North Korean defectors and South Koreans have largely negative views of each other, scholars participating in a conference in Seoul said late last week.
At the conference, co-hosted by the Ilmin International Relations Institute and the Public Policy Institute of Korea University, scholars discussed the reasons for the negative perceptions between the two groups and how to improve their social integration ahead of unification.
The longer defectors stay in South Korea, the higher the academic level they achieve. This results in a negative recognition of the South Korean leadership system, which means they are becoming dissatisfied with the political system in their new home, said Choi Soon-mi, a Korea University graduate presenting the findings of her doctoral thesis.
“This has originated from the difference between the theoretical democracy they learned of at school and the reality of South Korean politics. Increasing communication with South Koreans also forms a negative perception about the South Korean leadership.”
At the same time, South Koreans still feel distant from defectors, hesitating to deeply engage with them.
“Seventy percent of South Koreans answered that they can accept defectors as a friend or neighbor. However, only 10 percent of them would cooperate with defectors as their business partner, and only 7 percent of them would marry a defector,” Kim Hee-jin of Myungji University said.
South Koreans’ political positions, educational backgrounds, income levels and sense of national identity act as variables. People with a progressive perspective and higher income are more generous to North Koreans, while people with higher educational backgrounds and stronger senses of nationalism tend to feel distant from defectors, Kim said.
“Highly educated people are concerned over the great burden which will be caused by defectors in South Korean society. Wealthy people would not look at defectors as their competitors. Generally, the progressives are more open-minded to social minorities,” Kim said.
But Kim Young-hee, head of North Korea Economy Team at Korea Development Bank had a different tale.
“Highly educated people are less likely to be involved with defectors. This pattern of behavior even exists among defectors’ group,” she said. She also pointed out that, while progressives are friendlier to defectors, defectors themselves tend to feel closer to conservative South Koreans.
Both Choi and Kim highlighted the importance of education. Choi suggested practical education, teaching democratic participation. Kim argued that official education should focus on general human rights improvement, not only for North Korean defectors but also for the many types of social minorities in South Korea.
Featured image: Ha-young Choi
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