Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Dream of reunification fades in South Korea

As younger South Koreans increasingly see more downsides than positives in a reunion with the North, Seoul has embarked on an education program to prepare its citizens for their ‘eventual future’ together

By Jung Ha-won  /  AFP, SEOUL

South Korea since 1987 has developed into a robust democracy with a largely free media and a vibrant cultural scene.

“More and more South Korean young people are asking: ‘Why should we make sacrifices to merge with the country that always threatens to kill us?’” said Kim Tae-hyun, professor of politics at Chung-Ang University.

“For them, the two Koreas have been separate countries as far back as they remember. So it’s important to help them imagine how powerful a unified country could be economically and politically in the long term,” he added.

Seoul’s government is struggling to sell the idea of unification via various campaigns, including mandatory classes for schoolchildren. It defends the huge cost of a merger as an “investment” for a better future in the long run.

“We want to teach the young generation born after the war that the current division is not as quite normal as they may think,” said Park Soo-iin, a Unification Ministry spokeswoman.

Unification is a national mandate enshrined in the constitution, she said, stressing that a unified peninsula would dramatically cut defense costs and help jumpstart the South’s economy as it faces slower growth.

Officials say it could also alleviate a future labor shortage arising from the rapid aging of the South’s population.

The ministry this year designated the last week of May as “Unification Education Week.” During the week, all primary, middle and high schools must spend several hours teaching the potential upside of unification, as well as the stark reality of the North including its dire human rights record.

For this year’s event, top officials including the unification minister rushed to primary schools to give special lectures. Hundreds of pupils were sent on “unification field trips” to tense border areas with the North.

Forums were held across the nation, inviting North Korean defectors to talk about the reality of the isolated communist state. German experts were asked to speak about their nation’s experiences since unification in 1990.

“We will remind people that unification is not an option, but an eventual future we all should be prepared for by all means,” Park said.

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