[OUTLOOK]Lopsided relation with the NorthOur soldiers must keep watch over our country even today, eyes fixed on North Korea. The president, who is the supreme commander of the military, apologized to North Korea for an incident in South Korea in which its flag was purposely destroyed in a protest against Pyeongyang’s policies. Cries of adoration for North Korea’s cheerleaders rang out in Daegu at the Summer Universiade Games and throughout the nation while, as if inspired by those cries, North Korean journalists did not hesitate to use physical violence in a squabble with South Korean activists.
Again, it was the South that apologized. Chaos rules. It is hard to figure out what is what. Yet if this chaos is for the sake of unification, we can bear it. The logic is simple. If North and South Koreans keep interacting like this, they will understand each other better and will become more like each other. This process of assimilation would eventually lead to unification. That is why we started the Mount Geumgang tours. That is why we continue our efforts to arrange meetings of separated families.
On the Liberation Day, a popular singing contest that appears on KBS was broadcast from Pyeongyang. At this year’s Universiade Games, like last year’s Asian Games, North Korean athletes and cheerleaders traveled to the South to participate in the festivities. With all this coming and going, we are supposed to be recovering our “oneness,” headed toward reunification.
I saw the song contest broadcast from Pyeongyang. All the amateur contestants who competed sang about reunification. The North Korean cheerleaders in Daegu cried out “We are one!” At the meetings of separated families, the North Koreans constantly insist that they are “living and eating well thanks to the general.” Is this all that family members can say to one another after being separated for so many years? They say we must try to understand North Korea’s system. We must understand, we are told, that there is no other way under that system. So let us keep our minds open and understand them. After all, such meetings are supposed to widen the scope of understanding between North and South.
If such different societies as North Korea and South Korea are to integrate, they have no choice but to start with the easy things. Any talk of political unification will make both parties balk at the other’s moves. So we start the interaction in the fields of economy, culture, arts, sports and academics and work toward integration in these fields until we are ultimately able to reach political unification. This is the model that we have been using so far in our gradual pursuit of unification. With all this interaction since the Kim Dae-jung administration, have the North and South really gotten any closer? The answer, unfortunately, is no. North Korea has not changed. South Koreans are making all the noise, fighting among themselves over the North.
Real interaction is two-way. If the North and the South have different cultures then they must have a cultural interaction that joins them. The differences are understood and accepted when the North looks at what the South is and the South looks at what the North is. Yet the existing North-South interaction is a one-way affair. No matter how many tour buses head for Mount Geumgang on the highway flanked on both sides by barbed wire, the North Koreans will never have a chance to encounter South Korean culture. No matter how many song contests in Pyeongyang are broadcast on South Korean television, it will only be an event for South Koreans. At last year’s Asian Games, the North Korean cheerleaders were sequestered on the Mangyeongbongho, a North Korean ship, docked in Busan port. This year, they are confined to the training grounds of a bank, forbidden to have any contact with South Korea’s culture. On the other hand, the cheerleaders are allowed to deliver their political views, their propaganda and their slogans in the name of culture and of sports. Still the South Koreans are told to persevere because they are stronger. That is why the South Korean host of the song contest in Pyeongyang later admitted that he was trembling with fear that they would not be allowed to broadcast the show, whereas North Koreans coming down to the South get an apology even after perpetrating violence.
I am not saying we should not have interaction. I am saying that we should have a balanced interaction. I am saying we should have a dignified interaction. We must accept what we must and demand what we should. We must demand that the North Koreans be allowed to see the South in the same way we allow their political propaganda. We must ensure that our freedom, even our weaknesses, are seen across the Demilitarized Zone. Genuine reunion of separated family members will happen when they spend a night at their relative’s house in the North reminiscing the night away. Real sports interaction will happen when North Korean cheerleaders are allowed to stay at the homes of their friends in the South and be allowed to come and go freely from the venues. Then will we be on the road to truly understanding each other.
We have had enough “interaction.” Let’s not humiliate ourselves by becoming obsessed with events. Raise the level of interaction, making it something where we can look one another directly in the eye. Now is the time to demand such interaction from North Korea.
By Moon Chang-keuk
The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.