Reform without reform, or how to add another stone to the bridge of understanding – still under construction – between East and

15. Sep 2008

If there is one country in the world that resists understanding despite globalization, world wide webs and information overload, it must be North Korea. Confined in self-imposed seclusion added by internationally imposed isolation, the Northern half of the Korean peninsula proceeds in the footsteps of ancient regimes known to the West as Hermit Kingdoms.

This notwithstanding, North Korea is a part of this world, when test-firing missiles or nuclear devices very much so, when their hermit leader fails to appear where he is expected to, as recently to the 60th  anniversary of his country, his disappearance catches headlines in main media outlets all over the world. Media coverage, however, does not often elevate the level of knowledge for the readers or viewers. Mostly what is conveyed is hearsay, fabricated information by institutions with vested interests, or ill communicated and worse understood statements from official North Korean channels.

North Korea is in a difficult process of change. It is difficult because the country’s economy is in ruins, because it has lost most of its former friends but kept most of its enemies, and it is difficult because the system has intensely prepared the population to expect no change. Change came nevertheless from outside: natural disasters anticipating consequences of climate change, the collapse of state communism, and from inside: the death of the founder of the state and its eternal great leader. A virtual collapse in a hostile world, that turned less hostile, was the beginning of change. Not that change was welcomed, but it became a matter of necessity.

Solid information about this country is in short supply why research is needed, albeit difficult to conduct. At NIAS there are at present three ongoing projects related to North Korea under the theme culture and institutions in transition:

Geir Helgesen