April 23, 2021

North Korea: Stuck in the past or poised for the future?

Experience shows that working with the North works; coercive demands do not

2015 has been a record year for the publication of books about North Korea. Many of these deal with the horrific crisis years of the ’90s, characterized by mass famine, poverty and oppression. North Korea is portrayed as a country stuck in the past; laboring under brutal repression, poverty and hunger.

North Korean political activists also claim that North Korea’s government still rigidly and violently suppresses all foreign ideas and information, saying citizens found watching foreign films are summarily executed and their close family members shamed and demoted in the social hierarchy. Vociferous defectors like Jang Jin-Sung categorically state that North Korea cannot be reformed and assert that change can only emerge bottom up, but never top down.