[OUTLOOK]Rethink moving the capital“Ich bin ein Berliner,” said U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963 when he spoke in the divided German capital. The phrase still reverberates in the ears of the generation that remembers the Kennedys’ Camelot. Just as North Koreans now increasingly defect from their oppressive regime, so did many East Germans in the early 1960s. The Soviet Union built the Berlin Wall, dividing the capital city into two, in order to stop the march to freedom. Mr. Kennedy’s rhetoric was a declaration of a pledge that he would not submit to the challenge of the Communists.
The Berlin Wall was at last destroyed in the autumn of 1989 as Communist rule collapsed. A decade has already passed, but Koreans still feel the envy, hope, and regret we experienced when we saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of the two Germanies.
You might wonder why I began a column with the fall of the Berlin Wall. But when the government proposed a special law to allow a construction project to build a new administrative capital that would replace Seoul, I was reminded of the symbolic meaning and role of the German capital in the process of unification.
A capital is the face of a country. We read a country’s history from the face. Berlin began as the capital of the empire, became the capital of the republic, and served as the Nazi capital until it finally settled in as the capital of a democratic republic. The history of Berlin shows how a capital city represents the history of the country. Each architectural structure in the capital city has a piece of history that reverberates for future generations. Naturally, a capital city reflects the history and characteristics of the country. On the international stage, other countries read the internalized past and identity from the face of a nation. As we cannot think of France without Paris or of Germany without Berlin, we cannot even envision Korea without Seoul. Then why do we have to put Seoul aside and build another “administrative capital”?
Seoul is already the widely known capital of Korea. The city has hosted major international sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, and the palaces and cultural heritage of the capital city have already won considerable recognition. Foreigners would get totally different impressions of Seoul if it were the capital and if it were just another metropolitan city.
Especially, when Korea proclaims that it will become the hub of East Asian commerce and economics, who would recognize Korea as the center of Asia if Koreans give up Seoul so easily and present a strange city that foreigners have never heard of as our capital? After all, we have developed Seoul for hundreds of years.
Seoul is a city where the country’s history is still alive and breathing. It will also be the witness to future history and hopefully the unification we all yearn for. From the Joseon Dynasty through the democratization of South Korea, Seoul has already become the center of our history. There is no alternative to Seoul to play the role that connects the past and future of Korea when the time comes for unification.
A capital city is a living legend, and cannot be artificially produced. The capital, Seoul, has been created with the blood, sweat and tears of Koreans for centuries. No city made by a government project can resemble the multi-layered face of Seoul.
Fortunately, a national forum urging reconsideration of the new capital plan has been formed. The government must be extra careful when pushing this project. Even though it was an election promise of President Roh Moo-hyun, the pledge should be reviewed with prudence and consideration for the future.
* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is president of the Institute of Social Science. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-won