Abstract

While the secretive North Korean government restricts access to its archives, and reliable statistical data is hard to come by, scholars have access to many more sources on North Korean history than most people think. Among the available materials is the diplomatic record of North Korea’s former communist allies, which provides backdoor access into prevailing political, economic, and cultural conditions in the DPRK throughout the Cold War. These materials have shed rare light on flash points in modern Korean history, including the Korean War and incidents that transformed North Korea’s political and diplomatic behavior, for example the 1956 August Plenum of the Korean Workers’ Party. Yet, as this article argues, these materials are not without their shortcomings and come with a few caveats. Scholars should not treat what these materials report as empirical fact on the grounds of which one can write an authoritative history of the DPRK. Just as no responsible scholar of American foreign relations would utilize US records without questioning them for evidence of Orientalist thinking, scholars utilizing the Soviet bloc records should first interrogate the materials for subjective perceptions or racialized assumptions about North Korea’s political and cultural inferiority that influenced the diplomats who authored the documents.

To many observers, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is terra incognita: an impenetrable black box. If ever a country were a genuine “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” as Winston Churchill famously described the Soviet Union in 1939, it would be North Korea. It is also the land of sticky narratives. Because of the perception that the country is unknown and unknowable, few question—or believe it even possible to question—what we think we know about the DPRK’s history. Only this is not accurate. To be sure, North Korea poses a unique set of challenges to analysts and observers. This is especially true of scholars striving to write the history of the secretive regime. Access to the country is limited, its archives remain off-limits, and reliable statistical information is hard to come by. Yet, North Korea is not a black box. Scholars, particularly historians, have many resources to call on.

Several important collections of North Korean sources are available to researchers. Among them are collections of primary source documents,1 published government records, speeches,2 and both official and popular serials.3 Starting in the mid-1990s, a new resource for studying North Korean history became available: the diplomatic record of the DPRK’s former communist allies. The collapse of the socialist camp in the early 1990s opened a rich vein of Soviet bloc archival documents that were a major boon for researchers of North Korea. Among the newly available documents were diplomatic cables on developments in the DPRK produced by diplomats dispatched to Pyongyang, memoranda of conversations between diplomats and their North Korean interlocutors, minutes of high-level summits, diplomatic diaries, and so on. They have in many ways made studying the secretive North Korean regime easier by providing backdoor access into prevailing political, economic, and social conditions as well as ideological and diplomatic developments in the DPRK.

The documents about Korea first began to trickle out after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Among the most important materials to emerge in the early post-Soviet space were about the Korean War. In 1994, President Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation shared a collection of Soviet documents on the origins of the Korean War with South Korean President Kim Young Sam while the latter was in Moscow. This collection was groundbreaking. While there is still much to be debated about the civil origins of the conflict, the documents established irrefutably that North Korea had initiated the attack launched on June 25, 1950. It was not, as North Korea had long maintained, a retaliatory response to an attack by the ROK. The materials revealed that Kim sought and received the backing of Moscow and later of Beijing, to carry out a full-scale attack on South Korea.

What started as a trickle soon became a torrent. Scholars began to unearth materials on Korea not only from Russian but also from German, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and Mongolian communist party and state archives. In the mid-2000s, materials even began to emerge—if only briefly—from the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archive.

Since the mid-1990s, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC stood at the forefront of coordinating research in former communist bloc archives through its Cold War International History Project (CWIHP). The primary venue for the release of materials was the CWIHP Bulletin, the project’s flagship publication that featured translations of curated collections of documents alongside analyses of Cold War flash points. Korea regularly featured prominently in the Bulletin. It introduced several important collections of documents on the Korean War, including many of the documents on the origins of the conflict given to the South Korean president in 1994.4 The Bulletin also featured collections of Russian documents on the 1956 August Plenum of the Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and Hungarian materials on the DPRK’s foreign relations throughout the Cold War.5 Starting in the early 2000s, the CWIHP made a selection of the newly obtained and translated documents available through its Virtual Archive.

Recognizing the enormous potential for research on North Korea in former communist bloc archives, the Wilson Center created a Korea Initiative under CWIHP and in 2006 formed a partnership with South Korea’s Kyungnam University.6 The following year, the Center launched a separate North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP) to synchronize international research activities in former socialist camp archives on North Korea. As founding Coordinator of NKIDP, from 2007 to 2017 I spearheaded efforts to obtain, translate into English and Korean, curate, and disseminate documents on DPRK history from former communist bloc archives.

Over the course of my decade coordinating the activities of NKIDP, the project obtained tens of thousands of pages of documents on North Korea from former communist bloc archives. Because of restrictions on the declassification of records, most of the materials were from the 1950s and 1960s, with smaller, less comprehensive collections from the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the most important collections NKIDP obtained and released are those on the Korean War, the domestic political turmoil in 1956, the so-called Second Korean War of the late 1960s, Sino-DPRK relations, and inter-Korean relations. The documents shed rare light on intraparty developments, economic and defense policies, and the foreign relations of the DPRK throughout the Cold War.

Recognizing that there were enormous gaps in the declassified materials and that scholars needed to better understand the context under which the documents were written, in 2009 NKIDP launched a critical oral history conference series. The conferences brought together veteran communist bloc officials alongside their South Korean and US counterparts for discussions on flash points in modern Korean history. Ahead of the conferences, participants received curated collections of multinational and multilingual documents. They included US, South Korean, socialist bloc, and, when available, North Korean materials. The veteran officials were in many cases the authors of the documents or were familiar with the circumstances under which they were written. The conferences were unique in that they were driven by discussions among the veterans, with a peppering of questions from scholars for added context. The scholars at the conferences otherwise played a minimal role. Between 2009 and 2014, NKIDP held four critical oral history conferences.7

In 2013, the Wilson Center launched a new online platform to host the Cold War–era documents, the Digital Archive. As part of the new platform, and with the support of the Korea Foundation, NKIDP launched the Modern Korean History Portal to serve as a research and educational tool.8 The portal features curated collections of translated documents, an interactive timeline of modern Korean history, biographical information on key figures in modern Korean history, and essays on historical flash points. This new platform makes the diplomatic record of North Korea’s former communist allies even more accessible to the academic community.

