September 26, 2020

Overcoming Differences in Civil Society

lan Fowler, a prominent scholar on civil society once remarked, "it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that civil society is a level playing field and the new salvation of development, but civil society is a messy arena of competing claims and interests between groups that do not necessarily like each other". When it comes to improving the living conditions of the North Korean people, nothing could be truer. The current debate with regards to whether to allocate food aid to North Korea is just one of the latest examples. Yet, we all want the well-being of North Koreans improve (or at the very least we publicly proclaim so), so why can't we work together towards this common goal?  The same goes for governments: before sending food aid, South Korea wants an apology for the recent attacks committed against both its civilians and its soldiers. And for its part too, the United States has pre-conditions; the assurance that aid will not be misused and that inter-Korean ties must improve. All the while, the U.S. is happy to pour millions of dollars into non-democratic countries 'allied' in the war against terrorism.

We say we want reconciliation, peace and possibly the re-unification of the peninsula, yet the polarization of South Korean society seems to be just as insurmountable as the existence of the militarized zone that divides the peninsula.