Seoul Searching: Germans Give Pep Talks on Korean Unification


You can immediately recognize a North Korean by the way he speaks, says Sang Don Park, a ministry official responsible for matters relating to refugees. He says that North Koreans don't use any Anglicisms, but they do use communist political jargon that no one in the South is familiar with. These are presumably terms like ones that were common in East Germany that only raised quizzical looks among Germans in the West after reunification. A North Korean often understands only 60 percent of South Korean, says Sang. What's more, he adds, there is a different intonation and various dialects. Not to mention health problems: North Koreans have poor teeth due to malnourishment. Many suffer from depression and other psychological problems when they arrive in the South. North Korean refugees receive financial aid for five years after they leave the camp. There are programs that help them find work and housing -- and acquire an education.

An Ebbing Desire to Unite South Koreans are probably afraid that they will have to re-educate and finance an entire people -- and pay for their dental care -- if unification becomes a reality.

"Many young South Koreans are put off by the costs" as well, says Deputy Minister Kim and cites the following figures: Only approximately 35 percent of the 19 to 40-year-olds see reunification as an important political issue.

The desire to unite is continuously ebbing. South Korea's older generation has long since lost touch with friends and relatives north of the border. The younger generation has never had a chance to meet. Viewed from the South, North Korea is a distant, uninhabitable planet. It's not even possible to hop across the border for a quick look, as West German schoolchildren used to do on field trips to East Berlin.

But now, fortunately, the Germans are here. Kim hopes that they will rekindle the fires of enthusiasm.

'You Have To Be Flexible -- Observe and Read the Signs' One afternoon, two black Hyundai sedans pull up in front of the Ewha Womans University in Seoul. De Maizière and Schönbohm exit the vehicles like statesmen. Shortly thereafter, they are sitting in two white leather armchairs on a stage and looking into the eyes of 500 students. The event is called "Dialogue with the World's Leaders," which makes it sound as if even Barack Obama might drop by.

But the only other individual on the stage is Kim Sun-Uk, the president of the University. "We anticipate Korean reunification over the next 20 years," she says. "We need a great act of solidarity."

That's the cue for de Maizière and Schönbohm. It's their job to forge a bridge between Germany and Korea, between the past and the future. They're here to reach out to the hearts of these young people.

De Maizière begins with the fall of the Wall, mentions the first truly free Volkskammer elections, the anti-communist human rights activist Joachim Gauck, new state laws and monetary union, among other developments that were part of the road to German reunification. He also recounts how, after signing the Two-Plus-Four Treaty in September 1990 in Moscow, paving the way for German reunification, he pocketed the fountain pen -- as a souvenir. Schönbohm, who was once ordered to peacefully disband the former East German National People's Army (NVA), mentions the command issued by then-German Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg on Oct. 3, 1990 and lists the NVA's arsenal of weapons. "1.4 million handguns, 7,800 armored personnel carriers, 82 warships …"

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