As commendable as the work of the Wilson Center has been in making available to researchers former communist bloc documents on North Korea, there are a few things users should bear in mind on the acquisition, translation, and dissemination of the materials. First, while the translations of the documents are completed by professionals, the translators are not Korea subject matter experts. Finding a fluent speaker of both Bulgarian and English, for example, who also has Korea subject matter expertise, is a challenge. In most cases, the only major problem with the translations was the transliteration of names. Over time, scholars, staff, and a dedicated team of interns with NKIDP identified patterns in the ways Korean names were transcribed into Central and Eastern European languages and developed a Rosetta Stone of sorts for discerning the identity of individuals like Kim Ir Sen. However, subject matter expertise is required to correct the proper names of locations, policies, publications, and so on. We tried to catch these in most places, but as I periodically look through documents on the portal, I see that we did not succeed in all.

Second, the translated materials currently available on the Wilson Center’s Modern Korean History Portal represent only a fraction of what has already been declassified and obtained. The available documents also do not cover the full scope of topics addressed in the declassified communist bloc materials. Both of these issues are a consequence of limited funding.9 During the decade that I spearheaded the work of NKIDP, the prohibitive cost of translations was always a factor in determining which materials would make the cut and get translated and released. The decision to translate some materials over others was strategic and frequently difficult. Most of the materials that have been translated are of a political, military, or diplomatic nature and either cover major flash points or have contemporary policy relevance. These are the documents that are most likely to get noticed and make it easier to obtain additional funding for the acquisition and translation of further materials. However, the untranslated files produced at foreign embassies in the DPRK explore much more than just those topics and should be seen as a resource for the study of nearly any aspect of the country’s history.

While the translated documents represent a fraction of the declassified records already in the possession of NKIDP, the Wilson Center’s collection is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more documents on North Korea remain classified in the archives. Indeed, the process of declassification has been uneven in many post-Soviet states. After a period of unprecedented openness, as some former socialist states struggled with the transition to democracy, archives began to restrict access. This resulted in fewer documents being declassified and in some cases, being reclassified. In 2006 I sought to gain access to a collection of documents on the second plenum of the Third Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) Central Committee, that is, the well-known 1956 August Plenum, that I had worked with four years earlier in the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, the post-1953 archive of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The archivist informed me that the files had been reclassified. Though I have not had the opportunity to go back to the Russian archives since 2006 to try to work with these materials again, recent reports from scholars suggest that they are once again more accessible and that even more materials have been declassified. This is encouraging.

Less encouraging is the fact that some documents may be lost forever. Another set of documents on the 1956 August Plenum with which I had previously worked, while still accessible in 2006, had been altered since I worked with it four years earlier. The documents were part of a collection of damaged or aged microfilm the archive had sent to be duplicated. At some point in the process of duplication, a conversation with North Korean Foreign Minister Nam Il from July 1956 discussing the desire of some Soviet Koreans to criticize Kim Il Sung’s economic policies was removed.10 The conversation is thus missing from the newly duplicated microfilm, which, at least in 2006, was the only copy available to researchers at the archive. It is also the copy sold to libraries, including Harvard University’s Lamont Library.11 Had I not transcribed it four years earlier before it was duplicated, the record of this important conversation would have been lost for posterity. There are many others, I am sure, that have been lost.12

Bearing in mind these issues related to the acquisition, translation, and dissemination of declassified materials, it is also critical that researchers are cognizant of some issues with the way members of the socialist bloc’s diplomatic corps in North Korea produced the documents. The conditions under which diplomats worked, their familiarity with Korea and the Korean language, and preconceptions of the country are all important factors to consider. In the following section of this paper, I will identify some of these challenges and raise concerns that scholars should consider when working with the diplomatic record of the DPRK’s former communist allies to write the history of the DPRK.

Methods and Limitations

Living in Isolation

One thing to bear in mind when working with the declassified diplomatic record of North Korea’s former communist allies is that the level of access foreign emissaries representing the socialist bloc had to the North Korean leadership over the years was inconsistent.13 This had a direct impact on the ability of diplomats to accurately report on prevailing economic and political developments in the DPRK. Issues of contention in the North Korean leadership and even pivotal political incidents sometimes went unreported in diplomatic cables until long after they had occurred.14 When utilizing the diplomatic record of Pyongyang’s allies to write the history of the DPRK, it is therefore important for researchers to be cognizant of the restraints within which socialist bloc diplomats worked since it had a direct impact on the quality and accuracy of reporting.

There were several reasons for the inconsistencies in access. In the pre–Korean War years and then during the war, only a limited number of emissaries from socialist bloc countries were in North Korea. Despite having normalized relations with Pyongyang in the weeks and months after the DPRK’s founding in September 1948, many communist bloc countries did not build embassies until just before the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 and evacuated most nonessential personnel once the war started. Still others, including Bulgaria and Albania, did not even dispatch their first ambassadors until 1954.15 The number of socialist countries reporting on prewar conditions was thus limited. The Soviet Union, which had liberated and occupied northern Korea in 1945 and served as primary patron to the DPRK after 1948, was the exception. Many of the records produced by the Soviet Civil Administration from 1945 to 1948 and later the Soviet Embassy are available to researchers from this transformative period in modern Korean history.16 They shine light on the development of the state and party and the revolutionary transformation of Korean society.17 Yet, it is important to remember that although Moscow did play an inordinate role in shaping the North Korean party-state in these early years, Soviet documents, written for Soviet officials in Moscow by diplomats being evaluated on their performance, tend to overstate their role. One could therefore mistakenly conclude that the Soviets played an outsized role while the North Korean revolution was entirely foreign-imposed, with the North Koreans—stripped of their agency—following Soviet blueprints.18

In the immediate aftermath of the Korean War, physical isolation was the chief impediment for diplomats. Most operated out of temporary facilities on the outskirts of Pyongyang at least through the middle of 1954. Romania’s rural wartime embassy compound consisted of a “shack,” some pathways, two toilets, and a flowerbed, while Polish diplomats found their temporary facilities so inadequate that they requested that their foreign ministry furnish them with building materials for cottages that they referred to as “Finnish summer homes.”19 In August 1954 the Romanian Ambassador reported to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that “one of the hurdles which hinders our work is the lack of space and the distant location where our embassy is located.”20 Physical isolation from Pyongyang had a real impact on the breadth and depth of reporting on prevailing political and economic developments in the immediate post–Korean War period. As a result of their isolation, early post–Korean War reports from Central and Eastern European embassies are noteworthy for their fulsome praise and duplication of North Korean claims without verification. They stand in stark contrast to later reports that regularly disputed North Korean assertions about political developments and economic successes.

