[Viewpoint] We have to be ready, not lucky

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[Viewpoint] We have to be ready, not lucky

When winter arrives and the year slowly winds up, my mind wanders off across the border with aching sympathy for the aggravated hardship and helplessness people there will be feeling in this cold season.

What frustratingly long years the past 66 years have been in our division. But the path to reunification seems still far away and disturbingly bumpy.

After the Second World War came to end in 1945, the defeated Germany was sundered into eastern and western parts, and a Korea freed from Japanese colonization was split into north and south. But the Berlin Wall that bisected Germany crumbled and in just 329 days, Germany became one again on Oct. 3, 1990. Since the close of the cold war, the two Koreas remain an odd couple sharing the same land but looking in opposite directions, drifting onto nonspeaking terms.

Earlier this month, experts on unification affairs from Germany and South Korea gathered in Seoul to learn from the German experience as well as study the options and possibilities for Korea’s unification.

Experts agreed that Korea and Germany were very different. Yet they exchanged candid and thoughtful discussions in hopes that we too can follow Germany’s successful path to national union and stability.

They say a miracle doesn’t repeat itself. But the trajectory of world history is filled with patterns of successes and failures. We have seen numerous cases over the centuries when states going against the historical current were swept up in turmoil and fell into the abyss.

Germany two decades ago rode a totally unexpected wave and capitalized on its good fortune to realize reunification. It is living proof that heaven helps those who help themselves. There are several points we could learn from Germany’s success.

First of all, it is important to read the current of world affairs accurately and coordinate a strategy for unification accordingly.

Professor Horst Telschik, foreign policy advisor to Helmut Kohl, who became first chancellor of a reunified Germany, stressed that the NATO powers from 1967 worked under the principle that the Berlin Wall must come down to end the east-west contest in Europe, and were finally able to draw consent from the communist bloc after the Soviet’s opening and reform polices of glasnost and perestroika led by Mikhail Gorbachev.

Today, the rivalry between the United States and China is getting intense. Peace on the Korean Peninsula is essential for the old and rising superpowers to seek a cooperative path in Asia, which is becoming the central stage in the world. It is our role to convince the two superpowers of this manifest reality, as well as other countries in the region.

Secondly, a reunification can take place with the consensus and desires of the people. Lothar de Maiziere, the last chancellor of East Germany, said the passionate desire of the East Germans to break away from Soviet influence and their longing for a life of economic and political freedom and democracy gave them the impetus to jump on the first chance to climb over the Iron Curtain.

The circumstances are too different to draw a comparison between North Korea now and East Germany in the 1980s. Unlike East Germans, North Koreas remain in the dark and dare not dream of reunification under the rigid rule of a peculiar Communist dynasty. But one thing is certain. We must reinforce our empathy and interest toward North Koreans by transmitting our longing for reunification warmly and sympathetically.

Thirdly, Germany prepared for unity meticulously and quietly. History demonstrates that an ambitious and historical mission like reunification is most likely to succeed when worked through discreet procedures. The Germans were able to carry out their mission quietly upon broad public consensus.

West Germans were more interested in the economic well-being of their peers in the east than their political conversion. The West German government and people strived to help East Germans by breathing in air from outside to prevent them from falling away from the global community.

If we envy the German success, we must work discreetly and quickly. Luck and chance won’t come our way unless we are ready.

*The writer is former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo
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