[INSIGHT]Harness Cup fever for a dialogue

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[INSIGHT]Harness Cup fever for a dialogue

Soccer is a hot sport. Soccer without hot passion and burning hearts is not real soccer. Soccer played with cold blood and sharp reason is nothing but meaningless ball play. Why? I think that there is some invisible line on a soccer ball that asks for a burning heart for my side, my community and my nation. If it were not for this line, spectators would not be thrown into the state of feverish excitement that was evident in the match between Korea and Poland last Tuesday, even though they would still enjoy showy dribbling and teamwork.

Unification is also a hot theme, like the World Cup. Someone shouts unification with a burning heart but others calculate it with a cool brain. Though the correct answer on unification is that we need both a burning heart and sharp reason, that is very difficult. We get sometimes excited, sometimes coldhearted. We are short on durability and consistency.

Gunter Grass, the German writer who visited South Korea recently, had some suggestions that were not abstract concepts but practical advice for unification based on the German experience 12 years ago.

His first advice was that we recognize the North Korean people as citizens with equal rights. He said that West Germans considered East Germans to be whining and burdensome poor relatives; these days, he said, East Germans consider themselves to be second-rate citizens. He advised that we try to let the North Koreans save face and treat them with respect.

And although the door to reunification has been cracked, we should not hasten to push it open. The happiness of unification will be short and the pain long. He stressed that unification that does not include a transition period such as a federation system will be destructive. If the South gives economic aid to the North in a federation system, the North Korean people can be treated as partners on the same level as South Koreans.

He also points out that a cultural foundation is very important to a divided nation. Even though the two Koreas are completely separated, culture should resist national division. The ties of a people and culture will become the foundation of reunification.

Although the division and reunification of Germany is quite different from our situation, I think the problems and countermeasures Gunter Grass suggested provide us with some useful clues to solving our problems. I was startled by his characterization, "whining and burdensome poor relatives." The North came to the negotiating table briefly when we gave them rice and fertilizer and left the table coldheartedly when the supply stopped. South Koreans, therefore, have for a long time considered the North Koreans as a whining burden. "Peojugi," which means "giving away unilaterally," is a typical expression that puts down the North. And indeed, there have been a lot of problems in maintaining a North-South dialogue. But if we put ourselves in their position, we would know that our attitude is a cause of great hurt pride to the North.

Above all, thinking of what we "gave away" to the North triggers some feelings of self-shame. How much have we given to the North until now? Since the Kim Dae-jung administration came into office in 1998, the government and civic groups have given 411.3 billion won ($335 million), including food and fertilizer. That amounts to 103 billion won per year or 2,200 won per South Korean. This year, the government is now torn over whether to send rice because of the stalemate between the two Koreas. The South has given the North only 200,000 tons of fertilizer so far this year. The government is pouring trillions of won into a domestic bank that is on the verge of bankruptcy. Demanding reciprocity and saying "giving away" after giving less than a million tons of rice to our starving brethren is a shameful thing.

Let's keep in mind two points Gunter Grass made. First, let's not use the word "peojugi" when we describe aid to the North. Let's develop a consensus to give the North as much rice, fertilizer and medical supplies and equipment as we can without conditions. Let's do our best for our brethren in pain. And after that, let's talk with the North about the way to negotiations on economic and military steps and eventual unification. If the North does not respond to calls for such negotiations even after their food crisis is over, then we can criticize their rudeness and callousness.

Second, we have to take steps to restore cultural ties between the two Koreas. The fastest way to regain a sense of unity is to make Seoul-Pyeongyang soccer matches regular events. We can use the May 1 Stadium in Pyeongyang and the 10 stadiums for the World Cup in South Korea. Let's harness the fervor of the World Cup for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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