On February 26th 2021 the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Europe and Middle East organized an online conference on the topic “Lessons learned from Dismantling the Iron Curtain - How Europe can contribute to Korean Unification” which attracted 150 participants.
Link to the recording: https://vimeo.com/530877143
In his welcoming statement Mr. Peter Haider, President of UPF Austria stated that the Korean War, which started over 70 years ago, was not concluded with a peace treaty but with an armistice, leaving the once unified Korean peninsula divided, despite being populated by a people with a common history, culture, and language. Korea deserves the firm support of the international community so that it can come together and be united again. In many ways it was the international community which inflicted the pain of the unfortunate division on this innocent country during the last days of the 2nd World War in the Far East. Europeans experienced the division of the continent after the 2nd World War. The unification happened when many did not believe in it any more or put it into a far future. Europe carries a valuable experience of rapprochement of the divided continent, cutting down an iron curtain and growing together again within the European Union. This process and experience might contain some helpful lessons for Korea.
Dr. Werner Fasslabend, President of the Austrian Institute for European and Security policy (AIES) and a former Austrian Minister of Defense, who served as the moderator of the conference pointed out that South Korea is a country with a very high level in technology with companies like Hyundai and Samsung that are well known in Europe. The Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) commonly known as North Korea is known mainly through the persons of the Kim family. In the media we hear stories of military parades and sometimes famines, but - do we have the right picture of this country? If you want to unify these two parts, you have to understand clearly the situation economically, politically and socially. Situated between China and Japan Korea served for hundreds of years as a transmitter between these two countries. Korea developed its own letters, literature and culture.
Hon. Lukas Mandl, Head of the Delegation of the EU Parliament Relations to Korean Peninsula explained that the EU Parliament is the only institution of the EU with formal contacts to the North Korea. In preparation he asked an America Think Tank Leader, if there would be a real chance to achieve reunification or is this just an illusion. We can learn from the unification of East and West Germany and remain visionary. We have to focus on daily politics and also on the differences. Koreans have been one people for hundreds of years until 70 years ago. Their destiny is to be together. The difference between the divided Koreas is bigger than in Germany. They are still in a kind of war. The South is a democratic state with rule of law and the North is an autocratic dictatorship. First we need a formal end of the war and a normalization process in the relationship. South Korea is a strong and reliable partner of the EU while North Korea is considered more like a security threat and not yet a partner in any regards.
Commenting the fall of the iron curtain he called it a blessing for Europe. It can breathe again with both lungs as Pope John Paul II claimed. It was a major achievement: extra jobs, exchange of people in different fields like academia, culture and sports. The unification between East and West Germany was good for the whole of Europe not only for Germany. Therefore the unification of North and South Korea would not only be good for Korea but for all Eastern Asian nations as well.
Dr. Fasslabend asked the question: Why is Korea divided? It was occupied by Japanese and freed by the Russians in the North and from the USA in the South.
This brought the split into the country, not a selfimposed separation but brought from outside. In Germany it was Chancellor Willi Brand, who started the Eastern initiative. It took 20 years until the wall was gone. Chancellor Helmut Kohl was greeted by the people in East Germany who shouted: “We are the people”. Korea is in this point different. The Unification of Koea will depend also on USA, China, Russia and Japan.
Prof. Brian Myers, American Professor of International Studies at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea made a point that the developments in divided Europe and Germany before Unification were not really comparable to Korea and that we have to see the differences. The frontline in Korea is between modern and radical nationalism. South Korea is a representative democracy with a moderate nationalist outlook. Korean discuss unification among themselves differently from the way they discuss it with foreigners in English. The model talked among Koreans is confederation. It was first proposed by Kim Il Sung in 1960 with unfriendly rhetoric towards the South. It picked up by the South in the late 1970s and the rightwing ruling party called loudest for it in the late 1980s but the North Koreans were not interested as they were now in the weaker position. During the June 15th 2000 summit the leaders reached an agreement on this. In the declaration they pledged to “find common ground between the North and South Korean models.” While the outside world did not pay much attention to it, this played a major role in the relationship between the divided country. When the liaison office was opened in 2018 it was declared the first step in the confederation process. The destruction of it was a message that the relationship between North and South Korea should never be better than the relationship of the North to the USA which deteriorated after the Hanoi summit in 2019. But the South Korean government is laying the foundation domestically by promoting confederation. The model is the European Union, an economic community but also a confederal system with federal elements. The question which here arises is, if the EU is a realistic model for a confederation between a democracy and a dictatorship. It would be good that this issue would be exposed to international critical discussion.
Hon. Lukas Mandl said that the relationship of EU countries with South Korea is a remarkable success story. The rule of law is a core part what the EU is. The EU can be a strong partner of the Korean peninsula as a whole, when the unification is in place. Today the EU is a huge development aid partner of North Korea, critical engagement is the policy approach. We would be ready to act as a facilitator and an honest broker if asked to do so also as “parliamentary diplomacy.” Denuclearization is the first goal of critical engagement in North Korea. He believes that economic exchange helps and is not part of the problem.
