Love thy neighbor firstGermany’s sudden unification, which was triggered by a stampede of East Germans to West Germany in 1990, was an emotional drama full of thrills and suspense. In the hearts of many South Koreans, who have had to suffer national division and deep-rooted animosity, it implanted a keen sense of desperation, as well as the dream that maybe it could happen to us, too.
Our hopes of reunification following the death of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in 1994, however, were short lived. These re-appeared when inter-Korean exchanges increased dramatically thanks to the Sunshine Policy pursued by the Kim Dae-jung administration, as well as historic summit meetings between the South and the North. However, the North’s military provocations in the Yellow Sea and its relentless nuclear ambitions have sparked criticism that our engagement policies have only helped it become a nuclear state.
As the North’s belligerency continues, expectations of reunification have hit their lowest level yet. According to a survey last year, 65 percent of South Koreans said that unification should be achieved only after we have thoroughly prepared for it. The idea that we should continue to do so still prevails, however, especially since President Lee Myung-bak mentioned the need for a “unification tax” at his Liberation Day speech last year on Aug.15. The Ministry of Unification has recently announced the results of a study on how to create a common South-North community, and how to secure the financial resources needed for this. It estimates that between 55 trillion won and 249 trillion won will be required to fund integration in the first year, assuming that such a momentous occasion happens by 2030. This could serve as a useful statistic as it is the government’s first official estimation of the cost of reuniting the country.
If the inter-Korean barrier never comes down, though, all such efforts serve no purpose. With this in mind, it is worth considering the remarks of pastor Rainer Eppelmann, who served as the Minister for Disarmament and Defense in the last cabinet of East Germany. He told the JoongAng Ilbo that Korea must create an environment where the majority of North Koreans want to unify, and also stressed the importance of our leadership. Only when we show compassion for their economic hardship will they agree to a unification program led by the South, he said. As the Unification Ministry’s poll suggests a certain lack of empathy from the South, President Lee’s Liberation Day address today could take on a heightened importance.