not widely publicized, it's about the western stereotypes, their influence is very strong.
Young people don't really eat it because they have pet dogs, it’s a trend here to have a small lap dog. People think of a dog as a friend, not food. And because of this, people get a bit shy about that… — So old people eat it without problems? — They do, and the young do, it’s just… This reminded me of a story about a piglet named Borka that my mother and my granny… it was in the village, in Siberia, but the year was 1942. They couldn’t eat it, it was their favourite piglet. They slaughtered it but couldn’t eat it. They sold the meat
nd decided not to have pigs anymore. Some people like dog meat, of course. — How do North Koreans feel about Russia? Is there any news about the situation in Ukraine? Officially they supported Russia, there were several statements in support.
— Yes, of course, and rightly so, it's a good diplomatic bargain. So, first of all, Russia. In general, the attitude's good. With the history being rewritten in such a way that, in the North Korean version of history, North Korea, and the entire Korean Peninsula, was liberated by Kim Il Sung's partisans.
— So the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it? — It acted as an auxiliary force. The last textbook I read right before the COVID... Books don't come from North Korea now either, nothing. Sometimes you can find a PDF file, but only what the North Koreans upload themselves.
The official version is that North Korean troops played a decisive role and the Soviets, the auxiliary. The Soviet army played a supporting role. And Kim Il Sung wrote in his memoirs how he traveled to plan the campaign, he really did. How in Moscow he met with Zhukov who was a captain of the Soviet army at the time.
Captain Zhukov, in April or May of 1945... It's not that important... in the summer of 1945 Kim Il Sung met Marshal Zhukov... But officially Zhukov was not a captain, North Koreans tell that that he was one of the commanders of the joint Soviet-Chinese-Korean forces. And that military force, its Korean component, landed their paratroopers and dealt a crushing blow to the Japanese invaders. — And he, Kim Il Sung, wasn't born in the Soviet Union. — Kim Il Sung wasn't, his son, Kim Jong-il, was born in the Soviet Union when his father was in the Soviet army, yes, but they deny it, of course.
When it comes to the liberation of Korea in 1945, in the 6 pages of the textbook devoted to this topic, the Soviet army is mentioned 5 times, usually vaguely. And there were no Koreans in the Soviet units, maybe a few of the Soviet descent, but they say there were no Koreans at all. Such an interesting method: the history was not retouched, it was just covered up. But at the same time monuments to Soviet soldiers are there, because they helped. Sometimes it is said, very carefully, not too much about the participation of Soviet pilots in the Korean War.
Although, again, they prefer not to mention both the Russians and the Chinese, their participation, like North Koreans did it all by themselves. It started out quite well, there even was a blitzkrieg of sorts in the summer of 1950, but then the North Korean troops were broken up, and starting from the end of 1950, the Chinese fought there, and the Air Force — the Russians mostly, the Chinese fought on the ground. But that's not the point. Anyway, the attitude toward Russia is positive. But there was always political criticism, that the Soviet Union was very revisionist. The liberal intellectuals liked this "revisionism", and for them the Soviet Union was perceived, perhaps, as in Soviet times... You and your viewers hardly remember how Poland was perceived in Russia in Soviet times, as an interesting, free country.
After the 1990s, the Korean elites were resentful that they had been betrayed and sold out, but from about the 2010s there was a feeling that Russia had an epiphany, had finally realized that the right way was to fight for sovereignty. And there are even versions that Putin, under the influence of Kim Jong Il, also came up with these ideas, yes... Well, they love to emphasize their role, yes, even the non-existent one. So in recent years, the attitude, formally, is positive. In fact... in fact, there is no trade, there is no aid, North Korea lives on Chinese aid and trades exclusively with China, Russia is completely invisible in these terms.
At the level of mass popular consciousness, at the level of symbolic actions there are no problems, the attitude towards Russia is quite good, both among the people and the authorities. Speaking about the attitude to the war in Ukraine. Here is what it's like. You need to know what the modern news department in the North Korean press is like.
It is like this: the international section is a little less than one page, less than half a page. Half of it is devoted to news about the horrors of covid in the world. The other half is a bizarre compilation of reports of natural disasters, car crashes and crimes around the world. Completely unexpected. It goes like “Earthquake in Papua New Guinea”, then “Flood in China”. Natural disasters only.