From mid-1954 diplomats began to move to temporary quarters in the capital while their embassies underwent reconstruction or were newly built. But they did not reach normal operating status overnight. The Romanians, for example, had not even been granted land in Pyongyang for their new embassy until late 1954. While the Czechoslovaks had been assigned land for an embassy, they continued to work out of temporary facilities throughout 1954 because of the limited availability of building materials.

During construction, embassies operated with just a skeleton staff. While the Soviet embassy reported that it was working at full capacity from late 1954, most other embassies worked under these conditions until at least 1956.21 The limitations in available human resources similarly impacted the breadth and depth of reporting during the immediate post–Korean War period. In their periodic reports on developments in the DPRK after the war, Polish diplomats complained to Warsaw about the challenges posed by staff shortages.22 Researchers can easily detect the differences in the depth of reporting on conditions in the DPRK between immediate post–Korean War reports and those written later.

Though the physical isolation of the diplomatic corps ended with its relocation to Pyongyang by the end of 1954 and early 1955, challenges remained. Another factor that compounded difficulties for the diplomatic corps was a reluctance, perhaps at first as a result of inexperience or structural limitations of the state, to share details about domestic developments with allied countries. However, Moscow’s promotion of economic and political liberalization through the “new course” and de-Stalinization soon created tensions with Pyongyang. Several scholars have written about the tremendous amount of post–Korean War assistance the DPRK received from the socialist camp.23 However, as I will discuss further below, it is important to remember how incredibly intrusive the postwar reconstruction of the DPRK was as Moscow’s assistance came with the expectation of Korean deference and acceptance of Soviet policy priorities. It brought to North Korean towns and villages thousands of foreign workers and technical experts from countries experiencing various degrees of liberalization, nearly all of whom were unfamiliar with Korea. Although the socialist camp diplomats and aid workers came from allied countries, nationalist elements in the North Korean leadership, including Kim, viewed them as peddlers of foreign ideas and practices inimical to the national interests of the DPRK. By the end of 1953, the North Korean leadership sought to quarantine the diplomatic corps and its influence and deliberately adopted more secretive and circuitous practices. The North Koreans found novel ways to isolate their putative allies, who, after having relocated to the capital from the fall of 1954, were arriving in greater numbers. One method was to simply ignore or deny all requests for meetings. In December 1953 Zsigmond Csuka, the Hungarian chargé d’ affaires ad interim in Pyongyang complained about his inability to arrange meetings with North Koreans through the Foreign Ministry. “The Korean comrades need our help badly,” Czuka complained, which is why “the policy pursued by the Foreign Ministry here is so incomprehensible. I dare say that the isolation of the [Hungarian] Embassy is greater than in the West, those [North Koreans] who would like to visit us are subjected to an identity check and taken to task. If we ask for an appointment, they refuse it.”24

Another method was to curtail the flow of information to the diplomatic corps. The Romanian chargé d’affaires reported in the spring of 1954 that he was unable to complete a summary of the situation in the DPRK “because the documents and materials which we have studied so far, and the observations we have made during field trips, do not provide us with sufficient information.” “To obtain more information,” he explained, “we put together a binder, according to the orders of the Ministry. We have difficulty filling it in because the official data which the North Koreans have published so far reflect the general situation of various fields only to a very small extent.”25 Reflecting on his time as East German ambassador to the DPRK from 1964 to 1967, Horst Brie observed “I think if you are in prison, and you are clever, you might get more [information] out of prison than you could get out of North Korea.”26

The North Koreans also sought to limit the access of citizens to the foreign diplomats. This included those who were assigned to work as local staff at embassies. Historian Balázs Szalontai observed that from the fall of 1954, Hungarian diplomats complained that the North Koreans started to frequently replace Korean personnel assigned to embassies “in order to prevent the latter from becoming loyal to their foreign employers.”27

However, the regime could not keep all North Koreans away from the embassies. Korean émigrés from the Soviet Union and China who had taken up positions in both the KWP and state organizations and maintained strong political, cultural, and personal ties to the USSR and PRC regularly met socially with diplomats and divulged on domestic North Korean developments. Much to Kim’s frustration, they came under the influence of the socialist bloc diplomats by learning about developments in Moscow and Beijing. In the fall of 1955, Kim banned all social visits.28 Only those on official business were granted permission to visit the embassies. Records of conversations from Soviet archives reveal that this did little to curb discussions on internal affairs.29 Soviet and China-returned Koreans followed Kim’s orders to only go on official business and to receive clearance. And they did discuss official business. However, once the business was concluded, they found ways to turn the conversation to domestic developments. Kim only succeeded in ending this practice by purging the Soviet and China-returned Koreans starting in the fall of 1956. This not only made it more difficult for Soviet and Chinese officials to learn about developments in the DPRK, it also eliminated a conduit of Soviet and Chinese influence into the KWP.

Isolation took a significant toll on diplomats. According to Ambassador Brie, “the situation for healthy people in North Korea was so depressing that there was a tendency of demoralization. People became alcoholics and things of this nature. . . . Only very few withstood this.” “You must understand,” Brie asserted, “people had no possibility to communicate, to move about, and it was very, very demoralizing.”30 Brie was fortunate to have formed a bond with the ambassador from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. They kept each other’s spirits up and together avoided the insidious effects of demoralization to which many of his fellow ambassadors had succumbed.

