Special year for Korea, Germany’s friendship

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Special year for Korea, Germany’s friendship

German Ambassador to Korea Rolf Mafael stressed the centrality of German reunification for bilateral cooperation with Korea at a joint press conference on Tuesday.

Together with representatives of several German political foundations and the Goethe-Institut, the ambassador introduced a series of upcoming events in Seoul that will commemorate the peaceful revolution 25 years ago.

“The impulse to act came from the citizens of the GDR [the German Democratic Republic],” said the ambassador. “However, 1989 could not have been possible without 20 years of consistent appeasement politics. Both have to be thought together.”

According to Ambassador Mafael, citizen activism - as embodied by the iconic Monday demonstrations in the East German city of Leipzig starting on Sept. 4, 1989 - as well as the political resolve across all parties in the West led to reunification and fueled the Autumn of Nations that toppled Eastern European communism.

It is the legacy of the peaceful revolution that solidifies cooperation between Korea and Germany beyond foreign policy and informs the continuous exchange of experiences through various economic, cultural and scientific forums.

“It is Germany’s interest to convey the knowledge and experiences [from reunification] to Korea, to assist the Korean government in reaching the best possible position and help it initiate a similar process by learning from our mistakes and successes,” the ambassador summarized.

A particular feature of this year’s event calendar will be the visits of several contemporary witnesses from the former German Democratic Republic, such as citizen activist, lyricist and political intellectual Lutz Rathenow, who has been Saxony’s federal state commissioner for the files of the Stasi, the GDR’s notorious secret police, since 2011.

Rathenow found himself in conflict with the Stasi several times for his activism and outspokenness and served two jail sentences under the Socialist regime.

He will speak of his past and present experiences at a public event on Sept. 23, held at the Goethe-Institut in Yongsan, central Seoul, jointly organized by the culture center and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

A range of informative events will take place this fall.

On Sept. 25, the Konrad Adenauer foundation will host a symposium entitled “25 Years of Peaceful Revolution in Germany: Lessons for Korea” in collaboration with the Korean Society for Contemporary European Studies.

And on Oct. 14, an investors’ conference on innovative IT in East Germany will be hosted by the German economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest to illustrate the potentials of economic diplomacy.

The academic conference “Reading 1989 Globally: On the Interconnectivity between Asia and the Fall of the Berlin Wall” will look at the deterioration of Eastern European communism from a transnational perspective and include speakers from Germany, Korea, China and Japan.

It is scheduled to run from Nov. 6 to 8, at the Goethe-Institut and is held in cooperation with Hanyang University’s Research Institute of Comparative History and Culture.

Concerning Korea’s broad interest in German experiences with reunification, Dr. Norbert Eschborn of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation advised caution: “The comparability [between Germany and Korea] becomes problematic when the Korean side expects a recipe book for reunification.”

However, there is merit in the continuous examination of history. Looking at the past from a quarter-century’s distance provided an evidently different angle on history than just 10 years into reunification, Eschborn concluded.

A recent example of such a re-examination is the investigative research project by Eschborn’s foundation that looks into Germany’s struggle with the development of a reunified education system.

“You will not be able to copy and paste the findings onto the Korean system, but it is crucial to identify past mistakes that must then be prevented on the Korean side,” he said.

By Florence Wild Contributing writer [florencewild1989@gmail.com]

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