[FOUNTAIN]Time has come to face the past

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[FOUNTAIN]Time has come to face the past

Poland invited historians of West Germany, its old enemy, in a serene state of mind in 1972. The visit made by 11 historians to the Polish capital of Warsaw was an historic event. The visit was part of an effort by UNESCO committees to create an international forum that studies the two nations' history textbooks.

The historians took the challenge to reassess post-World War II history which was deep-rooted with hostility. They reviewed each other's books, visited historic places and made efforts to create common ground for new historical understanding for the future. Emphasis was placed on keeping an open mind to approach history honestly. In the late 1990s, 25 years after the first visit, the two countries made recommendations for history and geography texts.

No other countries have conducted joint historical research longer than France and Germany. The two nations had called each other "nations of evil" since the 1920s. But historians came to acknowledge that the relationship between the two neighboring states should not be that way and started the joint study in 1935. Their efforts were interrupted by World War II, but restarted after the war's end. The scholars had heated discussions over the evaluation of Nazism and the portrayal of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. The joint study was a significant accomplishment. It presented the truth, and prejudices in the two nations practically disappeared.

Compared to these European countries, joint historical research between Korea and Japan has been full of turns and twists. The research between the two nations has been criticized for not only being late but also failing to bear fruit. Meetings were interrupted due to political, social and cultural conflicts. A committee of historians was formed, but it seldom had decent discussions due to hostility among the members. At best, the historians from the two countries adopted a petition, which said it is desirable to hold regular meetings.

When a Korea-Japan Joint History Research Committee was officially launched in March, as agreed upon by President Kim and Prime Minister Koizumi last October, we had vague expectations that the study would be conducted like those between Germany and France and Germany and Poland.

Unfortunately the first meeting in Seoul, scheduled for last Saturday, was postponed because of disputes over the composition of the Korean representatives. Again, what we need is Japan's sincere attitude and Korea's open mind to overcome the misunderstandings of the past.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Choi Chul-joo

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