To be sure, there were challenges to the work of diplomats in North Korea. But despite North Korean efforts to “curtail the operation and activity of the whole diplomatic corps,” as Hungarian Ambassador Pal Szarvas reported in 1954, many became extraordinarily resourceful and found ways to gather information on prevailing political and economic developments.31

As Horst Brie observed, “You should never give up. You get tiny, tiny stones that you can put together by observation, by speaking with people at a lower level.”32 Notwithstanding isolation, demoralization, and other hardships, by assembling these little stones, Brie and other socialist bloc diplomats assembled mosaics that revealed detailed images of political, economic, and cultural trends in the DPRK. Brie’s mosaic analogy is fitting. The North Koreans seem to have an affinity for them. One finds innumerable, colored-glass mosaics throughout the country. They are in subways, parks, and on the roadside throughout the country. And then there are the human mosaics that perform at the mass games. They function as propaganda to promote the personality cults of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and portray an idealized version of life in the DPRK. What emerges from the reports of diplomats who picked up small stones here and there, by contrast, are much more complex and less flattering images of political, economic, and social life in North Korea.

Among the methods the diplomats used to gather information, as Brie noted, was to speak with officials of all levels, including lower-level officials. Staff at embassies also established personal networks to secure information. While Brie denied that the East German Embassy operated “spy cells,” it did have a small team of female secretaries who studied in Korea, spoke Korean fluently, and established networks through which they obtained information diplomats were unable to directly gather from their North Korean interlocutors.33 It is also not uncommon to see cables from Pyongyang drafted after hunting and fishing trips with North Korean officials. These outings, which no doubt involved a copious amount of alcohol, frequently yielded information on local developments. Finally, ambassadors also regularly got together to compare notes and assemble the various “tiny stones” they managed to pick up along the way.

Despite the tremendous challenges posed by the isolation of the socialist camp’s diplomatic corps, the reports and records of conversation that they produced shed unprecedented light on the internal situation. And even though diplomats sometimes did not immediately pick up on trends as they unfolded or on major political incidents, their postmortem analyses are insightful, providing more details than would otherwise be available in North Korean publications. But before working with a collection of records from a former socialist bloc country, it behooves researchers to know more about the status of Pyongyang’s bilateral relationship with the country at the time of their production as this would necessarily impact access and the quality of analyses. North Korea’s relations with the Soviet Union and China were frequently bellwethers of change in Pyongyang’s relations with countries aligned with either Moscow or Beijing. For example, when North Korea’s relations with the Soviet Union were poor, especially from late 1962 to the fall of 1964, strains also existed in Pyongyang’s relations with other Central and Eastern European socialist bloc countries. Likewise, when relations between Pyongyang and Beijing soured, such as during the Cultural Revolution, tensions also characterized North Korea’s relations with Beijing’s allies, most notably Albania. The materials produced by diplomats from countries that were not in good standing with Pyongyang reflect their isolation. One solution is to look at materials from later dates, after which the isolated diplomats learned of developments using the abovementioned methods.

Hierarchy in North Korea’s Relations with the Communist Bloc

No responsible scholar of US foreign relations would look at US military and diplomatic documents on Korea (or any non-Western nation for that matter) without interrogating the sources for evidence of orientalist or unequal thinking that shaped policies. Yet the same treatment is not afforded to the diplomatic record of North Korea’s communist allies.34 Scholars treat what the documents say about North Korea as an empirical fact on the grounds of which one can write an authoritative history of the DPRK. Yet nearly every foreign official who produced the documents was unfamiliar with Korea before being dispatched there. Nonetheless, scholars have not questioned what subjective perceptions might be influencing the officials. The question of whether Edward Said’s Orientalist framework can be applied to the Soviet Union and other Central and Eastern European states, which were themselves objects of Othering by European imperial powers, has long been debated. And indeed, the Soviet Union defined itself as an anticolonial state and, as Artemy Kalinovsky writes, Soviet public diplomacy represented Moscow “as the defender of cultures that had been subject to European colonialism.”35 But it should be remembered that just eight years before liberating northern Korea, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin forcibly relocated 200,000 Korean ethnic Others from the Soviet Far East to Central Asia because of their ethnicity and the fear that they may commit sedition by supporting Japan. Even the idea of trusteeship over Korea, a policy that Moscow actively supported, was “decidedly paternalistic” in its gradualism.36 Thus, it is necessary to interrogate communist bloc records for evidence of racialized assumptions about Korea’s political and cultural inferiority and other subjective influences just as one would document from US archives.

In an essay on Russian views of Korea from the late nineteenth century to 1945, historian Vladimir Tikhonov traces the shift from imperial Russia’s hegemonic interest in colonizing Korea through its defeat at the hands of Japan in the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War to the Soviet Union’s efforts to support Korea’s national liberation struggle through the Communist International (Comintern). As Tikhonov argues, Soviet Russia’s internationalist commitment to Korea “represented a thin veneer over the attitudes of a much more traditional kind.” According to Tikhonov, “Comintern cadres tended to regard Korean Communists as the Soviet Union’s ‘pupils,’ to be both supported (especially financially) but also ‘directed’ by their ‘elder brothers’ on the way of the Communist regeneration of humanity.”37

While Tikhonov’s review ends with Korea’s liberation from colonial rule, the available archival documents reveal that the reality of inequality between the Soviet and the newly liberated Korean people became more pronounced after they were thrown into contact with the Soviet Red Army’s occupation of the northern half of the country in 1945. While there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that Soviet policy toward Korea was forever shaped by Joseph Stalin’s racism, xenophobia, and concern of latent seditious behavior by the Soviet Korean population, there is abundant evidence of Soviet officials not perceiving the Koreans as their equals. The Korean people would remain their political and cultural inferiors who needed tutelage from Moscow, the epicenter of the communist revolution. The Soviets imposed on Korea a hierarchy and set of expectations that did not sit well with many in the DPRK’s leadership. Over time, this created strains in the relationship.

