Book Reviews

Book review: “North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society”

Book review of "North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society", written by Lee Ahlam - assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Human Resource Development at Xavier University Cincinnati, Ohio.

Instytut Boyma 07.09.2019

The number of defectors from North Korea increased significantly in the past decade. In South Korea as of 2017 about 29,000 North Korean refugees are said to have settled down, and many more are thought to be hiding in the border region between China and North Korea. Their stories are most valuable for understanding the totalitarian regime in the North and publicizing unthinkable human rights abuses in the infamous gulags in which about 200,000-300,000 prisoners are believed to be forced to work under inhumane conditions. The book is only dedicated to a minor extent to the stories of these defectors. The publication is much more focused on what is happening when defectors settle in South Korea or other countries. The author is Lee Ahlam, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Human Resource Development at Xavier University Cincinnati, Ohio.

The book North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society, written by Lee Ahlam was published by Rowman&Littlefield in 2016. Excluding the preface, the conclusion and additional elements, the book consists of six chapters. 70% of the book is related to the situation of North Korean defectors in South Korea.

Chapter one is related to the policy of foreign states toward the situation of North Korean defectors. The author underlines that China is not only repatriating North Korean citizens to their country but allow also the defection of 2,000 North Korean people. Chapter two describes the journeys of North Korean to other countries where the reader will remark that an average journey took 4 years. Chapter three is discussing problems North Korean defectors face in a “New Society”, but providing only elements related to the South Korean one. The support of the South Korean government to defectors is mentioned in the chapter four. The fifth chapter is discussing the fate of North Korean defectors who are not living in South Korea. The chapter six proposes some policy implications related to the issue of North Korean defectors.

Still, for such a short book — little less than two hundred pages –, this book provides a good deal of ground related to the adaptation of North Korean defectors to Western societies and demonstrate that many issues may be improved in spite of the willingness of the South Korean government in the case of that country. As a kind of precursor (the book was published in 2014), it content provides some unknown facts related to the situation of North Korean defectors based out of South Korea. In spite of the clarity of the book and its valuable brought knowledge. I do have some minor remarks that I want to point out below.

First, the book provide an amazing number of data related to North Korean defectors in South Korea, but didn’t deeply analyze interrelations between South Korean citizens and North Korean defectors in selected areas such as New Malden, a suburb in south-west London. Secondly, I recommend to the author shall discuss whether issues faced by defectors are different for female and male defectors. Thirdly, information provided by the authors are clear and verifiable thanks to the important bibliography mainly based on South Korean documents, nevertheless I would like to point out some issues. Page 51 the author underlines that investigations are done by NIS. In some cases, US inspectors are also involved. Fourthly, I would like to underline that the author provided three successful history of North Korean defectors: Jung Sung-san, Lee Soon-shil and Joseph Kim. On that case, the author didn’t clearly define what means successful. Secondly, each of them has a different profile, but I think that it would more valuable to provide a story of a self-made North Korean man in South Korea such as Choe Sae-ung, the owner of a financial company (SN뱅크). Unsuccessful stories may be also provided such as one of Lee Young-kuk, the bodyguard of Kim Jong-il, who couldn’t fit to the life in South Korea. He finally emigrated to Canada in 2015.  Fifthly, I also consider that the author focus also on testimonies provided by not fully trustable people such as Park, Yeon-mi (page 44, footnote 31) who was criticized to a certain extent by other defectors. Here I consider that the author shall indicate that the information. Furthermore, page 62, a paragraph is related to self-employed North Korean defectors, where the author mentions traditional North Korean restaurants in South Korea, he indicated the “start of big business” but that point is not further developed what I deeply regret. Regarding that matter, the author renvoys us in footnotes to a report entitled 탈북자가 말하는 남한 사회 prepared by Lee Joo-chul (p. 88).

In spite of the previously mentioned remarks, I definitely consider that this book is wonderful addition to the growing field of North Korean studies, I would suggest to the author to make a second edition by updating data and discuss more about the situation of North Korean defectors not only in Great Britain, but also in Canada and the United States. I also suggest the author to discuss interactions between North Korean defectors in the United States and Soy. I would also suggest to the researcher, to incorporate a chapter related to the notion of North Korean defectors in the North Korean media, and to see how the approach toward these defections changed over the last years.

I also consider that Lee Ahlam prepared a brilliant book, and I would like to highly recommend this book as one of the best ways to understand the situation of North Korean defectors. In order to supplement their information on that issue, I would like to invite interested people to read North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society, a constructive book about the escape and the life of a North Korean defectors in South Korea and the United States written by Jieun Baek, a young but already distinguished American scholar with Korean roots. Her book is giving more additional names and inside stories than the Ahlam one, but Lee Ahlam’ book is definitely a more scholar book. Jieun’s one is more similar to a kind of novels. Interestingly both books were written on a humanitarian purpose, as each of the authors underline that proceeds from books sales to organizations that send information into North Korea. It’s a real example of humanitarianism which shall be not only underlined, but also firmly spread.

Lee Ahlam. North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society, London: Rowman&Littlefield, 2016, 159 pages. ISBN: 978-0739192665

Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North and South Korea. He is an assistant professor at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Author of 7 books, more than 20 academic articles, and over 50 analytical reports on the Korean Peninsula, Poland, and related issues. He conducts lectures at top universities in Poland and abroad.

czytaj więcej

Interview with Uki Maroshek-Klarman on “Betzavta” method

Interview with Uki Maroshek-Klarman - Academic Director of the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace in Israel. Founder of "Betzavta" method, which was created with intention of streghtening people's participation in society and making conflicts easier to solve.

