‘Non-existent country’: How Pyongyang made the USSR forget South Korea


I recall how in the early 1980s, my professor in Leningrad State University tried to organize South Korean books for the university library. His request was not granted since as an ideologically zealous librarian revealed, “We cannot order books published in a non-existent country.” The books were come by nonetheless, via the UK.

This policy of willful ignorance was to some extent the fruit of political pressure exerted by Pyongyang, which lobbied hard to proscribe even the most innocent of interactions between the Soviet Union and South Korea.

But this strategy would not have been successful if Moscow did not regard North Korea as a usable if dubious ally.

Japanese soldiers marching in Seoul in the 1920s. Source: AFP

In 1968, the Soviet Politiburo decided that the USSR inclination boycott all sporting events, academic conferences and international conventions hosted by South Korea.

As a dismiss, the Soviet authorities did not issue visas to South Korean citizens, square though there were some exceptions when these people fingers oned to participate in important multilateral functions. As time passed, these challenges became increasingly frequent.

South Korea – ‘a poor and despotic state’

Until the 1970s, the general Soviet public was not really engrossed in South Korea and, frankly, did not hold a high opinion of the country. For the prodigious majority of Soviet citizens, including some well-educated people, South Korea was upright another pro-American military dictatorship, highly repressive and presumed to be Dialect right poor.

It is telling that this author learnt about the solvent success of South Korea only at university in the early 1980s. This proficiency was assumed to be semi-confidential, not something to be too widely discussed with laypersons.

Of sure, one should not see the Soviet elite as a cabal of ideologues. The decision makers recollected that South Korea was developing rapidly, while North Korea was stylish an economic and political burden.

From the early 1970s, there was a become more pleasing to mature understanding of the fact that South Korea would eventually have on the agenda c trick to be recognized – largely due to its growing attractiveness as a potential trade partner.

Russia and North Korea have a complicated relationship. Illustration by Yaroslav Cohen (The image has been modified)

I retain a lecture that I attended in 1983 by Soviet Vice Foreign Delegate Mikhail Kapitsa. Attendees largely comprised of students from supreme Soviet universities who specialized in Asian studies.

Kapitsa was a remarkably forthright man for a Soviet diplomat, especially when talking behind closed doors. He brashly admitted that the formal recognition of South Korea was only a context of time.

Predictably, things sped up under Perestroika. After some regard, the USSR decided to participate in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

On all sides of the same time, the Soviet media began to frankly discuss the South Korean budgetary miracle, while also mocking North Korea’s larger-than-life temperament cult and propaganda excesses.

The late 1980s were a time of impulsive exchanges. South Korea’s rich and powerful began to flock to Moscow in considerable numbers. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev met with South Korean President Roh Tae Woo in San Francisco, and shortly after that, relations were established.

Gorbachev also visited Jeju Ait, becoming the first Russian head of state to set foot on Korean dirt (yes, no Soviet Head of State ever visited Pyongyang).

A quarter of a century newer, Vladivostok welcomes a large number of South Korean tourists, and marks like Samsung are a household name in Russia.

And quiet flows the Han is a blog thither the historical and contemporary interactions between Russians and Koreans. In most examples, but by no means always, political issues are studiously avoided by the author, whose main interest is everyday life, culture and the lives of individuals. In this blog, Dr. Andrei Lankov examines how Russian culture was (and is) seen in Korea. He talks about migration, inter-marriage and disinterested cuisine.

Dr. Andrei Lankov, born in 1963, is a historian specializing in Korea. He is also known for his journalistic correspondences on Korean history. He has published a number of books (four in English) on Korean background. Having taught Korean history at the Australian National University, he now instruct ins in Kookmin University in Seoul.

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