[OUTLOOK]Three cheers for a grand old flag

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[OUTLOOK]Three cheers for a grand old flag

The Seoul World Cup Stadium, where the North-South Korea soccer game was held two weekends ago, was not the place it was two months ago when waves of Korean national flags fluttered in the air accompanied by chants of "Dae-han-min-guk!"

The place where such a unity of voices and minds was displayed became the arena of a subtle battle of nerves. The organizers of this game wanted to promote an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas; they suggested using the unification flag, a blue Korean Peninsula on a white background, instead of our national flag and that the fans chant "Tong-il-jo-guk," or "unified country" instead of "Dae-han-min-guk" in consideration of the North Koreans.

Student activists distributed the unification flag, while some aged people handed out the Korean national flag. While the majority of the crowd ignored the pleas of the government and stuck to yelling "Dae-han-min-guk," a group of students chanted for unification. This was yet another instance of the "South-South divide" that has grown in recent years. What is the difference between the two sentiments, and which one should we adopt?

Because we are a single country divided into two, it makes sense that we use the Korean Peninsula flag and cheer for unification. "If it's for the mutual benefit of the North and the South, what does it matter what flag or chant we use when it's only a sport contest?" some might think. But the two flags and two chants convey starkly contrasting values and the future depends a great deal on which ones we choose. One is unification as a people and the other is unification as a government.

Which is more important depends on the individual. Those who emphasize the people are ready to accept unification of any sort, even if that means a communist regime. Those who emphasize the regime would rather see unification delayed than to be united in a way that would compromise the democracy of South Korea. The latter is the position of South Korean conservatives.

Our national flag and "Dae-han-min-guk" stand for democracy. We shouted "Dae-han-min-guk" in pride because we are confident that our system is right. If we turn in our flags and cheers for the unification equivalents, however, the step could be seen as an acceptance of unification at any political cost and, indeed, setting aside our own present country. That would mean acquiescing in the rhetoric of unification first disguised in such logic as "It's only sports," and "Wouldn't it be great if we had a unified soccer team?"

The flag of a country is its symbol and raison-d'etre. It has been nearly 150 years since the Civil War in the United States ended and still the Confederate flag is displayed quite frequently in the southern United States. One southern state even stirred a nationwide controversy over the issue of continuing to fly the Confederate battle flag in front of the state government office building.

Why do they insist on the Confederate flag? It's because it represents their identity. Unified Vietnam did not make a third flag to save the face of the defeated South Vietnamese. Germany didn't make a flag for the sake of the citizens of former East Germany when it was unified. In both countries, the victor's flag became the newly unified country's national flag.

There are some things that can be yielded and some things that should not be when it comes to unification. As one race, we can always negotiate about reviving the North Korean economy and giving assistance like rice and electricity. But the issue of the regime is a bottom-line demand that we should never give up. If this line crumbles, the possibility of our nation unifying under communism becomes acceptable. That is why we must hold dear the national flag that stands for our regime.

We welcome North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit. We might even accept his using the North Korean flag when he comes, even though President Kim Dae-jung visited Pyeong-yang without our national flag. That is because we now accept the existence of North Korea even if all the laws on the subject have not been changed.

But we must make one thing very clear. We must welcome the North Korean leader waving our national flags in our hands and chanting, "Dae-han-min-guk!" We must show that the democratic regime of a unified Korea is an impenetrable defensive barrier that we will never surrender.


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The writer is a strategic planning executive of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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