Lessons from Germany

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

Lessons from Germany


The day I arrived in Berlin was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. November 9, 1989 was effectively the day that Germany was reunified. The proclamation on October 3, 1990 was a mere formality.

At 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), it was chilly and gloomy in the German capital, but more than 1 million people visited the remains of the Berlin Wall, reminiscing over the emotional day when the history of Germany, Europe and the world were written anew. Stages were set up here and there and rock bands performed, cheering up Germans celebrating the landmark anniversary. They were dancing in a sort of chaos.

The climax of the festival was a ceremony at Brandenburg Gate. More than 100,000 people filled the square and German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel sat on a platform with key players of German reunification such as Mikhail Gorbachev, former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and Lech Walesa, former president of Poland. But they did not give speeches. The center of the festival was the citizens. Having become accustomed to a political culture of politicians taking center stage at such events, the initiative of the citizens seemed refreshing and unfamiliar.

Conductor Daniel Barenboim took center stage. He conducted the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and 7,000 balloons were released into the night sky over the German capital. The first balloon was released at 7:26 p.m., the moment when the Berlin Wall opened 25 years earlier. The balloons symbolized the fall of the wall and the end of division.

The fact that the social integration of West and East Germany is still in progress 25 years after political reunification delivers a grave message to Korea.

The federal commissioner for the Stasi records continues to open documents from the secret police of communist East Germany. The Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship is still working on investigation and assessment of East Germany’s dictatorial legacy. Anna Kaminsky, director of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship, and Roland Jahn, federal commissioner for the Stasi records, say that they do not know when the job of the two agencies will be complete.

The unified government of Germany investigated 100,000 former officials of East Germany’s communist party, military, secret police and government and indicted 1,737 of them. Fifty-four percent were found guilty of crimes and only 7 percent actually received sentences. Most of the convicted people were so old that stays of executions of their sentences were granted. Naturally, the victims of dictatorial rule were furious about that result. They released a statement saying that all they had gotten were legal decisions when they had asked for justice.

The East Germans who suffered under dictatorship are struggling to be totally reconciled with their West German cousins after the reunification. The average income of East Germans is about 85 percent of their West German counterparts. They sometimes feel that they are being discriminated against in employment. Among the 165,000 former members of the East German armed forces, only 11,000 were absorbed into the unified German forces. Most high-ranking officers were demoted by two ranks. The power elite of East Germany who were lucky enough to be employed by the unified government had to pass a strict screening process of their careers as well as their personal lives.

As Korea prepares for future reunification, there are lessons to be learned from Germany. The post-unification reconciliation and integration of West and East Germany is based on proper handling of the former power elite of East Germany. The goal should be reconciliation through tolerance rather than retaliation. It is easy to predict that the power elite of North Korea, who are more concerned about their own safety than that of the nation, may do everything to prevent reunification. After all, they have the most to lose. So it is important to thoroughly study and plan how the North Korean power elite should be treated. Ultimately, we need to erase their fear of reunification in advance. Then they may actually help hasten reunification.

When I interviewed Egon Bahr, the architect of the Ostpolitik, or normalization of relations between the former East and West Germanys, he emphasized the challenge of “internal integration.” Twenty-five years ago, the Germans shouted, “We are one people,” but the terms Ossie, meaning East German, and Wessie, or West German, live on today. While Bahr thinks the internal integration is still not complete, he believes that integration will be attained when the old generation passes away and a new generation takes over. He basically said that it will be accomplished by the laws of the nature, and that policies by man cannot achieve true integration.

However, Koreans should go beyond Bahr’s belief. We don’t need to wait for reunification to restore national homogeneity. A gradual recovery of shared identity by expanding exchanges through talks and taking steps toward each other is a necessary part of a preparation for reunification, and is essential for social, cultural and psychological integration. The Korean Peninsula trust process is a matter of government talks. Actual contacts and exchanges should be the true preparation for reunification, and they will alleviate the burden of internal integration after reunification takes place.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 35


*The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
s
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now