In memoriam of the best Koreanist in the world
A person of diverse talents, who left a significant mark in political science, history, economics, journalism and diplomacy, Natalia Bazhanova, passed away on June 7th 2014. Two volumes of 'The Bright World of Natalia Bazhanova', dedicated to her memory, are first books in the series 'Russian Scientists in International Affairs.' The husband of Natalia Bazhanova, rector of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Yevgeny Bazhanov, believes that “it is important to show young people and the whole of society that our profession is not so bad in terms of examples of people who dedicated their entire life to science. Natalia Yevgenievna Bazhanova was an economist, historian, political scientist, sociologist, journalist and educator, and did a lot in science. The first volume of this book contains the following sections: the first section is her biography, all of her achievements in the scientific field, in the diplomatic sphere, she also worked in this sphere, her achievements in social and political life, followed by reviews of her books and her works published in the Soviet Union, Russia and abroad. The second volume mainly contains memories. Over 6 months, we have been working on the book for 6 months, we have collected 130 memories. They were written by various people.”
Natalia Bazhanova grew up in Baku, then in Moscow, and graduated from the Moscow school with a gold medal. She enrolled in MGIMO, studied at the university only at the highest grades. “Her students were the current MGIMO rector, academician Anatoly Torkunov; Valery Denisov, the Russian ambassador to North Korea in the period from 1993-1996; the Russian ambassador to North Korea Andrei Karlov, he is now our ambassador to the Turkish republic; the Ambassador of the Russian Federation Valeriy Yermolov, before that he was the Ambassador to Korea, now he is the Ambassador to Malaysia. This is the elite of our oriental studies. But she decided not to teach, but to engage in science. She went to the Institute of Oriental Studies to work, and chose such a complex topic – the economy of North Korea. She wrote a dissertation, defended it, then she went to work in San Francisco's Consulate General to study the eastern diasporas living in the United States. I focused on Chinese living in the United States, she was focusing on Koreans. And she immediately became extremely popular among the Koreans living in California. And we talked with South Korean diplomats. We were strictly forbidden to do so, because the Soviet Union did not recognize South Korea, and thought, as our North Korean friends taught us, that these are South Korean gangsters at the service of US imperialism.
Consular officials invited us to South Korea: "Here are first-class tickets for your wife and you – Park Chung-hee, the head of South Korea, awaits you. Be our guests ..." Of course we refused, but it is interesting that the North Koreans immediately found out about it, and immediately handed a protest to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs scolded us for interacting with South Koreans,” Bazhanov recalls.
After returning from the United States, Natalia Bazhanova went to work at the Institute of Oriental Studies. At that time, the Institute was headed by Yevgeny Primakov. “Natalya Yevgenievna, under the influence of the dialogue with South Koreans, seeing what their thoughts were in relation to the USSR, began to stand for recognition of South Korea. Yevgeny Primakov supported my wife. Natalia Yevgenievna certainly made some contribution to the rethinking of our approach to South Korea, and our movement towards normalization of relations, which certainly was and still is in our national interests. She also helped the named Kim Dae-jung to defend his dissertation, when he was a dissident hiding from the South Korean military authorities at the time. And then he was elected as the president of South Korea in 1997. He invited us to his inauguration, and then arranged a separate meeting with us and said that she was his teacher, so she was his teacher for a lifetime. And her popularity not only went through the roof, it crossed the limits.”
To prove the fact, Bazhanov told another story: “In 2002, at the Asian Games in Busan, Kim Dae-jung gathered the best Koreanists of the world. Korean studies specialists gather from around the world. And there was lunch, and a West German Koreanist asked Kim Dae-jung: "How do you assess the situation in the North Korean economy?" Kim Dae-jung said: "You know, I, of course, the president of South Korea, I can answer this question, but here is a person who knows the North Korean economy better than me, better than everyone. It is Natalia Yevgenievna Bazhanova."