Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Is There Really No Way to Reunify Korea?

A fascinating land of 75 million people – 50 and 24,9 million, living on both sides of barbed wires and not being able to patch up. This is Korea.



But why does Korea have to be separated by so much hatred, weapons and other nonsense? Isn't it basically the same people on both sides?

When I was staying with Ryuji and Wiwe, his wife in Seoul, Korea, I had two great visitors. One of them was a familiar figure, a favourite from medieval Japan,


Hideyoshi Toyotami (1536-1598), the great unifier of Japan and the other one was Sejong the Great (1397-1450),


who had done similar things for Korea. Separated by a century, they could never have met but here they were side by side in my dream. The Japanese Daimyō spoke in a kind manner. Now, this being a dream, I found myself interrupting the great warlord with a question “Aren’t you great lords supposed to be in different time periods and actually enemies?” Patiently, the great warriors smiled and said: “Oh, things are very different when you free yourself from limited perspectives.”

Without wasting further words, the great Daimyōs asked me “Korea has been nice to you. What do you wish for the Korean people in return, one wish?” Then they nodded, royally signalling that not answering would be unacceptable.

What a question! Hideoshi Toyotami had banned slavery and had used his army to confiscate all weapons from the peasantry in then Japan, had them publicly melted into a Buddha statue, thus preventing any violent armed uprising and through this immensely symbolic act unified Japan. Sejong the Great created the Hangul alphabet to give Koreans a distinct identity and repelled invaders by capturing Tsushima.



Korean Reunification – Is it possible?

Here I am, given this immense task, staring at these figures, regal in presence yet not intimidating, demanding yet understanding and strangely I did not feel small in their august company. Only true greatness of spirit can lift another human being out of the innate smallness the human condition entails.

After the failure of the Sunshine Policies the closest the two Koreas have come to reunification is this selfie at the 2016 Rio Olympics:
On the Southern side, they are the fourth richest economy in the world, get a huge catch of gold medals in sports, and have the highest percentage of PhDs per capita in the world, though walking on the streets it seems that no one is actually thinking ahead because they are all busy staring into the screens of handheld devices.

On the northern side, they have the fourth largest army in the world. Survival entails being seen glorifying their rulers who all have funny haircuts. The Northern system can’t take over the far more advanced and infinitely richer south. You can’t wish that the ruling gang of the North would vanish into thin air and the southern system takes over the country. That would create a horrendous identity crisis that would last two generations of people battling feelings of “I am better than you because I am from the south”. As it happened in Germany, twenty years after the Wiedervereinigung, 14% of the older Easterners with nostalgia thought that life behind the wall was better than life now (Stockemer and Elder, 2015). 



Having a joint Korean system with sharing of power – that doesn’t seem possible even in a dream. East Germany was physically far from its main supporter, the Soviet Union, which also collapsed. But, North Korea shares borders with Russia and especially China, which is flourishing and powerful enough to prevent North Korea being gobbled by the South. The possibilities for a German style Wiedervereinigung is rather non-existent.

A Model for Korean Reunification


The answer came. Following the great Daimyo Hideyoshi’s example, all the weapons on both sides would be gathered in one place, melted for the metal and the metal would be used to create a gigantic statue of the Buddha occupying the demilitarized zone. There would be, following Korean ancient tradition, statues of four heavenly kings guarding the gates and they would be given funny haircuts as a symbolic gesture.

The Japanese rational idea in 1910 was to achieve efficiency of specialisation by concentrating industry in the north and agriculture in the south. Following this rational principle, the northern people would be responsible for the technological implementation of construction and technical maintenance of the 551 metre high statue facing east. To make themselves feel better, they could paint the Northern side of the statue in battleship grey, strictly no capitalist colours. The southern side could have traditional Korean colours. The main body of the statue will contain many walk-on-glass viewing platforms at over 200-meters. There will be a square on the northern side where people feeling nostalgic about the North can volunteer to stage hourly parades goose-stepping in bleak uniforms. The leaders with the funny haircuts would be given the great honour of integrating the northern perspective in museums all over the country. The Korean War Museum in Seoul has no mention of the northern casualties, as if the mothers in the north or children did not feel any pain when they lost their children or parents in the war.


Then there will be cafés and restaurants with karaoke, shops, libraries, an opera/theatre, movie theatres and maglev train connections with Seoul and Pyongyang. The main attraction will be a gigantic 24-hour Jjimjilbang (찜질방) (run by the southerners) in the middle of the statue. Seeing each other denuded of uniforms in a bubble-pool or sauna allows one to see the other as a human being, almost like us. It’s the black and white or binary perspective that is the real enemy.

 


In his days, the great Daimiyo had understood that Western “Christians” saw the world in binary terms, conquer or perish. So he had them crucified in order to save Japan from becoming their colony. 1854 and Commodore Perry in Japan would probably have happened much earlier if not for him. Emulating Hideyoshi Toyotami’s insightful action, all intervention by outside bankers, weapons dealers and military-industrial complexes (supplying both sides) and ideology peddlers in the Korean peninsula would be banned from interfering in Korean affairs and messing with the Korean people: The Korean brothers and sisters on both sides would be left in peace to work out things in a Jjimjilbang, not a takeover or political “unification” á la Germania but a common construction project. In the Jjimjilbangs (찜질방) and 105-floor sky-café’s they would get a loftier perspective and then discover that together they are better off enjoying life together than fighting each other with borrowed weapons that just make arms manufacturers far-away richer.


Then the kings told me to go to Jongmyo shrine and tell my answer there and disappeared. There cannot be a military solution. Talking hasn’t helped. Is it that only a gigantic symbolic action would bring closure to the hatred and heal the wounds of six decades? Without closure, there is no forward motion, no realisation of Mono no aware (物の哀れ). The next day, I literally stumbled into Jongmyo. It was a terribly hot day and I was sweating and sat down in exhaustion. Suddenly, there was a cool breeze from somewhere, which did not move the leaves of the trees around but soothed me and left me energized. Sejong the Great and Hideyoshi Toyotami had accepted my answer.


In the largest Jjimjilbang in the world and the 105-floor sky-café, Saturday April the 23rd, 2022 is a busy and peaceful day, isn’t it?


References: Stockemer D, Elder G.(2015). Germans 25 years after reunification – How much do they know about the German Democratic Republic and what is their value judgment of the socialist regime? Communist and Post-Communist Studies. 48 (2-3): pp. 113-22.