[VIEWPOINT]German offers advice on NorthUpon hearing the news that the South Korean government has proposed to provide electricity to North Korea, I was reminded of the last prime minister of East Germany, Professor Lothar de Maziere, who I met on a train a few weeks ago. I was on my way back to Berlin from a short trip to Erfurt, where I had given a lecture on Korea’s role in the world at the University of Erfurt the day before.
When the train arrived at the former East German industrial city of Halle, Mr. De Maziere got on the same train by chance.
“So, how are things going?” he asked. “Are you just going to leave North Korea alone the way it is? It is bound to get worse if you don’t take care of them. They will end up being evil not only to the United States but also to South Korea. And you also have to think about what will happen after reunification of both Koreas.”
This was a comment from a person who was a violinist turned lawyer who became the last prime minister of East Germany. He is very outgoing and has a good sense of humor.
“There are still a lot of debates on the methods of unification, saying what is right and what is wrong, even after 15 years,” he continued. “However, one thing for certain is that there is no one who thinks that unification was a mistake.
“We have poured in around 1.3 trillion euros in the former East Germany since unification. There is controversy over the effectiveness of the government’s plan, but I think there are many reasons why it costs so much money. In social infrastructure investment, for example, the negligence of the West German authorities in the past and the absence of a plan have aggravated the situation and contributed to making things more expensive.”
That is the truth. Most of the astronomical amount of money that has been poured into the five former East German states was used to pay for pensions or for other social welfare purposes. This happened because of the inappropriate non-economic factors, like the wages that exceeded productivity, exchange rates that put political considerations first, and other circumstances at the time.
But, if we look at the infrastructure, we can see that almost everything, including the roads, railroads and telecommunications facilities, has changed. The bumpy, potholed roads of East Germany have turned into highways with more than six lanes, and the rail link between Hamburg and Berlin has been upgraded for express trains that travel faster than 250 km per hour, linking the two cities in an hour and a half.
People are forgetting the times under East Germany, when they found it hard to call their next-door neighbor on the telephone. Old facilities installed during the East German days had to be replaced after unification, which why the infrastructure in East Germany is much better than in West Germany right now.
“North Korea is worse than East Germany,” Mr. De Maziere said. “It must be beyond our imagination, judging from the fact that we hear that millions of people starve to death there.
“The infrastructure there must be worse than in East Germany. Do you think their aspiration to communize South Korea will be possible under these circumstances? That is just a daydream. I know because I have lived under communism. If my memory serves me right, I think that Germany could have cut down on unification costs if West Germany had unfolded a unification policy with a long-term plan, with the goal of constructing a new East Germany.”
Our conversation lasted until the train arrived at Berlin, when he said:
“It is fair to say that among the facilities that are in use in North Korea now, there is almost nothing that can be used after unification. You have to realize that you are building a new North Korea.
“I remember I once laughed a while after reading that charcoal trains run in North Korea. In addition to food and clothes, South Korea should provide North Korea a great deal of other things as much as it can. Even though it is a closed society, this will eventually bring about a big favorable reaction toward South Korea. Build them roads, lay railroads and supply them electricity if you can.
“Of course, always keep in mind a long-term plan after unification. This is how you can reduce unification costs. Think of Korea’s role in the world. Korea really has a lot to give, doesn’t it?” he said.
After reading about the South Korean government’s proposal for helping North Korea, I was reminded of my encounter with Mr. De Maziere, East Germany’s last prime minister, who was still agonizing over the unification of Germany.
* The writer is a former South Korean ambassador to Germany. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kwon Young-min