[Viewpoint] We must prepare for reunification

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[Viewpoint] We must prepare for reunification

Few saw it coming - the sudden end of the Cold War in no other place than one of the most fortified borders bisecting communist and democratic societies in Europe.

The Cold War days had been numbered since new Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 proclaimed reform and opening. But the momentous fall of the Berlin Wall that ended the Iron Curtain came not from any political or military feat, but from a momentary misunderstanding.

In 1989, Gorbachev declared reform could be applied to any other member of the Socialist bloc, suggesting that Moscow wouldn’t interfere with system transitions in Eastern European societies. That summer when Hungary opened its border to Austria, a crowd of East Germans headed out in search of a better life. East Germans toughened their Communist guard, but streets brimmed with protestors demanding free travel to the rich neighboring lands in the west.

On Nov. 9, the East German government decided to adjust travel restrictions by making a small modification in passport extension dates. A Communist Party spokesman was explaining details to reporters when one Italian journalist asked when the rule was to take effect. The spokesman said immediately. The reporter, with a rather weak understanding of German, jumped the gun, interpreting the comment as meaning that the travel ban would be immediately lifted. He sent out a news flash. Others picked it up and West German broadcasters excitedly reported that the border was open, sending hundreds of East Germans rushing out of their living rooms toward the wall. Guards could not resist the growing crowds shouting at them to open the border.

Some didn’t wait but climbed over the wall. Others hit it with hammers. Thus the wall crumbled. A year later Germany became one.

Germany’s unification took place without careful design or study. In fact, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was overseas and had to cut his trip short when he heard the news. Of course, historical forces had been building for German unification, but the breaching of the wall was precipitated by accident.

Providence can also work on the earth’s last ideological borderline here on the Korean Peninsula. The wind can blow from unexpected directions, building uncontrollable momentum toward reunification.

In his book, former National Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong, who has long studied unification, predicted that reunification would come as an avalanche. The historic movement toward unification cannot be resisted any more than one can resist a landslide.

The impetus will likely come from within North Korea. If North Korea for some reason loses its grip on its people, they will likely flock out of the country, shaking not only the peninsula but the entire globe. Germany, even as one of the world’s largest economies, was battered with social disruption and economic struggles after an unexpected reunification. The repercussions on the Korean Peninsula would be much greater.

An avalanche without any preparations would end in catastrophe. If we cannot avoid it, we must do our best to be fully ready. The government, political leaders and the people should all keep in mind that the landslide of reunification could come any day. While walking by the past frontier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled the epic moment of 20 years ago. “For me, it was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she said. We hope we will have similar feelings when we one day look back on our own reunification.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kim Jong-soo

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