In 1945, Soviet occupation officials found themselves, like the Americans in southern Korea, “poorly versed in their immediate surroundings and often unconcerned about the feelings of those they were charged with governing.”38 But unfamiliarity was no excuse for the conduct of the Soviet military. Liberation by the Soviet Red Army unleashed a wave of drunkenness, rape, and larceny on northern Korea that revealed not only inequality but also contempt for the Korean people. While the same happened during the Soviet occupation of Germany, a vanquished enemy, the mistreatment of the Koreans, a liberated people, was carried out by foot soldiers and high-ranking officers alike and revealed a clear disdain for Koreans. A January 1946 report prepared by the Political Directorate of the Maritime Military District described the conduct of Soviet military authorities over the first five months of occupation. The report details abuses of the Korean people, including incidents of brutality. In one case, a local man was beaten with a pistol grip for complaining to an officer that he would not tolerate his wife being raped. The report also documents cases of larceny, including the frequent cases of locals being held up at gunpoint by drunken soldiers. It similarly details the actions of officers, including one Colonel Dimitriev, commander of the 258th Rifle Division, who ordered the chairman of a Provincial Peoples’ Committee to vacate his apartment, whereupon Dimitriev stole its contents. In justifying his actions, Dimitriev argued that “The Koreans were slaves for 35 years, let them be so a little longer.”39 And then there was General Morozov, commander of the 39th Corps, who looted a museum and sent ten truckloads of booty back to the Soviet Union. This open disdain of the Korean people by officers, responsible for setting examples for the men under their command, was bad enough. But the contempt for Koreans went even higher.

While scholars regularly criticize Lieutenant General John R. Hodge, the commander of the US military occupation, as being uniquely ill-equipped for the job and for his insensitivity to those he was charged with governing, little is said of Colonel-General Ivan M. Chistiakov, commanding general of the Soviet 25th army.40 While Hodge was unprepared for the post, Chistiakov was morally corrupt and openly disdainful of the Korean people. While on a twenty-two-hour bender in mid-November 1945, Chistiakov burned his house to the ground. He then accused the Koreans of “sabotage” and reportedly extracted a payment of 300,000 yen from the local Peoples’ Committee as a fire victim. Chistiakov also blocked efforts to investigate General Morozov’s theft from the museum and investigations into similar acts by other officers. Demonstrating his disdain for the Korean people, in the wake of the November 1945 Sinŭiju anti-Soviet riots, Chistiakov threatened to “hang half of Korea.”41

While the actions of the Soviet military in Korea, particularly during the first half year of the occupation, were especially egregious, documents reveal that superior attitudes toward Koreans were not limited to military officials. The Soviet leadership imposed on North Korea a hierarchy in relations that carried with it expectations of deference and acceptance of Moscow’s policy recommendations. Initially, this was done through what is euphemistically called “fraternal assistance.” While most scholars writing on postwar reconstruction focus on the enormous generosity of socialist camp countries in providing aid to the DPRK, as noted above, it proved to be highly intrusive.42 The aid relationship presupposed a clear inequality between the more advanced socialist donor states and the war-torn DPRK. Though postwar assistance came as an unreciprocated gift (prewar Soviet aid came in the form of loans, not grants), the Soviet leadership expected North Korea to imitate economic and political liberalization in the forms of the “new course” and de-Stalinization— ideas that were inimical to the national security interests of the Korean leadership. While the Soviets reconstructed many Japanese-built factories and facilities, they earmarked all but three percent of their aid for projects that reflected Moscow’s “new course” priorities that emphasized improving standards of living. This included the construction of canneries, textile mills, and so on—not the heavy industry that Kim hoped to construct to eliminate colonial-era distortions to the national economy. Soviet post–Korean War assistance thus became an instrument of domination.

Notwithstanding Soviet restrictions on aid and efforts to ensure compliance, Kim continued to pursue his industrial goals through the adoption of mass-mobilization campaigns. As the documents reveal, the Soviet leadership grew increasingly frustrated with Kim’s pursuit of a policy that prioritized heavy industry and his continued rejection of economic guidance.43 He thus faced harsh criticism for his economic policies during meetings in Moscow with his Soviet counterparts in 1953, 1955, and again in 1956. The arrogant, high-handed nature of the relationship was revealed in the fact that Kim’s 1955 trip to Moscow was neither planned nor voluntary. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev summoned Kim after a disastrous famine swept through North Korea in late 1954 and early 1955.44 In an April 1955 report prepared by the Soviet Foreign Ministry ahead of Kim’s visit, the expression “ought to” appears nine times where Soviet officials believed the North Koreans should be instructed to modify their policies.45

The Soviet leadership’s intrusiveness was not limited to economic matters. Ahead of the KWP’s Third Congress in April 1956, Soviet officials compelled the North Koreans to submit the party statutes for review. They were returned with extensive feedback and suggestions for revision.46

Perhaps no event illustrates so clearly the inequality in North Korea’s relations with not only Moscow but also with Beijing than the joint Sino-Soviet party delegation’s visit to North Korea in September 1956 to investigate the conditions under which several North Korean officials with close ties to the Soviets and Chinese were purged at the August Plenum. Fortunately, most of the materials on this episode from the Soviet archives have been released, including the papers of Soviet Vice-Premier Anastas Mikoyan.47 As I have written elsewhere, the heads of the delegation, Mikoyan and Chinese Defense Minister Peng Dehuai, clearly meddled in North Korean sovereign affairs.48 They sought to impose political liberalization in the form of de-Stalinization by forcing the KWP to call a new plenum, to reverse the decision of the August Plenum, to reinstate party membership for individuals who had been purged and fled the country, to release people from prison, and to publish a full account of these reversals.49 Decades later, the North Koreans continued to express their frustration with both Moscow and Beijing about their high-handed treatment and violation of Korean sovereignty.50

