Those countries which already had strong internal opposition to communist rule, like Poland, were the ones which were better able to adapt to post-communist life. Where opposition was weak or ruthlessly suppressed - Russia, or East Germany perhaps - there's still for many a strong nostalgic pull back to the "good" old days. And that, argues Andrei Lankov, spells trouble for a post-unification Korea (via):
Educated Western readers tend to see the case of de-nazification in Germany and the complete rejection of Hitler's past by the Germans as something normal. But it is actually an exception with few if any parallels worldwide. Japan, for example, is far less willing to admit the scale of its former misdeeds, and in Turkey the mainstream opinion is not ready even to accept the fact of Armenian genocide - probably, the first "modern" genocide. Each case has its explanations, but one should realize: the total rejection of the recent past, German style, is by no means typical.
We cannot know the future, but currently it seems that the eventual unification of Korea under the Seoul regime is the only possible long-term outcome of the Korean crisis. But once the Kim family regime is gone, the 25 million human beings who lived under their rule will have to make something of their sad and terrifying experiences. Frankly speaking, the entire era was a massive waste of time, resources and lives, but can the average North Korean person accept and admit this? Some people, no doubt, will come to such painful conclusions, but many more will probably not....
Once the country is unified, the majority of North Korean professionals will find out that in the new world, their skills are of little if any value. What can be done by a North Korean medical doctor who knows nothing of 95% of all the procedures and treatments which are routine in modern medicine? What can be done with an engineer who has spent all his life repairing rusting industrial equipment of 1960s' Soviet vintage?
What about a school teacher who has spent decades teaching Korean literature but still has no clue about the majority of authors who really constitute its mainstream (Korean literature as understood in North Korea is essentially a collection of eulogies to the Leaders, whilst everything produced in the South since 1945, as well as a significant part of the colonial era literature is ignored)?
None of these people can be portrayed as a regime collaborator, but they are likely to share the sorry fate of former ideological indoctrinators and minor police clerks. Some of them will manage to re-educate themselves, while others will find new and rewarding career paths, but the lucky will be few in number. The majority is bound to have at least ambivalent feelings about the post-unification situation.
And these are the better-educated ones. For the bulk of the population the current experience of North Korean defectors in South Korea - marginalised, unemployable, subject to unthinking discrimination - suggests that life for them in a unified Korea will be far from rosy.
How will they make sense of it all, then?
We humans are usually not too eager to see ourselves as victims of the dreams, delusions and fears of their grandfathers, we are not happy to say that we have spent our lives pursuing nonsensical goals while remaining more or less obedient tools for a tiny ruling caste. So, the North Koreans will be far more likely to start looking for some justification, a myth-based narrative (or rather a few different myth-based narratives) which will explain the disastrous Kim period in a less painful way.
Lankov goes on to suggest the kind of narrative that might emerge, with the support of many in South Korea's left-leaning academic and intellectual circles who already hold similar views:
In 1945, the North undertook a brave social experiment, which had great potential but went awry due to manifold reasons. To some extent, the problems were created by the inefficiencies of the system. But the major blame should be laid at the feet of outsiders, as usual in Korea's tragic history. The Russians and the Chinese being driven by their own imperial designs, used their so-called ‘aid' as leverage to foist unfavorable decisions on the land of our forefathers.
However, it was the Americans who made the most trouble by maintaining a strict blockade on the North. In spite of all of this, North Korea managed to remain even with the South until the early 1970s (more radical proponents of the myth will probably say 1980) and achieved much in such fields as education, health care and culture. Its home-grown culture was pure, national and free of foreign corruption.
Its people enjoyed a moderate but stable lifestyle. This state was presided over by Comrade Kim Il-sung. He might have had some shortcomings - for example, he trusted dishonest and manipulative advisors and sometimes let slanderers put innocent people into jail. Nonetheless he was a real national hero, a former independence fighter, and hence was morally superior to pro-Japanese collaborators who used to run the Southern republic in his times. Unfortunately, his untimely death coincided with collapse of the Communist Bloc which doomed the country to decades of misery and disruption (once again exacerbated by foreign pressure, American blackmail and economic blockade). Kim Il-sung's choice of successor, and his excessive trust in his family also contributed to the eventual demise of his republic. Nonetheless, on balance it was a noble and worthy undertaking, so we have no reason whatsoever to feel ashamed of it. Therefore we should see ourselves as equal, or perhaps morally superior to the Southerners.'
It's all too depressingly plausible.
Though of course we have to get there first.