Fueled by nationalist fervor, Koreans have considered it a top priority to resolve the issue of national unification. However, looking at the unification of Germany, we should consider if South Korea and North Korea belong to the same nation, something Koreans have never doubted. It is true that people currently living in South Korea and North Korea were part of the same nation during the reign of the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935) and have a shared history and experience. However, it is about time that we seriously pondered the different historical paths that South Korea and North Korea have taken since Korea split into two nations.
Although many may speak of the differences between South Korea and North Korea, we have yet to genuinely consider the impact they will have on unification. Korean society always considers it taboo to discuss any topic that may obstruct the eventual unification of the two Koreas.
Former German chancellor Willy Brandt, who laid the foundation for German unification, once said that "things of the same nature will eventually get together." Nobody was suspicious of Brandt's remark when he first broached the idea. However, he ignored the fact that East Germany was typical of a socialist nation. He believed that the ties between German compatriots were far stronger than the effects of political systems or ideologies. In the same way, many West German politicians slipped into the delusion that the East Germans were their fellow countrymen, and as long as East Germany could follow in the footsteps of West Germany it would transform itself into another West Germany. We now realize that this line of thinking was wrong and that it is absurd to place the idea of similarities between compatriots above the influence of national systems and ideologies.
Similarly, according to South Korea, once unification is achieved on the Korean Peninsula, North Korea will also achieve an economic miracle, as South Korea did. This mistaken view will certainly take us nowhere.
The North Koreans remain locked in the idea that society or the nation must bear the burden of failure, a belief which is reflected in the failure of the policy on North Korean refugees. Not only that, North Koreans' image of their society is virtually identical.
Germany's policy of national assimilation failed because it ignored the effects of socialism on human nature. No matter how grand the policy, how much special consideration was given or how much money was spent, socialism's effect in molding human nature meant that Germany's plans for assimilation came to nothing. This same problem is the biggest obstacle to the unification of the two Koreas.
The article is an extract from the recently published book South Korea and North Korea, United We Fall by Park Seong-cho and the Unification Policy Research Team of Seoul National University.
TRANSLATED BY DANIEL CHENG