For North Korean defectors, reunification is a distant possibility

By James Moules

Image: Pixabay

LAST month saw the anniversary of one of the most iconic events in modern world history.

After standing as the symbol of a nation’s soul torn in two for decades, the Berlin Wall came crashing down in the early 90s, heralding the end of the Cold War with it.

It was an emotional time for many people – families and communities, who had been ripped apart by the post-WWII terms imposed upon the nation, were now reunited.

The reunification of Germany was not without its social or economic consequences, but the fall of the Berlin Wall’s status as a landmark moment in history is undeniable.

Fast-forward to 2019. On the far side of the world, another nation and people divided frequently draws comparison with the German situation.

Like Germany, Korea was divided in the years following WWII. Like Germany, this divide separated the region on the geopolitical lines of the Cold War.

Like Germany, reunification was often deemed impossible. Until it happened.

Redaction Politics spoke a North Korean defector to ask his view on the prospects for such a unity occurring in the near future.

To protect his identity, he has not been named.

Why are there two Koreas?

Image: Pixabay

Following the Allied victory in the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United States reached an agreement to separate the Korean peninsula – which had been a Japanese colony – into two nations.

In the north, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established as a Soviet communist puppet in the region under the leadership of Kim Il-sung.

Down south, the capitalist Republic of Korea was created with Syngman Rhee as its leader.

However, both sides would refuse to recognise the other’s rights to the land, with the respective leaders claiming the right to govern the whole of the Korean peninsula.

From 1950 to 1953, the Korean Civil War ravaged the region. First, North Korean forces invaded the South, bringing them to the brink of defeat.

After an intervention from UN forces, the North was pushed back and found itself in a dire situation as well.

When Chinese forces intervened on the side of Kim Il-sung, eventually a stalemate ensued over the 38th parallel – the border which had been drawn up after the Second World War.

This border is now arguably the most deadly in the world, with guards, barriers and mines surrounding the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two nations.

Will there be unity once more?

It is no secret that in the decades since the Korean War, the two nations have become vastly different.

After a period of despotism, South Korea today has achieved the status of a liberal democracy and is one of the most developed nations on the planet.

The same cannot be said for the North.

The so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea harbours one of the most repressive regimes on the planet, with brainwashing, arbitrary detention, torture and executions carried out at disturbing rates.

It maintains order through terror and the pervasive cult of personality surrounding its ruling Kim dynasty – including their current dear leader Kim Jong-un.

As of late, the relationship between North Korea and the United States has been turbulent to say the least.

Since early in his presidency, Donald Trump has locked horns with Kim Jong-un, with both leaders of these two nuclear powers promising to inflict armageddon upon the other.

However, after months of this brinkmanship, tensions appeared to ease.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in had a historic meeting with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ, and Trump later became the first US President to meet a North Korean leader.

With this apparent détente underway, could the inconceivable happen?

Could Korea become one nation once again?

Redaction Politics spoke to a North Korean defector who now lives in Luxembourg, to ask his opinion on the reunification question.

He says that, in spite of the recent diplomatic posturing from the two leaders, the prospect of reunification remains highly unlikely.

The two systems have drifted so far apart that they are near irreconcilable, he says.

He reckons that the best chance of a united Korean peninsula would be if the north were to become a capitalist democracy by itself first.

This, he says, cannot happen so long as Kim Jong-un retains his stranglehold over the nation and its people.

Do Koreans want reunification?

To an extent, he says.

He points out that reunification could have serious economic ramifications for the South.

In principal, he thinks that many Koreans support reunification, especially among his fellow defectors from North Korea whom want to see the end of the tyranny that reigns over their land.

However, he thinks that, while many may support the idea, South Koreans have less of an appetite for unification than their compatriots in the North.

Many southerners are wary about the costs that would come with reunification.

How would the South Korean economy cope with receiving the North? Would people lose their jobs?

He says that, on the other hand, North Korean defectors who have had the illusion of their governments propaganda shattered would love the freedoms that the South offers.

Freedom to travel. Freedom of speech. Some of the most basic human rights from which North Koreans are deprived.

But as he points out, the two systems are now so different as to be incompatible.

He emphasises that vast scale change would have to occur to see reunification happen.

Another Berlin?

For all the talk of peace between the two Koreas, he opines that a unified Korea is an unlikely prospect.

The two systems have been too deeply divided for too long at this point.

He adds that if it were to happen, many changes to the North would likely only be surface level and that many problems would still continue.

He implores the people in Western nations to pay attention to the plight of the North Korean people and apply diplomatic pressure on the regime regarding its brutal labour camps and its nuclear facitilies.

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Featured images credited to Pixabay

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