[OUTLOOK]A world that keeps changingOn May 9, in Moscow’s Red Square, Russia celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany in World War II. This event makes us think of many things.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia was at the center of the ceremony, leading the way with U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao. About 50 other heads of state, including French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, followed alongside and behind them. President Putin gave thanks to the countries that helped the Soviet Union during World War II, and said he would put every effort into the war against terror. The reconciliation between Russia and Germany was noted as one of the most valuable achievements since the war’s end.
The world has not stopped changing in the 60 years since the end of the war. Yesterday’s allies are today’s enemies, and vice versa. Korea is the only country that is still divided. We are aware that we have no permanent friends or permanent enemies among the nations of the world.
President Putin emphasized that Russia had suffered greatly in the war against Germany. But it was the Soviet Union that signed a non-aggression treaty with Nazi Germany to divide and take over Poland. The three Baltic nations came under Soviet Union rule at the same time. The small, weak countries that are trapped between superpowers always have to exercise caution.
Japan, which had signed an anti-communism treaty with Germany, was surprised at the time to hear about the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union ― so much so that its prime minister offered the mass resignation of the cabinet, stating, “The state of affairs in Europe has become complex and bizarre.” Japan made the mistake of lining up with its allies in continental Europe. The consequences were dire.
At events like the recent gathering in Moscow, heads of state watch, make deals and strengthen ties. Of course, such gatherings are full of wiles and tricks. New alliances are already being developed in the world, and our own neighboring countries are busy forging new relationships. So who are our friends and our enemies today? With whom should we stand? I wonder how much effect our sought-after role as a balancer in Northeast Asia has actually had on the real world.
After World War II, countries’ fates were clearly determined by their alliances. Japan and West Germany, which were allied with the United States, prospered; countries in Eastern Europe that fell under the communist bloc went through hardship. The contrast between North and South Korea illustrates this situation clearly. We can certainly say that South Korea was fortunate in who its friends were. Is it wise for today’s government to try to switch to a new alliance?
Probably the main reason Germany received such courteous treatment at the Moscow celebration is that Germany behaved well after the war. It apologized for the atrocities of the Nazis at every opportunity, and always tried to help the victims of the Third Reich.
That is why France, which was once Germany’s staunchest enemy, was the first to change its heart and cooperate. Also, the power of reunified Germany has contributed somewhat to enhancing its international recognition.
In contrast, Japan looks somewhat smaller. Because of the nation’s economic power, the Japanese prime minister usually stands in the front row at such gatherings of heads of state, but this time Mr. Koizumi stood in the back. Japan is a country that provoked a war and lost, but that is probably not the only reason for this treatment. Japan’s actions since the war and its relations with other Asian countries probably have a lot to do with it. Unlike Germany, Japan is not generally thought to have undertaken much sincere self-examination.
This is most apparent in its relationship with its nearest neighbors, Korea and China. Japan defends itself by saying that its wartime regime was different from Nazi Germany, and that it has already expressed its deepest apologies. The problem is that other countries do not think this is true.
President Bush was very friendly with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Moscow. Nowadays, Japan has been benefiting from its close alliance with the United States. Japan assumes a high-handed attitude at such times, just as it did when it annexed Korea a hundred years ago. Like a frog in a well, we were the only ones then who did not know that the United States had agreed, in a secret deal with Japan, not to intervene in Korea.
President Roh Moo-hyun was invited to Moscow, and was treated extremely well there. This seems to be because of Korea’s elevated status. We might be a lot more confident today if we had gone ahead to participate in the war against Japan, as the Korean exile government in Shanghai had planned.
Still, we are a country that went from being a poor agricultural colony at the end of World War II to a leading industrial country today. Also, Korea is a creditor country to Russia right now.
There aren’t many countries that have made the kind of achievements in democracy and economic development that we have during the past 60 years. There is no reason to feel disgraced or to be ashamed of our modern history. The reason Korea was treated so well in Moscow may have to do with the efforts of the people who overcame all kinds of hardships after independence to attain this level of national power.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-suk