This is unusual. You know, I don't like jokes about North Korea, because they are mostly stupid. One of the jokes: they translate, supposedly, it's actually a pseudo-translation, of a North Korean song, which says, supposedly, of course, that "in other countries birds poop, but in ours they only sing". Although I hate these jokes, I couldn't help but recall this one, when I read foreign news in North Korea. This is a new trend.
Until 2020, Rodong Sinmun and other leading newspapers sometimes provided very high quality international information. Moreover, in some sense, they were even better than the modern non-specialised Russian press. If the problem didn’t directly concern North Korean interests, when they went crazy, if it was something like, I don’t know, the situation on the natural resources market, there could be very high-quality articles.
They could be published in any newspaper in the world. This is now gone. So, when it all began: the invasion of Ukraine and everything that followed, the North Korean press simply did not write about it.
At the official level, there are sympathy and support, but at the mass level, this is not really discussed. But there's a system of closed political information that plays a very important role for them. they have their own documents.
I mean, in addition to the open press, there are also special bulletins closed to public. Different levels of them. It was the same in the Soviet Union. — Yes, the head of a plant can read stuff that ordinary comrades cannot. — Exactly. If the names BPI, TASS Blue Atlas ring a bell for you, you are quite young, maybe for you they don't. So, in North Korea it's the same.
There are closed information publications that give a more complete picture. In addition, there are political information materials released separately, also classified. They are even more complete. I think some information about the events in Ukraine comes secretly.
Moreover, people in high positions surely know what's happening. But ordinary people - no. Only if someone heard something about the political information.
— Do I understand correctly that the party most interested in the existence of North Korea in its current form is China? — Yes, absolutely. Yes, of course, but they actually made a strategic decision, by indirect signs, I would say either at the very end of 2017 or in 2018, they made a strategic decision to keep North Korea alive. Despite the fact that they were very angry at North Korea for its intense nuclear missile program in 2016-17. And we forget that these tough sanctions were introduced with the support of China.
Moreover, as I can imagine, they were tough with our representatives in the Security Council as well, because some of these sanctions hit us quite hard. For example, the demand for the withdrawal of Korean workers, which is now often ignored, to be honest, but anyway. That was stupid. As I understand it, it was decided in Moscow not to fight with China.
I am nobody to judge, maybe that was right. There is no reason to fight over minor issues. But it's a pity. The Chinese realised that as soon as they start confrontation with the US, they need a buffer zone.
Moreover, this is not something new. If we look at the history of China's relationship with the Korean Peninsula, from time to time for 2,000 years, The Chinese intervened in the situation on the Korean peninsula in order to maintain a neutral or friendly government on the entire peninsula or in a part of it. They repeatedly… For example, in the 16th century, the Japanese attacked Korea and conquered it. And the Chinese sent a huge expeditionary corps, although the Koreans do not like to talk about it, this corps played an important role in the fact that the Japanese were eventually driven out in 1592-1598. China's main position was that they could not tolerate the hostile and aggressive Japanese... It was before shogunate, it was not yet Tokugawa.
But hostile Japan was not supposed to control the Korean peninsula. In 1950, the Chinese sent their military to fight on the Korean peninsula too. In order not to witness American soldiers on the opposite bank of neighbouring rivers. So, nothing new. The Korean Peninsula has always been an important buffer zone for China.
Their main goal is to prevent the consolidation of an adversary on the peninsula From the point of view of the Chinese, the adversary has already gained a foothold in South Korea. Initially, they had hopes that they could force the Americans out of South Korea in a non-military way. However, this approach is discarded due to it obvious utopianism. That's why they need North Korea alive. At the moment, North Korea is a recipient of aid from China.
This aid includes food supply, fertilisers and liquid fuels. Korea does not have its own oil products. Judging by the fact that market prices for these goods are not regulated, it turns out that there are super-free prices there. Regulation is freer than anywhere in Europe. — You mean North Korea market, right? —Yes, it operates.
Diesel fuel and gasoline prices circulate at absolutely non-regulated rates. — Did Kim Jong-un at some point try to subdue the markets? — He tried from 2005 to 2010 but the attempt ended in complete failure. This market is sustained and as we see the prices are stable. Of course, they are not absolutely stable, but in general, the prices for grains and rice for the elites are not changing.
When someone says that "poor North Koreans on a rice diet" it makes me laugh. It's like saying that poor Russians apparently eat only black caviar with pork. In North Korea, rice is a festive food for ordinary citizens. Their main consumption includes corn. And diesel fuel, of course.