In pushing their policy priorities on the North Koreans, the documents reveal that the Soviets had many backers in emissaries from Central and Eastern European satellite states. Hungarian Ambassador Pál Szarvas expressed frustration in late 1954 at North Korean efforts to maintain distance from foreign diplomats because of their reticence to learn from Soviet experiences:

The leaders of the Korean Workers’ Party show a certain reluctance to adopt the experiences of the parties of the fraternal countries. . . . In my view, they would like to avoid responding to the problems, and for this reason they prefer not to maintain relations, although in my judgment, the time has already come to adopt a different point of view on a few questions, particularly on the issue of the methods of the party leadership.51

Diplomats in Pyongyang similarly took for granted their cultural and technological superiority. In a conversation between Polish and East German diplomats, a certain Comrade Berentz, third secretary of the German Democratic Republic (GDR; a.k.a. East Germany) embassy, was dismissive of the Koreans, describing them as being “incapable” of properly managing postwar reconstruction on their own. According to Berentz, the Koreans could neither properly utilize the GDR’s financial support to Korea nor could they organize domestic labor. Berentz then revealed his feelings about the superiority of German capabilities and the backwardness of Korea when observing, “The situation is such that after the assistance is finished, Hamheung [Hamhŭng] will look like an oasis vis-à-vis the rest of the country.”52

The documents reveal that over the years, the disdain many socialist bloc diplomats held for the North Koreans increased as the DPRK adopted a more independent foreign policy amid rising tensions between Moscow and Beijing.53 Diplomatic cables regularly disparaged the nationalism of the North Koreans, their personality cult, publications, claims of economic success, and so on.54 These stand in stark contrast to earlier reports that, as a result of limited physical access, frequently praised North Korean efforts. In the documents, there are strong implications of political immaturity, dishonesty, and disloyalty. Charges of Kim being a Korea Tito, not dissimilar to charges against Mao in the early 1950s, smacked of inequality as they connoted insubordination or deviation from expected deferential norms.55 In addition to North Korea’s reluctance to take a strong stand in the Sino-Soviet split, this amplified disdain toward the North Koreans was also likely caused in part because diplomats were in poor spirits because of the isolation and the relatively harsh material conditions they faced in the DPRK.

Another manifestation of inequality was the Soviet Union’s exploitation of Korean resources. Colonial Korea had been a source of raw materials for imperial Japan. As Austin Jersild writes in his study of Sino-Soviet relations concerning resource exploitation, “the Soviets behaved in a way similar to the Axis powers. . . . Soviet officials carefully studied the translated materials concerning the Japanese export of resources and goods from the region in the 1930s.”56 In 1949, North Korea was forced to repay a Soviet loan through shipments of gold and ferrous and nonferrous metals.57 The Soviet leadership also forced North Korea to form several joint-stock companies and grant rights to the Soviet Navy to station subunits at the port of Chongjin.58 This practice continued into the 1960s when the Soviets carried out surveys of uranium ore deposits in Korea.

The communist bloc records reveal not only superior attitudes and evidence of exploitation but also North Korean views on the inequality and the high-handed conduct of their allies. The arrogant high-handedness came not just through the imposition of hierarchy in the DPRK’s relations with the Soviet Union and its Central and Eastern European satellites. It also came from a fellow Asian country: China. Numerous conversations with North Korean officials reveal that they detected in the actions of Mao Zedong efforts to reimpose the hierarchical, suzerain-vassal relationship between Korea and China that had existed until the late nineteenth century. Through his actions in events such as the September 1956 plenum of the KWP Central Committee and the Cultural Revolution, Kim believed Mao was trying to reassert Beijing’s traditional hegemony over Korea.59

Conclusion

Scholars have many resources to call on when writing the history of North Korea. As I attempted to demonstrate, the diplomatic record of North Korea’s former communist allies is an invaluable resource that sheds rare light on prevailing trends in the DPRK. However, there are many things scholars must consider when working with them. Yet notwithstanding the challenges diplomats from the socialist camp faced in reporting on North Korea and despite clear evidence of a hierarchy in relations and subjective perceptions, scholars continue to treat communist bloc records on the DPRK with a degree of reverence and empirical unassailability—dare I say fetishism—that is uncommon, if not irresponsible, in the historical profession. When using the diplomatic record of North Korea’s former communist allies to narrate the history of North Korea, scholars need to interrogate their sources as thoroughly as researchers of American foreign relations do US diplomatic documents.

These challenges notwithstanding, these materials provide rich opportunities for challenging our assumptions about North Korean history. However, they are most effective when used with other available materials, especially North Korean publications. Admittedly, the speeches, official decrees, reports, party and state newspapers and journals, and popular serials available to scholars are also not without their problems. They are tightly controlled to reflect a messaging designed to influence the behavior of citizens in the pursuit of regime goals. Yet, if used in tandem, a much more complex narrative of the DPRK emerges, particularly in its political and diplomatic behavior and relations with other countries in the socialist camp. Only through the use of all source bases is it possible to challenge many of the sticky narratives that continue to shape our understanding of the DPRK’s history.

Notes

1.

Available archival documents include the millions of pages of official government records seized in the DPRK during the early stages of the Korean War that today are housed in the US National Archives in Record Group 242, the captured records file. Though limited to the period 1945 to 1950, these documents cover transformations to political, economic, and social life in postliberation Korea. The National Institute for Korean History has published curated collections of these materials. As historian Suzy Kim demonstrates, these documents richly detail the everyday life of the average North Korean citizen during this transformative era. See Kim, Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution. 

2.

Perhaps the most widely used North Korean source is published speeches. The DPRK publishes speeches by former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as part of larger chronological series or in curated collections on such topics as socialist construction, the agricultural economy, and so on. By focusing on the leaders, however, scholars run the risk of reinforcing the personality cult and the centrality of the Kim family to the history of the DPRK, a point Andre Schmid makes in a review of North Korean studies. See Schmid, “Historicizing North Korea,” 456.

