[Viewpoint] Unification: ugly or a blessing?

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[Viewpoint] Unification: ugly or a blessing?

When liberation from Japan’s colonial rule arrived virtually unannounced, some said it snuck upon us like a thief in the night, while others welcomed it as an unexpected windfall.

Unification could come that suddenly, too. The idea becomes more intriguing upon watching a video clip of a fatso twenty-something heir apparent clapping languidly and distractedly for his haggard father Kim Jong-il and his equally senior crowd of cronies.

North Korea is wrapped in an unfathomable fog. We cannot discern at this stage if it will eventually come out of the cloud as a broken state calling for an immediate and earlier-than-expected unification, or belligerently refusing any such thing.

Unification may be another moment of tragedy for all we know. But we have to be ready for any scenario.

I wasn’t aware that post-unification Korea could be so close until I read the epic novel “Private Life of a Nation” by Lee Eung-joon last year. His plot unfolds in 2016, five years after the two Koreas suddenly become one in 2011.

The 1.2 million-man People’s Army is dismantled after North Korea is absorbed into the South, and some of them organize gangster mobs in the South. North Korean teachers lose their jobs. A painter daughter of a high-level Workers’ Party member earns her living in the South as a prostitute.

An old cleaning lady who hangs herself in the men’s locker room at Jamsil Baseball Stadium used to be a famous newscaster in the North. South Koreans queue in front of courthouses to claim real estate in North Korea.

Moving from fiction to real news, tragic scenes are already unfolding. Four siblings in North Korea filed a lawsuit demanding shares in the estate of their birth father in South Korea. DNA samples proved a perfect match.

Many similar cases will likely inundate courtrooms when unification appears imminent. The Ministry of Justice recently proposed a bill on family relations and inheritances for families separated in the North and South.

The tsunami that unification will produce won’t stop at family relations and property rights. It will be far-reaching. We should brace ourselves for an ugly ride.

Regardless of where North Korea’s third-generation dynasty is headed, unification is no longer a far-fetched fairy tale set in the unimaginable future. Hallym University looked at the post-unification future in a symposium yesterday called “Thinking about post-unification.”

Lee Jong-jae, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, predicted that 10 percent of North Korean elementary school teachers, 12 percent of middle school teachers and 12 percent of high school teachers will lose their jobs if courses on socialism and the personality cult are ended.

The novel “Private Life of a Nation” also made a similar prediction of the fate of the North Korean teaching force.

The widening gap in languages will also pose problems. Lim Hong-bin, a professor at Seoul National University, is opposed to standardizing the dialect and language rules of the two Koreas. “It would be practical to maintain two standards,” he said.

Kim Young-yun, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, suggested that privatization of personal properties should take place incrementally after nationalizing assets in North Korea first. South Koreans’ claims over North Korean land should be avoided except for some cases where ownership is irrefutable. The state can compensate for such cases, he said.

Nothing seems to be simple in problems related to education, language and property. And we would have to take into account the possibility of violent clashes and mediation from outside forces to reinstate order.

Unification will be that complex an event. We may have gotten liberation without any preparation. But we cannot be unprepared for unification. We should be prepared to make it a blessing, not a tragic surprise.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Noh Jae-hyun
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