Nowadays, diesel fuel is indispensable. In general, the Chinese ship cargo by sea, we know that because satellites monitor ports in the Yellow Sea. Moreover, the North Koreans still plant crops because they get fertilisers. Their domestic agriculture is bad, of course, they tried to reform it quite successfully, but in the end, they gave it up.
Overall, they consume the domestic crop, but still, they need to import half a million or a million tons annually. For China, it costs almost nothing. The same applies to diesel fuel and other petroleum products. Apparently, the Chinese are not going to give much.
Their foreign policy does not imply an investment strategy to establish a "North Korean economic miracle" They are not interested in jump-starting the economy of North Korea. They don't need it. Otherwise, North Korea will become too strong economically and will create its own economic base. Actually, they don't have a very good relationship with China. They don't like the Chinese,
especially the government. They'll just get out of control then. So, the Chinese give them as much as they need to survive.
Their task is to prevent another outbreak of famine in North Korea, as was the case in the 90s. And to provide some kind of minimum welfare for the elites. Relatively speaking, provide three bowls of boiled corn a day to people, and a bowl of rice on Sundays. And three bowls of rice a day and some pork for the elites. As well as fuel for police cars. Chinese fuel.
This is how they are supplying Korea now and it can go on for decades. — Under Trump, it seemed that North Korea was ready to jump into the arms of the US, forgive everything. It was some kind of friendship, at least it seemed so. Was it an illusion? Both. Firstly, there is such a thing that
when I first heard about it, a very long time ago, I thought that it was some kind of nonsense. But then it turns out to be real that the North Korean leadership had an idea to build a friendship with the US, they constantly talked about. "The dream of an alliance with the US, so that North Korea has a lot of money."
But it is more of a utopian dream somewhere very far away. As for Trump, you see, he was a threat to them on one hand and a political opportunity on the other. Then it seemed that Trump looked like a president who could order strikes on North Korean nuclear facilities. — So, people believed these threats? — Everyone believed him! Then it seemed very serious. Not only the North Koreans believed it.
The Chinese believed it, we believed it. Everybody got scared. It was one of the reasons why the North Koreans were ready to sign the agreements. Although the agreements were terribly vague. They were ready to declare giving up nuclear weapons. But, of course, they would not refuse it, since they want to survive.
They were absolutely right from their point of view. Without nuclear weapons, they will be turned into squashed meatballs. We saw this in recent decades around the world. So, look, everything was done just to buy time. because Trump was a threat.
The fact is that North Korea believed that America's mainstream president would not hit them because North Korean artillery would hit Seoul in response. And their artillery is really powerful. Of course, South Korea has more artillery capabilities, incomparably. But still, the north can cause huge damage to Seoul.
Simply because Seoul is located directly on the border in the zone of fire of heavy artillery, and in places of medium-range artillery. There was a common thought that no American president would strike because an ally would suffer from it, the military union will break up and so on. It was rightly noted that Trump didn't care about alliances. In this regard, people were afraid that he might do it. Everyone was afraid. North Korea feared the most, as did South Korea. Because in this case, both countries would suffer.
Therefore, the Koreans tried to gain time. They had a tricky combination that was designed to buy time. And they outsmarted Trump in the end. I once said in an interview with Bloomberg that they outwitted Trump, after which a flurry of criticism from rednecks hit me in the comments.
They said that "some Russian insults their Trump" and that "Kim Jong-un himself will come to the president on his knees" because "he is not a weakling like other spineless democrats." You know, Americans, Republicans. The North Koreans bought time, after all. At the same time, Trump was also an opportunity for them.
Trump with his swaggering tone and propensity to confront the establishment could sign documents that would recognise North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state. Anyway, there is a strategic impasse in America today. On the one hand, the majority understand what is happening, they are aware that there can be no talk of any denuclearisation of North Korea. That the nuclear disarmament of North Korea is a sham.
They have an understanding of this at the level of ambassadors and maybe deputy secretary of state. So what now? It will be necessary to negotiate and develop rules for the new nuclear-weapon state. Such negotiations would mean that they recognise North Korea as a nuclear weapon state. The signing of this kind of agreement will affect any American president. Despite the fact that this will objectively increase the security of America and the whole world, the president will be immediately attacked by the opposition. It doesn't matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat.
The media will say that the president has surrendered to a tyrant from a small Asian country and has now set the most dangerous precedent for the spread of nuclear weapons. Then there will be imitators. This will create big problems for the President. Therefore, even if the president and senior leadership (including analysts and intelligence and the State Department) understand the situation, they know that nothing will come of it.
