Youth is our hope for future

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Youth is our hope for future

The two Koreas’ liaison officers had brief contact at the truce village of Panmunjom last Tuesday. The North was deporting a South Korean man who illegally crossed the border. The 48-year-old man, surnamed Lee, was arrested at the scene on charges of violating the National Security Act.

Lee had a record of detention for an incident at the American Cultural Center in Busan in May 1986. He was also a member of the Save the Nation Student Association, a group formed by Seoul National University students.

He crossed the North Korea-China border on foot, but the North speedily sent him back to South Korean authorities.

A South Korean official said Pyongyang probably judged that allowing him to stay would just add an unnecessary political burden. It was an unfortunate end to an incident that went way beyond a brief ideological wandering by a young student.

In the 1980s, Juche ideology and anti-American sentiment dominated university campuses. Even before their orientation period ended, freshmen were “reformed” by their seniors. It was a process to learn the problems associated with global enterprises and comprador capital and to imprint the theory of dependence and liberation theology in their heads.

The culture was largely prompted by the students’ reaction to the authoritarian rule of the Chun Doo Hwan regime. The security authorities called the students leftist and pro-communist, and the pressure also added fuel to the youngsters’ rage.

That provided a background for blind followers of the Kim Il Sung dictatorship and Juche ideology to take their roots like poison mushrooms.

The so-called 386 Generation, those in their 30s who were born in the 1960s and became university students in the 1980s, now become the 486 and 586 Generations as time passes. They have become mainstream members of society.

Perhaps because of their memory of talking on the emotionally charged path during their youth, they are worrying too much about university students and the youngsters of today.

They worry that the youngsters’ perception toward the North might be leaning too left. They even say that biased education by the liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and history textbooks were the reasons. They worry that the youngsters are not interested in unification anymore.

That is an unnecessary worry. Youngsters and university students are seeing unification and the North Korea issues with a more realistic and calm perception than their mothers and fathers. KBS conducted a survey of 1,000 adults in August, and the outcome reflects the reality.

Asked what the North is to the South, 70.8 percent of those in their 20s said it is a subject to stay alert about and a subject of hostility. That number was higher than the 63.6 percent of those in their 30s and 61.1 percent of those in their 40s and 50s who gave the same answer.

Asked about the necessity of unification, 64 percent of those in their 20s said the two Koreas must be reunited. That’s still lower than 76.3 percent of those in their 50s and 84 percent of those in their 60s, but it does not seem to be worrisome.

What’s interesting is that university students today are actively trying to understand the true nature of North Korea and criticize its wrongdoings.

Park Jae-won, a junior of Sookmyung Women’s University’s global cooperation studies, and a group of female students from Ewha Womans University, Sungkyunkwan University, Chung-Ang University and Kyung Hee University formed an academic group, UNEAR. With a slogan of “unification in the near future,” the members conducted studies and field experience programs.

University students are also forming groups specialized in prompting human rights in the North and supporting the settlement of North Korean defectors.

Study programs are being increasingly formed by the young of society, including office workers. They debate issues such as “why Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il used the American-built Lincoln Continental for their funeral cars even though they had devoted their lives to enforce anti-Americanism to the North Korean people” and “why is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in favor of the Apple computer?”

They might seem strange, but they are sharp questions on the dilemma of the North Korean regime.

Some worry the young generation in the South has become too conservative. They worry that it is hard to find a university group or a youth group that approaches the North Korea and unification issues with a progressive view.

But it is a general consensus that the young generation is having a healthy discussion on unification and criticizing the problems of the North Korean system with a balanced view.

Without reading the change of perception of the young generation, the South Korean government’s preparation for unification will likely move in the wrong direction. Cheering them and supporting them is the job of the older generation. Our students and youngsters are dreaming about a unified Korea where they will live in the future.

That is why the youth are the hope for our country.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 25, Page 28

*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo special writer for unification.

by Lee Young-jong

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