More than words divide Koreas

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More than words divide Koreas


Pigeons in South Korea look the same as those in the North, but a “pigeon pose” means something completely different in each place.

In the South, a pigeon pose is a yoga move - one leg in front and bent, the other behind, and you reach your arms back to catch the foot and lift.

But in North Korea it is a torture method. Both hands are tied behind the back and fixed to a hook on the wall, just 60 centimeters (about two feet) above the floor so the person can neither sit nor stand. The pose resembles a pigeon pecking feed, but it is very painful and makes a person vomit.

The distance between South and North Korea is growing. We are one people and one race, but North Korea feels farther away and stranger than any other country. South Koreans are eager to try the pigeon pose while North Koreans fear it. The difference is far more serious than mere vocabulary.

A recent satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula at night revealed South Korea as an island of light, with North Korea just empty blackness, because it cannot afford to keep the lights on. The economic gap between the Koreas has also led to a gap in physiques, with North Korean teenagers far shorter and lighter than South Koreans.

In the South, people fear youth unemployment, job-related stress and retirement, while North Koreans are frightened of starvation, diseases and persecution. Their fears are much more primal.

However, South Koreans are not interested in their brothers in the North. Instead, other countries remind us of their tragedy. Last week, the Economist reported on the “pigeon torture” in the North, and the U.S. Secretary of State said, “North Korea is one of the most closed and cruel places on earth. There’s no question about it. There’s evil that is taking place there that all of us ought to be deeply concerned about.” Recently, the United Nations published a report calling for North Korea’s crimes against humanity to be brought to the International Criminal Court.

However, we remain silent. The politicians who need to handle the North Korean human rights bill especially so. The February session ended without discussing the bill at all. After all, the helpless Assembly that cannot even process urgent welfare bills is not going to pay much attention to the lives of North Koreans, who are not even voters.

But unification will not come automatically just because the president shouts that unification will be a “jackpot.” Even if unification comes without notice some day, we may be a disaster, not a jackpot. The sail should be fixed on a sunny day, and the dam should be built on a dry day. But we lack such preparations.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 28, Page 31

*The author is an international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


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