They know sooner or later the agreements will have to be made, and still do not want to do it. hey leave this burden to their successors to acknowledge this fact because they are afraid of the congress and the media. That's why the Americans are constantly dragging out negotiations.
And it can take decades more. A long time ago, I made the mistake of predicting that North Korea would be recognised as a nuclear state within the next 10 years. All the dates I predicted have already passed. I thought that an uncertain situation like this could exist for decades. But Trump looked like a man who could play by his own rules and sign the agreement. So, the first half of North Korea's politics in 2018, 2019... no, 2018.
was angled toward buying time against Trump. In the last stages, they began to bring the dialogue to this agreement. In Hanoi, during the last or penultimate summit, they put a draft agreement on the table.
The project, of course, was biased towards North Korea, but in principle, the Americans could start bargaining. However, they didn't and rejected the agreement. So, the plan was failed. I mean, the North Koreans completed the minimum task: not to be bombed, but they failed the maximum task: to achieve the status of nuclear state. It was a dual policy towards the Trump administration. — I see. Let's go back to South Korea,
the last question is about contemporary Korean culture. — I don't know it very well. — I wonder how Koreans feel about this incredible popularity of Korean cinema and music.
— They are proud! — How do they perceive it inside the country? — It's hard for me to say because in my circle there are practically no people who are seriously interested in pop culture but in general, of course, this is something they are proud of. And any success stories are constantly published in the news. For Koreans, this is unusual. For the first time in its history, of course, there were a few time periods in ancient times with something similar, but Korea, in general, has always been a recipient of foreign influence.
Now Korea has suddenly become one of the world's key players. Yes. — Have you watched Squid Game? — No, I don't watch TV at all. — We are now following the path of North Korea. — I don't think we're following the path of North Korea.
— Is it worse? — No, it's better. Of course, we're doing better. What happened in North Korea was the result of revolutionary mobilisation, so to say. In 1945, there was a revolution in North Korea. It was brought in largely on Soviet bayonets, but people accepted this model with enthusiasm; this enthusiasm eventually backlashed to them, on the other side. As the saying goes, sometimes, you can't help which way you fall.
The nation adopted this model with enthusiasm and combined it with the values of East Asian civilisation with an extremely respectful attitude towards the state. The idea of a peasant equalising society. In a society where everyone gets one bowl of rice, though, the establishment gets two. And the ruler has access to beef. This all worked very well in Korea.
I don't see anything like this in Russia. In addition, let's remember that in North Korea in 1945, at the moment of liberation, also known as revolution, I don’t remember the exact statistics by region, but on average throughout the peninsula, the percentage of the rural population was a little more than 85%; in the northern part a little less than 80%. It was a land of peasants. It was a land of conventional peasants
who thought that they could build the ‘right society’. Do you understand? In Russia I see the energy of resentment and dreams of imperial greatness. That's what I see. Yet, it's not the same energy.
And not the same society. Our society is large, complicated, open to the world, has internal contradictions, with completely different kinds of men in power. Kim Il-sung and his entourage had very simple ideas about how to rule the country in the 40s. His understanding was partly based on what he had learned in political classes in the Soviet army (first in Chinese, then in the Soviet one, not in the national army of China, but in Chinese guerrilla units, propaganda was even stronger there. In general, the ideas were based on the concepts of the Korean peasantry of how one should live. I don't see anything like this in Russia.
One more thing. No matter how much we talk about authoritarian tendencies, which certainly take place, today's Russia remains a free country compared to China, for example. Comparing it to North Korea is simply ridiculous.
I do not see how modern urban Russia can be squeezed to the grade of North Korea. First of all, let's not demonise the Russian leadership so dramatically. I do not think they really want this. But even if suddenly an alien cockroach gets into their brains, they will not succeed. Russia is a different society.
— You mean everything will be alright? — No, it won't be alright. Because Russia has its own demand. For example, it is considered good for a North Korean to eat white rice every day and some pork once a week. This is considered good.
I think that a Russian will not be pleased with potatoes where you can put butter twice a week at best. There is no talk about Russia mutating into North Korea. It's like a ridiculous fairy tale.
Of course, Russia is likely to face a severe economic downturn. Of course, the authoritarian moment will rise. Apparently there will be certain problems in the country. But comparing Russia to North Korea is like comparing common cold symptoms with a dying person in ICU.
It's a completely different scale.