[NOTEBOOK]Keep the lighters for cigarettesThe blood of the revolutionist, the spirit of the people, and nation of one race are said to be the meanings included in the three colors, red, blue and white, in the North Korean flag.
Before the division of Korea, the nation used the present South Korean flag, but the North discarded it when its use continued in the South, with U.S. approval during its post-war occupation here.
Some Korean conservatives have taken a lesson from left-wing radicals that have burned the U.S. flag here by treating the North Korean flag similarly. That has triggered acrimony and threats by the North.
The conservatives bemoan North Korea’s response to aid from the South as biting the hand that feeds it, and that feeling has escalated to anger.
Seoul’s ambivalent response to North Korean supporters here, such as the banned student group Hanchongryun, has added fuel to the fire.
With that inconsistency in the administration’s approach to North Korea, the United States and the student group, the leader of South Korea’s major opposition party joined a rally on Liberation Day, Aug. 15, where the North Korean flag was burned. That stirred more controversy, and if things continue this way, 2003 may go down in our history as a year of major conflict between Korea’s ideological poles.
At this moment, we need to pull our thoughts together. Is the burning of the North Korean flag really a good way to express oneself? I think not, on the premise that engagement and unification efforts must go on, and these demonstrations harm those efforts.
But there is one more reason to discard this kind of protest. It involves the lesson they teach our children.
In the Cold War era, North Korea was demonized in our educational system, and students were taught that North Koreans were monsters.
There is a real danger that such attitudes may rise again, and it has taken us a long time to get over the idea that North Korea is a country that is so bad it should be burned.
We don’t want that attitude lying dormant in the minds of our children as they grow up.
That would deal a serious blow to the changes in attitude that we have been fostering at great expense in time and effort.
But in any case, the burning of the North Korean flag should have taken place 55 years ago when North Korea abandoned the nation’s flag and created a new North Korean one.
These days, flag-burning should be criticized in the same way that burning the U.S. flag is discouraged. Nonetheless, if the North Korean flag continues to be burned here, we cannot stop it. But it will just lead to more chaos and recriminations across the Demilitarized Zone.
by Kim Seok-hyun
The writer is social affairs news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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