3.

Despite being published through the DPRK’s tightly controlled media and publishing houses, North Korean serials are also an invaluable resource for scholars. Official government and party journals and newspapers, like collections of speeches, uphold the personality cult of the ruling Kim family. However, they are also valuable for tracking discursive patterns that might reflect shifting regime priorities. Similarly, popular journals, while tightly controlled to reflect a controlled messaging designed to influence the behavior of citizens in the pursuit of regime goals, offer insight into daily life in the DPRK. They also shed light on larger political trends and can be used to trace how discourses are appropriated at the grassroots level.

4.

See CWIHP Bulletin 6/7, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1995, www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/cwihp-bulletin-67.

6.

Dr. Kathryn Weathersby laid much of the groundwork for research on the Korean War under CWIHP and served as founding coordinator of CWIHP’s Korea Initiative.

7.

The Wilson Center published only two of the four Critical Oral History Conferences: www.wilsoncenter.org/critical-oral-history. The author has revived the COHC project as part of the Korea Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Since 2017 the author has arranged two additional COHC seminars: www.kdhi.org/documents/critical-oral-history.

9.

In most cases, archives restricted NKIDP from publishing the original-language documents. Thus, we could only release translated materials. In recent years, the Wilson Center began posting scans of original documents, particularly from Russia. It is not clear to this author if Russian archival policies have changed.

10.

“Memorandum of Conversation with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK, Nam Il,” July 24, 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 410, Listy 301–303. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by James F. Person. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113371.

11.

See the Davis Center’s announcement on the availability of the materials from the Central Committee’s Department for Relations with Foreign Communist Parties: daviscenter.fas.harvard.edu/library/research-guides/archival-sources-soviet-history/central-committee-department-relations.

12.

There are also many stories of original documents having been sold to unscrupulous researchers in the early 1990s. While I am not directly aware of any such incidents involving materials on Korea, it cannot be ruled out.

13.

Historian Balázs Szalontai has written about some challenges Hungarian diplomats faced after the Korean War. See Szalontai, “You Have No Political Line of Your Own.” 

14.

Examples of this include debates about economic development strategies in the North Korean leadership after the Korean War. Andrei Lankov argues that the near absence of references to such a debate in Soviet diplomatic reports suggests that the debates were not important. See Lankov, Crisis in North Korea, 29. However, one can get a clear sense of the importance of the debates through essays in the theoretical journals of the Korean Workers’ Party and the Cabinet of Ministers, Kŭlloja and Inmin. Another example of a political incident that went unreported until long after it had occurred was the purge of the so-called Kapsan faction in May of 1967 and the declaration of the “Monolithic Ideological System.” Soviet diplomatic cables discuss the disappearance of key figures, including the third-highest ranking member of the KWP, Pak Kŭmch’ŏl, weeks after his purge but could not assess the larger importance of his disappearance for some time.

15.

Hungarian Embassy to the DPRK, Report, September 13, 1954, KA, 6. doboz, 11/h, 09481/1954, cited in Szalontai, “You Have No Political Line of Your Own,” 87.

16.

Materials are available at the State Archive, which includes many materials on educational and cultural exchanges, particularly through VOKS, the All-Union Organization for Cultural Connections. Many files on political, military, and civilian affairs in the DPRK from 1945 to 1952 are available at the Russian State Archive of Contemporary Political History (RGASPI), the Communist Party archive from the Stalin era. Many diplomatic records from this period are also available at the Archive of the Foreign Relations of the Russian Federation (AVPRF). At the time I was working in Russian archives, the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense (TsAMO) was off-limits to foreign researchers.

17.

Another important source of materials on the period 1945 to 1950 is the collection of captured North Korean documents housed at the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA II) in College Park, Maryland. The captured records are held in Record Group 242.23.

18.

Andrei Lankov makes such a case in a short piece for the website SinoNK. See Lankov, “A False Dichotomy: Professor Andrei Lankov on a Popular Revolution Imposed from Without,” SinoNK, published February 18, 2013. sinonk.com/2013/02/18/a-false-dichotomy-professor-andrei-lankov-on-a-popular-revolution-imposed-from-without/ (accessed July 30, 2020).

19.

See “Report on the Performance of the Embassy during the First Term of 1954 (Excerpt from the Embassy Report no. 2296/1954),” June 22, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AMAE), Year: 1954; Issues 20 221 10 4 33 92 120 613 614; Country: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by Eliza Gheorghe. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116502, and “Report No. 5 of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of Poland in the Democratic Republic of Korea for the Period of 1 August 1953 to 30 September 1953,” September 30, 1953, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Polish Foreign Ministry Archive. Obtained for NKIDP by Jakub Poprocki and translated for NKIDP by Maya Latynski. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114958.

20.

“Report to Comrade Minister Simion Bughici from the Romanian Embassy in Pyongyang to the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, August 26, 1954, 10.039/954,” August 26, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AMAE), Year: 1954; Issues 20 221 10 4 33 92 120 613 614; Country: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by Eliza Gheorghe. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116440.

21.

“Synopsis of the Political Report of the Soviet Embassy in the DPRK for 1955,” July 12, 1955, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGANI Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 314. Translated for NKIDP by Gary Goldberg. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116326.

22.

“Report No. 4. of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of Poland in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the Period of 26 June 1953 top 31 July 1953,” July 31, 1953, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Polish Foreign Ministry Archive. Obtained for NKIDP by Jakub Poprocki and translated for NKIDP by Maya Latynski. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114955.

24.

“Report, Embassy of Hungary in North Korea to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry,” December 22, 1953, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, MOL, XIX-J-1-k Korea, 9. doboz, 18/g, 00303/1954. Translated for NKIDP by Balázs Szalontai. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113392.

25.

“Report on the Performance of the Embassy during the First Term of 1954 (Excerpt from the Embassy Report no. 2296/1954),” June 22, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AMAE), Year: 1954; Issues 20 221 10 4 33 92 120 613 614; Country: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by Eliza Gheorghe; digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116502.

