Education on unification key, Germany showsBefore the unification of Germany, those in West Germany had little interest in unifying with the Communist East.
According to the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), only 1 percent of West Germans responded in a 1972 poll that they favored unification with the East - a stark drop from the results of the same poll in 1963, when 31 percent said they supported that notion.
West Germany flourished in the decades following World War II, in part to a robust labor force as well as the aid of guest workers from countries such as South Korea. By the 1950s, it had one of the strongest economies in the world.
East Germany, meanwhile, had experienced massive destruction during the war, and did not fare as well economically. Thousands of lives had been lost, and the country still owed reparations to the Soviet Union.
By contrast, it seemed there was little reason for West Germany to favor unification with the impoverished East.
However, the West German government made efforts to overcome public indifference, strengthening the education of its younger generations.
In November 1978, the West German government established certain principles for unification education, which stressed arguments for unification and increased public awareness.
Yet some of the more controversial principles triggered political disputes, even from the ruling Social Democratic Party. One such principle declared that protecting the human rights of the German people in the East was a “humanitarian duty” and a “natural right.”
A second asserted that unification efforts were righteous.
But despite the controversies surrounding ideology, local governments in West Germany’s 11 states adopted the teaching of these principles in local schools, and the nation’s politicians succeeded in implementing a consistent policy in unification education that transcended political interests.
In South Korea, though, cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties in establishing a united front on reunification has lagged, particularly as the governing Saenuri Party and the main opposition Democratic Party continue to squabble over various agenda items, including the passage of a bill that would protect the human rights of North Korean people.
The efforts of West German politicians in education was the basis for the groundwork that led to the unification with the East. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, 75 percent of the people in the West agreed with Germany’s fundamental law, which read that “all people in Germany should realize unification and the freedom of Germany with a free will.”
On the contrary, South Korea’s lessons in unification education have yet to materialize.
“Unification education in West Germany eased public dispute over the government’s policy-making,” a report by KINU acknowledged. “South Korea should also follow the lessons from West Germany and seek out a new education system.”
According to a 2013 poll by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, 62.7 percent of respondents in their 50s said that unification was necessary, while 40.4 percent aged between 19 and 29 believed the same. The younger the respondents were, it turned out, the lower support for unification was.
“[Considering that many young people are] facing financial problems from marriage or employment, the younger generations see unification from a practical point of view,” said Kim Byeong-ro, a professor at SNU’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. “In order to change the skepticism of young people, the government should advocate unification’s positive effects and not just cite the economic benefits - such as the decreasing threat of a war, which would entirely change the mandatory military service system.”
Hartmut Koschyk, Germany’s vice finance minister, called upon South Koreans to strengthen its will to unify. A six-term lawmaker of the Christian Social Union (CSU), he is known for his interest in affairs on the Korean Peninsula and has visited North Korea nearly a dozen times.
“I am sure that unification will be realized in Korea,” he said in an interview with Kim Taek-hwan, a media studies professor at Kyonggi University. “Unification could come faster than expected. In 1989, no one in Germany expected that the Berlin Wall would collapse and unification would follow in the next year.”
He also advised Koreans not to fear the costs of unification.
“In South Korean society, conservatives worry about the cost of unification, and liberals fear the South’s absorption of the North,” he said. “Although Germany has struggled with the cost of unification, the cost of division was just as much. We had to spend millions of dollars maintaining a strong military and purchasing weapons. The cost for division was literally ‘outdated spending.’”
As the chairman of an association of lawmakers between Germany and Korea, Koschyk played the role of messenger between President Park Geun-hye and German Chancellor Angela Merkel when Park visited Germany in 2000 as the vice chairwoman of the opposition Grand National Party.
“I feel moved by Park’s state trip to Germany, not as a leader of an opposition party but as the president of the state,” he said. “With her good image as a leader, the Korea-Germany summit will be able to contribute to boosting the national image [of Korea] and its status.”
Park is currently in the Netherlands to attend the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague. The president will fly to Berlin today for two days, where she will have respective meetings with German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Merkel.
“The agenda will include discussing ways for unification, sharing Germany’s experience with Park,” Koschyk said, “not just economic cooperation between small-sized companies in both countries.”
Park is scheduled to visit Dresden and Frankfurt on Thursday and Friday, her last day in Europe, and return to Seoul on Saturday.
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