[OUTLOOK]Independence Day and unityThis year is the 60th anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Japan, and it has been six decades since the nation was divided into North and South. On Independence Day of such a meaningful year, we cannot but think about national unification. It is not because of the North Korean nuclear problem that faces us now, but because of the belief that we have to end the tragic national history that has restrained us for nearly a century.
The feverish independence movement that our ancestors started in March 1919 brought us national liberation from 35 years of colonial rule with the fall of imperial Japan in 1945. However, we had to suffer from another tragedy of national and territorial division that no one anticipated.
For the past 95 years, 35 years under colonial rule and 60 years of national division, we have lived without a unified independent country. This tragic history shall extend to 100 years in 2010. Before that, I wish that the grand national march that started with the March 1 Independence Movement will be followed by another historic event that will conclude the drive toward national unification.
National integration is a prerequisite as well as a necessary condition for national unification. As was the March 1 Independence Declaration proclaimed by 20 million Korean people out of sincere patriotism, our unification effort will succeed only when the wills of 48 million compatriots are unified in one.
We can no longer tolerate such immature behavior as the showing off of patriotism and the dividing of people into unification and anti-unification factions. We have to aim for unification under the premise and belief that all Korean people want a unified country without exception. The largest obstacle that we have to be concerned about is the resignation and indifference many people show because of the prolonged period of national division and the subsequent chaos.
First, we have to guard against the spread of worry over an enormous unification cost that dampens enthusiasm for unification. In the past, people’s attachment to their own interests and their fear of Korea falling to communism were pointed out as factors that led people to hesitate to support unification. Now, it is the enormous amount of unification cost, subsequent economic breakdown and lower living standards that make people withhold support for unification.
Koreans have watched with keen interest the economic ordeal that Germany, which was the strongest economic power of Europe, has been experiencing after it own unification. It is natural that South Koreans feel consternated whenever they hear about North Korea, which suffers from an isolation and economic breakdown that cannot even be compared to that of East Germany.
However there is a great danger that this anxiety over the cost of unification will spoil the country’s manifest destiny in the long run. We will probably end up paying a much larger sum than Germany.
We must not overlook even for a second that we have been paying a huge cost for the last 60 years because of the division of the country, a cost far greater than Germany has paid.
Just think about the great sacrifice made through war and the waste from the military confrontation along the armistice line where one million soldiers are deployed even now after 60 years of division: This shows us how big the cost of national division is.
Just as the March 1 Independence Declaration enumerated the pains and sufferings of our nation from being under Japanese occupation, we need to think of how the 60-year national division has been depressing the development of our country and reflect on the huge cost that we are paying.
We have to pledge to ourselves that we are not ignorant people who hesitate or delay in the face of a chance of unifying with the family and people of our country, just because of costs.
Second, we have to be cautious of the spread of opportunism of evading unification stealthily when the issue is brought up for discussion on a national management level or as a part of routine political activities.
For example, I believe that issues such as the transfer of the administrative capital or the construction of an administrative city should first of all be debated in connection with our national vision for unification before discussing whether people are for or against the idea.
It is indeed regrettable that even when we make plans that will take 20 to 30 years to finish, people accept without any resistance the opinions of those who say unification will not be realized before then or opportunists who try to bypass the unification issue in fear of making the debate on the capital move more complex.
It is dubious whether the Ministry of Unification and the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee of the National Assembly have played proper roles in the course of discussion on the issue and how much weight is given to them.
If there is a lesson learned from the unification of Germany, it is that unification can take place unexpectedly and at a very fast speed. On Independence Day, it must be the right thing for us to remind ourselves of the lesson from German unification and contemplate the future of our nation.
* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo