[VIEWPOINT]Will the young want to unify?There used to be a time when my heart beat faster whenever I heard the song “Our Wish Is Unification.” My eyes would well up with tears whenever this song accompanied by a scene of North and South Korean athletes entering the stadium together with the flag of the Korean Peninsula, or a depiction of the chain of mountains that run down the peninsula from Mount Paektu like an extravagant wave.
Actually, I still react this way. The only difference now is that there is a disrespectful thought that gets in the way of my emotion. That thought is this: Is unification really our wish?
According to the results of a survey conducted last year by the Advisory Council on Democratic and Peaceful Unification, South Koreans do not wish for fast unification. More than 90 percent of our people do not want unification right away; 40.1 percent want peaceful coexistence, and 50.1 percent want gradual unification. Unification, fundamentally, is the integration of two different societies, and of the hearts of the people.
A business owner who, at the recommendation of the government, employs a North Korean refugee at his workshop recently confessed to a problem he had with the North Korean employee. Because of the field he is in, there are a few times a year when the man’s company is overloaded with work. During this rush period, all of the company’s employees, from young newcomers to directors, extend their working hours and sometimes even work through the night.
But the North Korean employee is so accustomed to the ways of the North that he leaves the office at the moment the workday officially ends. This means the other workers have to divide his remaining work and do it for him. The employer said this was putting him in a difficult position. He cannot fire the employee, because the government asked him to hire him. Yet the other workers are dissatisfied with him.
Certainly, not all refugees from North Korea are like this man. But through him, we can catch a glimpse of the cultural differences between the North and the South. When a squad of North Korean cheerleaders visited the South a couple of years ago, the South Korean public embraced them, delighted to see these beautiful young women from the North.
But when the cheerleaders saw that a banner bearing Kim Jong-il’s picture had gotten wet in the rain, the young women burst into tears. South Koreans turned pale with surprise at the sight. Unifying the hearts of this divided people, it is clear, will be no easy task.
Recently, on a radio program that I host, boys read from letters they had written to North Korean boys, which will be presented to North Korean representatives at next month’s Liberation Day festivities. One grade school boy asked the North Korean boys what their local specialty product was, and asked them to “teach me your language.” A high school student expressed concern that the dyed hair and free-wheeling fashion of South Korean youngsters would look strange to North Koreans.
It seems that our young people are more alert than adults are to the cultural differences between North and South. Yet unification will probably become a reality in their generation, not in ours. When today’s youngsters grow up to be adults, and to lead the unification, will they feel the need for unification as strongly as their parents do?
We were all surprised to hear the president say the other day that the people did not elect him because they thought he would be skilled in dealing with the economy and diplomacy, but because they knew he could get closer to North Korea. Of course, there is a chance that this quote was taken out of the context. But I am concerned about his words for another reason. Yes, we need to embrace North Koreans. But we also have to embrace South Koreans.
I am not talking about regional division, or conflicts between classes. The ultimate goal of our North Korea policy is national unification. And the North and the South share equally the rights as well as the responsibilities of unification.
Suppose that the leaders of the South Korean government come through the six-way talks successfully, promote a South-North summit, carry out dexterous diplomacy and find themselves at the door to unification ― only to turn around and find the people a lot farther behind them than they expected.
The president has explained many times that instant unification is not his goal. But I hope the government will present the people with the benefits of unification from a variety of angles, and will promote it to the younger generation in particular, so that they will understand that unification is not just something that will cost a lot of money, but will be beneficial and even necessary for the rehabilitation of the Korean people.
Let’s not naively assume that no one would oppose this grand, solemn national task. Even the most sentimental little girl, who cries when she sings songs of unification, might come to her senses when she grows up and starts paying taxes. The cost of unification will come out of our pockets. Now is the time for the government to provide a unification policy that is aimed at persuading South Korea’s future taxpayers.
* The writer is a talk show host and former actress. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Bae Yu-chung