“Our hope is unification.”
Many South Koreans used to sing this during their elementary schools days, but no more. While the South Korean president may refer to unification as a “jackpot,” many South Koreans are concerned about the increasing financial burden unification would bring.
But what do leaders in the North Korean defector community say about the views their countrymen have towards the controversial topic?
Defector leaders recently surveyed by NK News said that North Koreans hope for unification, but aren’t thinking about the future expenses. In the past, they hoped to liberate South Korea from U.S. “imperialists.” Now, they wait for unification to escape of economic hardship. One expert, however, said some older North Korea are worried about discrimination due to their inability to adjust to technology and computer skills.
In part 32 of an NK News expert interview series, defector experts interviewed included:
- Kim Heung-kwang, Representative, North Korean Intellectual Solidarity
- Kim Seong-min, Executive Director, Free North Korea Radio
- Kim Young-hui, Korea Development Bank, Chief of the North Korean Economy Team, (Ph.D. in North Korean Studies)
- Lee Youn-geol, President, North Korea Strategic Information Service Center
- Kim Seung-chul, President, North Korea Reform Radio
Responses translated by JH Ahn, Hyun-bi Park, Ina Yoon, and Ha-young Choi
Q32) Is it true that North Koreans seem more pro-unification than their Southern counterparts, and if so, why? Are young North Koreans aware of the financial costs and social upheaval that will likely come with unification?
They are not uninterested in the unification issue. I think South Korean youth are interested in North Korea because of the continuous threats from it. North Koreans have a profound interest in unification. When I give lectures in front of soldiers, I always say that North Koreans’ wish is to get out of the hardships and their slave-like lives. The only way for this is for South Korea to help the North Korean people achieve liberation from Kim Jong Un’s regime.
North Koreans’ desire to be unified because there’s no hope in their lives now. The last hope of the Northern people is to build a nation of abundance and liberty together. The reason why they tend to support unification is due to the effects of South Korean culture flowing into North Korea. In the past they were isolated, only listening to the North Korean government’s propaganda. However, after the ’90s, they learned about South Korean reality through the ROK movies, TV dramas and so on. South Korea looks like a very good place to live in the eyes of North Koreans. Pro-South Korean sentiment and a yearning for South Korea have been growing, a lot.
Currently, North Koreans are so jealous of South Korea’s marvelous economic development, social development and technical advancement. However, at the same time, they have recognized that South Korea is not always a good society. Some defectors have gone back to North Korea. When North Koreans listen to stories about South Korea from their relatives, brothers and sisters, people think South Korea is not like a dream.
If defectors cannot settle down well in Southern society, worries about the situation after unification will grow. Successful defectors appreciate a society like South Korea and think it is enough to live in that society. However, there’s no hope if people do not even get jobs here (in the South). Thus, through these people, the awareness that people with a lot of money can live well but people with no (social) support can be ignored in South Korea is prevailing.
Of course, defectors should make efforts to settle down in South Korea, but the government should at least take action for them to get a job. Defectors have grown up without facing competition. They’ve never known about a competitive capitalist society, so society shouldn’t make them compete with South Koreans. Why would companies hire defectors? Their language is different and they cannot speak English well, so there are no reasons to hire defectors. Hence, it is irresponsible to leave defectors in capitalist competition.
Young people in the North sincerely desire to build a liberal democratic country with the young generation in South Korea
The young generation in North Korea usually does not envision a negative situation after unification. Their hopes are greater (than their doubts). Young people in the North sincerely desire to build a liberal democratic country with the young generation in South Korea. North Koreans are favorably disposed toward the Korean Wave and the South’s culture. South Koreans’ English abilities are high and they have high-tech abilities and they are smart. Because North Koreans think they are not smart, North Koreans are afraid of the situation in which they can be ignored by South Koreans when unified.
Reunification has nothing to do with the personal life of young South Koreans, who associate it with the costs that they will have to pay before and after unification. In contrast, young North Koreans view reunification as something that must happen to satisfy their long-awaited desires.
“We need to save the South Korean citizens, who are still under the colonial rule of the U.S.”
This justification is due to the brainwashing that the North Koreans receive, such as “We need to save the South Korean citizens, who are still under the colonial rule of the U.S.” and “The Korean peninsula has to achieve the Juche ideology,” but it is also connected to the Workers’ Party of Korea’s pursuit of a communistic reunification strategy.
The young people that grew up with this kind of “education” and “environment” have a stronger desire for reunification than younger South Koreans but their reunification argument closely resembles a fictitious, abstract idea. They do not discuss the costs of reunification and the possibility of an unstable society after the reunification.
The younger generations of North Koreans do not recognize the cost of reunification and the possibility of a confused society after unification. They have never thought about the costs of reunification and they do not realize that there could be confusion after unification.
North Koreans want a quick reunification, even through war, because life is so hard in North Korea
They only hope for reunification vaguely. The North Koreans still hold onto the notion from the 1980s that South Korea is a colony of the United States and that we need to reunify to free South Korea from being a colony but, now, North Koreans want a quick reunification, even through war, because life is so hard in North Korea.
The most important reason for North Koreans’ higher desire for unification is because of affliction and hunger brought about by Kim’s family. In other words, North Koreans would have thought they could avoid hunger, at least through unification. At the same time, within the North Korean regime, their thoughts that the hunger and economic privation are due to economic isolation by the U.S. and South Korea have been partially influenced by the North Korean government’s education and propaganda.
South Koreans, on the other hand, associate the desire for unification with real-life situations instead of future-oriented one. Thus, South Koreans have the egotistical concept that they don’t want to share the pain with North Koreans. For example, they should pay substantial taxes for North Koreans in need. In particular, over the last 10 years, mis-education about unification is partially responsible for the great pressure that people in South must feed North Koreans, evading the aspect of profitability in the event of reunification.
Unification for North Korea is a comprehensive solution to deal with all problems, including food shortages, financial difficulties, difficulty of living, power shortages and so on. Therefore, the North Korean people tend to support unification.
Young people in North Korea may not be aware of the concept of cost of unification or the instability of society after unification because unification is a utopia, a political and ideological slogan to North Koreans. However, when the young generation of North Koreans think of unification, there’s a fear that, due to South Korea’s great economy, North Koreans will be their servants if South Korean-led unification happens.
They have a great fantasy of South Korean society
Although the young people in North Korea do not have any knowledge of the basic concept of post-unification, they have a great fantasy of South Korean society that they have experienced through TV dramas about South Korea. This may be a factor causing instability in society after unification.
Main picture: NK News
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Featured Image: North Korea Unification Monument HDR by Ray Cunningham on 2010-08-08 17:01:20