28.

Memorandum of Conversation with Deputy Premier of the Council of Ministers, Candidate Member of the Presidium CC KWP, Pak Uiwan, May 7, 1956, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 410, Listy, pp.108–110. See also “Memorandum of Conversation with Choe Chang-ik,” June 8, 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 410, Listy 210–214. Obtained for NKIDP by James F. Person and translated for NKIDP by Gary Goldberg. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114132. Pak was an émigré from the Soviet Union while Choe returned to Korea from China.

29.

See “Conversation with Deputy Premier Pak Uiwan,” May 7, 1956, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 410, Listy, pp.108–110.

31.

Hungarian Legation to the DPRK, Report, December 6, 1954, Hungarian Legation Documents, Korea 1945–1964, 12. doboz, 27/a, 001131/1955, cited in Balázs Szalontai, “You Have no Political Line of Your Own,” CWIHP Bulletin, 14/15.

33.

Bernd Schaefer and Amb. Horst Brie discussed the activities of these secretaries at the 2009 Critical Oral History Conference. Person, Crisis and Confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, 73–74.

34.

The closest author Andrei Lankov gets to the thoughts of the Russians toward the Koreans was to retell a joke that reflected a poor Soviet attitude toward Korea’s backwardness. Lankov writes that Soviet diplomats in the 1950s dismissively referred to the DPRK (which in Russian is KNDR) as “kndrya”, which was a play on the name of the country and the Russian word “dyra,” which means “a hole, a destitute and boring place.” Lankov, Crisis in North Korea, 21.

36.

Kenneth Pye describes as paternalistic the US occupation of Japan. See Pyle, Japan in the American Century, 108.

39.

“Untitled memorandum on the political and morale situation of Soviet troops in North Korea and the economic situation in Korea,” January 11, 1946, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archives of the Russian General Staff, op. 480, 29, st. 5, p. 2, pa. 21, k. 35. Translated by Gary Goldberg. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114893

41.

“Untitled memorandum on the political and morale situation of Soviet troops in North Korea and the economic situation in Korea,” January 11, 1946, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archives of the Russian General Staff, op. 480, 29, st. 5, p. 2, pa. 21, k. 35. Translated by Gary Goldberg. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114893.

43.

Curiously, the Soviets themselves had backtracked on “new course” reforms once Nikita Khrushchev became leader in 1954. Yet, Khrushchev discouraged the DPRK from developing heavy industry and instead encouraged Kim to coordinate the development of industry with Moscow and other socialist countries through the Council for Mutual Economic Cooperation (COMECON).

45.

“Information on the Situation in the DPRK,” April 1955, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 314, Listy 34–59. Obtained for NKIDP by James Person and translated for NKIDP by Gary Goldberg. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114590.

46.

“Remarks on the Draft Statutes of the KWP,” March 5, 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis 28, Delo 410, Listy 22–25. Obtained and translated for NKIDP by James F. Person. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/111638.

47.

See State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF), Fond 5446, Opis 98c, dela 717, 718, and 721.

50.

See, for example, “Record Sheet of a Meeting held between Enver Hoxha and Pak Geum-cheol,” February 10, 1961, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, AQPPSH, MPP Korese, D3, V. 1961. Obtained by Ana Lalaj and translated by Enkel Daljani. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114421.

51.

“Report, Embassy of Hungary in North Korea to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry,” December 18, 1954, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, MOL, XIX-J-1-j Korea, 2. doboz, 2/b, 001118/ 1/1955. Translated by Balázs Szalontai. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/113394.

52.

“Notes from a Conversation between the 1st Secretary of the PRL Embassy in the DPRK with Comrade Berentz, 3rd Secretary of the Embassy of the GDR, on 26–27.XI.1957,” November 27, 1957, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Polish Foreign Ministry Archive. Obtained by Jakub Poprocki and translated by Maya Latynski. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/111726.

54.

See for example “Comment on the Internal Korean Workers Party Brochure, ‘The Revolutionary Traditions of our Party Established during the Period of the Armed Anti-Japanese Struggle,’” May 16, 1963, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, SAPMO-BA, Berlin, DY 30, IV A 2/20/250. Translated for NKIDP by Bernd Schaefer. digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/110116.

55.

Austin Jersild discusses the charges against Mao in his book The Sino-Soviet Alliance, 2.

57.

The Chosŏn Dynasty deliberately discouraged the mining of gold and silver lest China discover and demand as tribute the precious metal. Interestingly, soon after its founding, the DPRK found itself being forced to repay loans to the “anti-imperial” Soviet Union using its gold and other resources. See “Agreement between the Government of the USSR and the Government of the DPRK regarding Extending a Loan by the Soviet Union to the Government of the DPRK to Pay for Equipment and Materials as Well as the Military Property Supplied to Korea,” March 17, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF). Translated by Angela Greenfield; digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/119379.

58.

See Agreement between the Government of the USSR and the Government of the DPRK regarding extending a loan by the Soviet Union to the Government of the DPRK to “Pay for Equipment and Materials as Well as the Military Property Supplied to Korea,” March 17, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archive of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF). Translated by Angela Greenfield; digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/119379. See also “Soviet-Korean Protocol about Temporarily Leaving Soviet Navy Subunits in the Port of Chongjin,” March, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Archives of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF), f. 3, op. 65, d. 775, ll. 75–76. Translated by Gary Goldberg; digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/119378.

59.

Kim expressed his views of the relationship with China in conversations. See for example “Memorandum on the Conversation between Kim Il Sung and Todor Zhivkov,” October 30, 1973, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, from the personal collection of former Bulgarian diplomat Georgi Mitov, translated by Donna Kovacheva, digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/114533; and “Record of Conversation between Comrade J. Batmunkh and Kim Il Sung,” November 20, 1986, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Mongolian Foreign Ministry Archive, Fond 3, dans 1, kh/n 173, khuu 123-164, obtained and translated for NKIDP by Sergey Radchenko and Onon Perenlei, digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116671.

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