#WomeninBoym Initiative

At the Boym Institute we are coming out with new initiative: #WomeninBoym, which aims to show the activity of this – often less visible – half of society. We will write about what women think, say and do. We will also publicise what women are researching and writing.

Charitable activities of the Vietnamese in Poland: their scope and sources

The scale of assistance provided to medics by the Vietnamese community during the 2020 pandemic inspires admiration and gratitude. It stems from the sense of belonging to Poland and deeply rooted in the culture order to help those in need and repay the debt incurred at the time when they themselves needed such help.

Indian Roundtable – Poland’s Challenges and Opportunities in the Subcontinent

In recent years, India has been the fastest growing among the major countries' economies in the world. (...) In the coming decades, the Subcontinent's largest country may remain one of the pillars of global economic growth. This is one of the reasons why the country is already the most popular destination for Polish foreign investment in the Asian-Pacific region.

Voices from Asia – introduction

We would like to cordially invites all to the new series "Voices from Asia" that is devoted to the Asian perspectives on the conflict in Ukraine. In this series, we publish analysis by experts based in Asia or working on Asian affairs who present their positions on this matter.

The Boym Institute message to Chinese policymakers and analysts

The EU-China relations require common perspective on Russia’s invasion on Ukraine

The phenomenon of ”haigui”

After the darkness of the Cultural Revolution, the times of the Chinese transformation had come. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping realised the need to educate a new generation of leaders: people proficient in science, management and politics. Generous programmes were created that aimed at attracting back to China fresh graduates of foreign universities, young experts, entrepreneurs and professionals.

A Story of Victory? The 30th Anniversary of Kazakh Statehood and Challenges for the Future.

On 25 May 2021, the Boym Institute, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, organised an international debate with former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995-2005).

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Balkan Development Support: “Western European countries have benefited most from the Chinese capital, the benefits are mutual”

We would like to inform, that Financial Intelligence has published interview for Balkan Development Support with Patrycja Pendrakowska.

Adam Institute for Democracy & Peace – Crowdfunding Campaign December 2020

Democracy in Israel is in crisis. And if we don't educate for democracy, it just won't exist. It's that simple. The actual teaching of democracy, on the other hand, isn't so simple. It requires experience, theoretical and practical knowledge and the flexibility to adapt to our ever-changing reality.

Internet, cryptocurrencies & blockchains in North Korea

North Korea is considered as a secretive state, but, paradoxically, the country is developing last trend technologies. With prohibitions restricting the flow of money, the country is turning to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to finance their programs, instead of coming under new pressure.

Online Course: “Educational tools for addressing the effects of war”

The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace is offering “Betzavta” facilitators, middle school and high school educators, social activists, communal activists and those assisting refugees an online seminar to explore educational issues related to wartime.

Online Course: “Conflict Resolution and Democracy”

The course will be taught via interactive workshops, employing the Adam Institute’s signature “Betzavta – the Adam Institute’s Facilitation Method“, taught by its creator, Dr. Uki Maroshek-Klarman. The award-winning “Betzavta” method is rooted in an empirical approach to civic education, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution.

Book review: “Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?”

Book review of "Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?", written by Myung-Kyu Park, Bernhard Seliger, Sung-Jo Park (Eds.) and published by Lit Verlag in 2010.

Short summary of events at the Boym Institute

We want the Boym Institute to become a valuable platform of exchanging views, making valuable acquaintances and, above all, deepening knowledge. Therefore, we undertake the organization of many events: debates, lectures, and conferences.

Young Indo-Pacific: Forward-looking perspectives on the EU Indo-Pacific Strategy

The Boym Institute, working with other think tanks, organizes panel discussions on topics related to the European Union's Indo-Pacific strategy

Historical vs Current Emissions: Towards an Ethical and Political Synergy in International Climate Policy

Environmental problems transcend not only national borders but also historical periods. And yet debates on the necessary measures and timelines are often constrained by considerations of election cycles (or dynastic successions) in any given country.

Asia-Integration – Follow-up Report on Polish Policy Challenges Towards Asian Countries

The debate was the consequence of positive reactions to the open letter that the Boym Institute published in the summer of 2020. Many of its readers pointed out the necessity of broad consultations regarding the principles of the new multidimensional policy in order to reflect the diversity of perspectives, interests and conditions.

Book review: “Unveiling the North Korean economy”

Book review of "Unveiling the North Korean economy", written by Kim Byung-yeon and published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.B. Tauris in 2017.

Chinese work on the military use of artificial intelligence

Intensive modernization and the desire to catch up with the armed forces of the United States made chinese interest in the military application of futuristic technologies grow bigger.

Are Polish Universities Really Victims of a Chinese Influence Campaign?

The Chinese Influence Campaign can allegedly play a dangerous role at certain Central European universities, as stated in the article ‘Countering China’s Influence Campaigns at European Universities’, (...) However, the text does ignore Poland, the country with the largest number of universities and students in the region. And we argue, the situation is much more complex.

Are “Climate Refugees” (Just) About Climate?

As the awareness of the scale and pervasiveness of climate impacts on human societies keeps rising, so does the frequency with which the terms “climate refugees” and “climate migrants” are being used in the public discourse “to describe those who are being displaced due to adverse consequences related to climate change” (Atapattu, 2020).

TSRG 2021: The Impacts of the BRI on Europe: The Case of Poland and Germany

It is important to contribute to the understanding of what the New Silk Road can mean in economic, political, leadership and cultural terms for the European countries involved. This analysis should reveal the practical consequences of the Belt and Road Initiative for Europe in the case of Poland and Germany, as well as their respective social effects.

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Observer Research Foundation: “Managing fear and easing lockdown in Poland”

We would like to inform, that Observer Research Foundation has published article of Patrycja Pendrakowska - the Boym Institute Analyst and President of the Board.