Then Prof. Myers spoke about the dangers and challenges of a confederation as the two Koreas have diverging expectations and interests relating to it. He suggested that it should be monitored by the United States. He explained how the divided Germanies and Koreas were or are so different. The two Germanies criticized each other on humanitarian grounds while the two Koreas do it on nationalist grounds. He wished that the EU and the Europeans make their opinion better known in South Korea when it comes to limiting human rights issues like we see in the leaflet law. The South Koreans believe that a confederation would relax the North Koreans. This is very much the assumption the ruling camp is making. The South Koreans believe that confederation should happen before denuclearization in order to make it more likely. He does not believe that commerce between the Koreas will make friends out of enemies as the case of Kaesong Industrial zone shows.
Answering a question by the audience Prof. Myers stated that he believes as an American whose country is threatened by nuclear bombs that sanctions should be loosened if North Korea makes substantial concessions. The sanction politics should be reviewed. He thinks that the Biden administration will make a small deal with the North Koreans at some point. The South Koreans would like to have the security benefits being in the US corner and the economic benefits being in China’s corner. Because of the trade war between the US and China the South Koreans will have to make a choice and he thinks that they are likely to choose China.
About the role of the sister of Kim Jong-Un Prof. Myers said that North Korea is a family owned state not a one party government state even the North wants to present themselves like this. Party procedures are never really taken seriously. During negotiations Kim Yo-Jong had to play the role of the hawk who is on a slightly lower level than her brother who represents the doves.
On the question about his book “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans see themselves and why it Matters” Prof. Myers said that South Korea does not any more share the hostility against racial intermixing and is becoming slowly a multiethnic society. But the South Korean share the view that Korea is an uniquely pure and moral race that has been victimized by the rest of the world for hundreds of years. This is a bond and there is a lot of nationalist symbolism at these summits like at Mount Paektu, when the two presidents met at the last summit. North Koreans want the real unification but the South Koreans want to enter into a symbolic unification like a loose confederation and keep that going on for decades.
As a final statement Hon. Mandl expressed his appreciation for Mr. Myers elaborations beyond the daily political talk. He said that the EU has to stay engaged even it is geographically remote. The world needs reliable facilitators and the EU sees itself as being one. We always look for reliable partners to find solutions for ongoing problems as well as achieving visionary goals like the Korean Unification.
As a final word Dr. Fasslabend made the audience aware that in history an unexpected surprise may come like when in Europe the political scenery changed completely. The only person, who believed that Germany would reunite, was Otto von Habsburg, the son of the last Austrian emperor. Let us be careful and prepared even if the situation does not seem to be ripe for a Korean Unification.
As a conclusion Mr. Jacques Marion, Co-Chair of UPF Europe and the Middle East explained the motivates of UPF’s efforts toward Korean reunification, which was prompted by the UPF’s founders Dr. Sun Myung Moon and his wife’s historical visit to Pyongyang in December 1991 to meet with President Kim Il Sung. At that time Dr. Moon was considered an enemy of Kim Il Sung because of his clear stand against worldwide communism and the Juche ideology. That meeting was very fruitful and concluded with an agreement covering points that have later been the framework for North Korean diplomatic policy: the reunification of families, the welcoming of investments by overseas Koreans, and the economic development of the Mount Kumgang Touristic Region. In 1998, they initiated the first car factory ever to be developed in North Korea, called Pyeonghwa (Peace) Motors. When he died in 2012, Dr. Moon was awarded by the North Korean government the highest honor of the country, the National Reunification Award.
It is the same philosophy that prompts his wife to initiate a worldwide initiative this year, as we commemorate the 30-year anniversary of their meeting with Kim Il Sung. She has a standing invitation from North Korea, and she wants to offer all the resources of our worldwide organization to support reconciliation on the Peninsula. We plan to convene a Summit in the capitals of North or South Korea, as well as fact-finding tours in the Region by journalists and other leaders. We are inviting leaders from each of these fields to support constructive dialogue on the Peninsula by forming what we call “Think Tank 2022”, a worldwide group of experts including heads of state, parliamentarians, religious leaders, academics, business leaders and media experts, who can contribute with their knowledge and experience to the ultimate goal of Korean reunification.
Koreans have a burning passion for their country, and a strong sense of destiny. I believe that when they see opportunities arise on the path toward reunification, the dormant fire can be revived even among this young generation. We want to bring a broad network of leaders and experts, from East to West and North to South, that can contribute to dialogue and mutual understanding – including, in our case, between Europe and the Korean Peninsula, as well as other stakeholder nations in the Region and thus create the conditions for gradually dismantling one of the last remaining Walls of the Cold War, a wall that has many dimensions, not the least in the minds of the people.