Yongusil 18: Problemy Dalnego Vostoka–Russian Academy of Sciences (Far Eastern Branch)
A previous Yongusil addressed the archives of former nations of the Warsaw Pact, the kind dealt with by academics working in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ Cold War Documentation Project. Invaluable work on places like Hungary by historians such as Balazs Salontai has revealed internal discussions, dialogues, and interactions on North Korean matters of yore in intricate detail, akin in many ways to the contemporary revelations of Wikileaks. However, what the research demonstrates is not only the depth of the archives, but also the difficulty of accessing them. While documentary storage in former Eastern Bloc and communist nations is now developing along relatively conventional, open-access Western lines, that is not true for material dating from the communist/Warsaw Pact era.
Research and investigation of North Korean matters of the day was undertaken by educational, governmental, and research institutions across the Warsaw Pact. However, much of that work is virtually inaccessible today: for example, the deep, rich analysis of forestry matters performed by Professor Sola at the University of Bucharest during the 1970s and early 1980s. Professor Sola’s work is now visible only as an echo in translated versions of Soviet-era forestry science journals referenced in those great Cold War outposts of American scholarship, “Soviet Geography” and “Problems of Communism.” There are a myriad of other examples of the (frankly disgraceful) disappearance and diminution of decades of scholarship, cast off as it no longer meshed with the institutional or geopolitical priorities of the day, nor with the developing agenda of commoditized research and education. One signal example is the inaccessibility of pre-1991 library resources at Humboldt University in Berlin, where scholarship by and for scholars in the German Democratic Republic is largely ignored today.
Just one such “lost” yet deep and vital pools of expertise is that generated by Professor Marina Trigubenko of the Soviet Academy of Sciences’ Agriculture Division. Trigubenko was the Soviet expert on development issues in North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s, and her works on agricultural and environmental prospects in the northern half of the Korean peninsula provided vital pointers for this author’s own research.
For researchers from the West, Trigubenko’s books are virtually inaccessible, however; lost in the chaos of collapse and radical budgetary contraction in the early 1990’s. Fortunately, themes, dialogues and data gathered by Trigubenko and others lives on thanks to one of the key journals of Soviet academia focused on East Asian affairs, Problemy Dalnego Vostoka (or Problems of the Far East), which has been published continuously by the Soviet (now Russian) Academy of Sciences since the early 1970’s.
While a Yongusil would ordinarily point the reader toward a semi-functional search engine or database service of some description, Problemy Dalnego Vostoka is not that user friendly. However, the Russian Academy of Sciences (Far Eastern Division) maintains a navigable archive of tables of contents and abstracts of more recent issues on its website, and offers guidance as to how to access its library service (which holds all back issues after 1972). Problemy Dalnego Vostoka is also published in edited and abridged format in English by the East View Press service as the Journal of Far Eastern Affairs, which is certainly a little more accessible to the English speaker.
This accumulated stock of resources offers an intriguing, useful window into Soviet and Russian conceptions of North Korean matters, and into a world of academic scholarship more closely linked to the peninsula in geopolitical, cultural, and demographic terms than is often assumed. Many researchers, including the redoubtable (Korea Yearbook contributor) Larisa Zabrovskaya, are based in the academic institutions of Vladivostok, including Far Eastern Federal University and the extraordinary Department of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences (Far Eastern Branch).
All these institutions hold accessible document and archival collections in the city, some of which are recounted in Professor Alyssa Park of the University of Iowa’s recently reviewed dissertation on the Russian State Historical Archive of the Far East. Park asserts that the archive is a “treasure trove for historians of Northeast Asian and the Russian Far East” but that “preparation, perseverance and patience are needed.” This is of course true for all archival forays and engagements, but is doubly so here.
The possibilities herein outlined are, as noted, not all accessible online through the mechanisms, formats and repositories I have described, and Park is right to say it takes perseverance to appropriate utilizable information. However, investigation is vital for future analysis of North Korean and cross-border matters. For Sino-NK, surely even a glimpse at Vikor Gaykin’s work on the “war of liberation in Manchuria” demands a second look.