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Belgian shares lessons from painful history

Apr 05,2019
Pieter De Crem, the Belgian minister for home affairs and security. [EMBASSY OF BELGIUM]
Reconciliation of the past will only come after continued efforts for dialogue between countries that share a complicated history like Korea and Japan are made, said Pieter De Crem, the Belgian minister for home affairs and security during his recent visit to Korea.

“Knowing the past, you have to talk and prepare for a mutual future,” De Crem told the JoongAng Ilbo on March 27. “I think a mutual future can be shared between Korea and Japan as we had the mutual future that we shared, for instance, with Germany, a country that invaded us and whom we were at war with from 1914 to 1918 and from 1940 and 1945.”

De Crem visited Korea with the king and queen of Belgium last month. De Crem has also served as the mayor of the city of Aalter since 1994, and he discussed digital innovations with the mayor of Seoul during his visit.

“Mayor Park Won-soon has an office that is equipped with this screen that delivers the latest information on traffic, fire and disasters,” De Crem said. “Seoul and a lot of European cities, including those in Belgium, are coping with the same challenges of transforming the current economy toward new and digital economies.”

De Crem spoke about the Belgian experience in forming multilateral partnerships with neighboring countries to cope with challenges commonly faced by the region. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.



Q. This is your fourth visit to Korea. What is one similarity you see across the two countries?

A. There are a lot of similarities between Korea and Belgium and one of them is that we are countries without natural resources - we only have one which is our head, our brain, which is actually a very important natural resource. It gives us the opportunity to respond faster than others and to develop new technologies and so on.

This time, I had an opportunity to visit the Seoul mayor’s office. Mayor Park Won-soon has an office that is equipped with this screen that delivers the latest information on traffic, fire and disasters. Seoul and a lot of European cities, including those in Belgium, are coping with the same challenges of transforming the current economy toward the new and digital economies.



Belgium was invaded by Germany during World War I and World War II. How were the two countries able to reconcile the past, and what advice do you have for Korea and Japan in reconciling the history of Japanese colonization of Korea?

Knowing the past, you have to talk and prepare for a mutual future. I think a mutual future can be shared between Korea and Japan, as we had the mutual future that we shared, for instance, with Germany, a country that invaded us and whom we were at war with from 1914 to 1918 and from 1940 and 1945. One cannot prepare the future without knowing the past, and that is something that we also had to learn in Europe. We had a lot of countries and people that have been fighting against each other during World War I and World War II. I would like to make a reference towards the historic reconciliation that was made not only between Belgium and other countries, but, for instance, between Germany and France. They were two countries that were at war for several periods. They were able to not rewrite history, but write a new narrative on how we conceived Europe. First of all, an effort to get along with each other is needed as a common base, and based on that a respect for each other.



A regional issue in East Asia is the fine dust problem. Korea is trying to cope with it through cooperation with China. What has been the European experience in coping with environmental issues commonly faced in the region?

There are a lot of efforts by the European Union as a whole and by individual member states on combating pollution - whether it be about air pollution, water pollution, or sea water pollution. We had European action against acid rain that was caused by certain combustibles like black and brown coal. We are also headed in the direction of mentality which is that one cannot have a social paradise on an economic cemetery or graveyard. So you have to see, first of all, that you have the means for people to be granted opportunities to earn salaries, companies must be granted opportunities to develop their activities.

BY PARK HYUNG-SU [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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