Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beyond Containment: Andrei Lankov On Stage (10 Magazine Book Club)

Over the past few months, Andrei Nikolaevich LANKOV has been everywhere, on every network. The Russian expert of North Korea even had to join Twitter under media pressure (yes, the voluble LANKOV restricted to 140 characters, that's possible, and that's on @AndreiLankov).

Granted, for the release of his latest book, "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia"*, he did receive the hell of a boost from KIM Jong-un, but LANKOV doesn't need anybody's help to become a media darling: this man doesn't even use kid gloves to handle the most fissile materials, and nuclear countdowns have never been that fun watching ever since Peter Sellers brought the house down in Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove".

Yesterday, the showman was on stage in Myeong-dong for Barry Welsh's 10 Magazine Book Club, and he tirelessly explored every square inch of it with mickjaggeresque energy - barely pausing for a sip of tea now and then to fuel his own reactor.

Does Andrei Lankov rock & roll? You bet!

A pundit of the "pound it" variety, LANKOV can not only dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but also crack the audience up with outrageous wit ("Human Rights did improve under KIM Jong-un: from unbelievingly bad to exceptionally bad" / "Most defectors from North Korea are 40-50 year-old ajumma - in the Soviet Union, it used to be young and smart Jewish chess players").

Kim Il-sung trying to stop Andrei Lankov, in vain. Great show at @10MagBookClub

Impossible to sum up a show that covered a remarquable scope considering the limited time (one hour presentation, one hour Q and A). Just a few insights:
  • It was easier to reduce the military's economic influence than to tame private entrepreneurship. The rising class of private entrepreneurs is seen as a threat by the party nomenklatura, less apt to survive in case of change. At this stage, neither sees their shared interest. LANKOV doesn't believe in a coup. The only underground he sees is the not very impressive Christian one. (NB: beyond the scenario of an organized coup, many things can happen, from an individual going rogue to KJU choking tomorrow on a pretzel.)
  • (About what I called the "Hanschluss scenario") LANKOV does consider the scenario of a puppet regime controled by Beijing, but only a "open" one that would happen after the collapse of the regime and a military intervention of China. Needless to say, that would not be well perceived by North Koreans, who would then blame Beijing for anything going wrong.
  • North Korea remains very rational. LANKOV doesn't think KJU marked a disruption (NB: I agree in substance but not in style - if he does keep both the "Juche Line" and "Beijing Line" parties sweet following his dad's guidelines, he ruined everything with his lack of patience, alienating key supporters in China**)
  • The very existence of a successful South Korea can become a hindrance for evolution. A country like China could carry out significant reforms, but "where is South China?" (NB: AL logically considers Taiwan's impact as limited at the economic level, the difference in wealth being 3 times compared to up to 40 between both Koreas - furthermore Taiwan is relatively tiny. A question from the audience stressed the political importance of even tiny Taiwan as a democratic model)
  • Internet: LANKOV wouldn't be surprised to see the world wide web partially accessible in a near future. The risks are obvious, but control technologies have considerably improved, and the risk of lagging too far behind is even greater.
  • Reunification: many North Koreans see it through rose-colored glasses, thinking South Koreans are eagerly looking forward to it, and that economic problems would be solved within a couple of years.
  • ...

Seoul Village 2013
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* "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia"
Oxford University Press - April 2013
** "This Time Is Different - Six Decades of North Korean Follies (The Umpteenth Final Countdown)"
*** "Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?"

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