[OUTLOOK]Reunifying begins with people

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[OUTLOOK]Reunifying begins with people

Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a unified Germany seems to be prosperous: merry markets for Christmas, plenty of cars, busy construction and remodeling and so on. Reunification was worthwhile to achieve, indeed.
But invisible wounds still run deep. West Germans had to pour funds to finance reunification, like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom, and each individual paid the reunification tax without fail. The life of East Germans became better. But dark shadows remained in their hearts.
In Germany at the invitation of the German government, I mentioned that I was interested in seeing the former East Germany. I met many people in many cities as Germany was in the process of reunifying.
After 15 years, the first phase of the German government’s reunification projects has ended, and now the second phase begins, to last another 15 years.
When I asked, “Can reunification be completed in 30 years?” no one could readily answer that question. The reason was that reunification was “a matter of people,” going beyond the matters of money, social facilities and housing.
A 30-year-old civil servant I met in Dresden told a heart-wrenching story. At the time of reunification, she was a 15-year-old girl.
“I was an exemplary student who did well in school,” she said. “But after the reunification, I felt confused when an East German education was treated like trash. So was my precious school life merely trash?”
She said her generation could get along, adjusting to the new circumstances. But her mother’s frustration was great. A former elite engineer at a big factory, her mother lost her job and now works as a clerk at a supermarket.
“Who could understand the frustration my mother feels?” she asked.
There were also shadows in the hearts of executives who worked at the biggest newspaper in the region. “Reporters from East Germany cannot rise to major posts. Genuine reunification will be achieved when we, reporters from East Germany, can rise to the highest position of the company,” one said.
They said that after reunification, things got better in many aspects. But, they said, the precious part of an individual’s life, the part that cannot be crammed into the grandiose word “reunification,” was sacrificed.
Even so, they did not miss the days when there was no freedom. I visited the former headquarters of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, in East Berlin, which is now an archive. Lined up, all the documents the secret police had kept on 5 million people stretched out hundreds of kilometers.
In Yena, I met a person who was part of an underground resistance at that time. Avoiding the eyes of the secret police, he made printed materials and conducted a movement to circulate Western books. Such underground movements played an important role in raising the awareness of East Germans.
After the Berlin Wall fell, these underground members took the lead in settling the confusion. He said that in North Korea as well, a central force should be formed in preparation for reunification, not by members of the Communist Party but by reliable residents.
I was thankful for the advice of Lothar De Maiziere, who was prime minister of the East German interim government from the collapse of the wall until reunification. A lawyer now, he said, “In whatever way unification is achieved, one that reflects the opinions of the North Korean residents is important.” East Germany chose the vote as the way to reunify with West Germany. Because of this, their sense of alienation was lessened.
Once the reunification process started, once-powerful figures or institutions of the old regime became shells of their former selves overnight, and the reunification process went on, led by the ordinary people.
Mr. De Maiziere said that North Korea would reunify with the South in a similar manner, but that it was pointless to argue over whether reunification would occur through a sudden collapse or a gradual process.
No one knew that the reunification of Germany would come so soon. Even though President Roh Moo-hyun opposes the collapse of North Korea, no one knows how the stream of history will flow.
The lesson is this: We should turn our eyes toward North Korean residents during the reunification process. We should make it clear during the negotiating process that our ultimate interest is not in North Korean officials but in the North Korean residents.
Therefore, even before reunification, we should take interest in their human rights and hunger and help them cultivate the power to decide their fate. We should not lose our economic power in the meantime, so that we will be prepared to live with them when the day of reunification comes.
During my last night in Germany, I took the Inter City Express, a German high-speed train, leaving the east, Dresden, for the west, Frankfurt. I thought of North Korean residents who might be trembling with cold in a train whose windows are covered with vinyl. I thought of a day that will inevitably come when we can run by our high-speed train from Hamheung, North Korea, to Seoul, and when the light of the train becomes their hope as well.

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

by Moon Chang-keuk
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