November 04, 2009 12:53
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Germany. Helmut Kohl, who was the chancellor of West Germany, wrote in his memoirs, "Even until that point, I had no idea that Nov. 9, 1989 would be a day that will go down in German history."
The political and economic reforms introduced by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office in 1985, shook the political and ideological foundations of the former Eastern bloc. And the Soviet Union, reeling from economic difficulties, gave up acting as the guardian of the Warsaw Pact countries. But no West German politician believed those winds of change would lead to German reunification. Kohl was the exception. The opposition Social Democratic and Green parties even demanded Kohl stop his "unrealistic" rhetoric about reunification.
When Hungary opened its borders to Austria on July 17, 1989, East Germans flocked to this route to enter West Germany. The ensuing civil unrest forced East German leader Erich Honecker to step down in October that year, ending his 18-year reign. When the new East German administration led by Egon Krenz allowed East Germans to freely enter the West starting on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall was torn down by the masses. East and West Germany then started reunification talks and achieved the goal on Oct. 3 the following year.
Germany, which was defeated in World War II, was unable to pursue reunification without the authorization of the victors, France, the Soviet Union, the U.K. and The U.S. The only leader who supported German reunification was U.S. president George Bush. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and French president Francois Mitterand flew to Moscow to meet Gorbachev and quietly urged him to block German reunification. Kohl and West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher sought Bush's help or resorted to direct talks to convince Thatcher and Mitterand to support German reunification.
In June 1989, just four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kohl invited Gorbachev to West Germany and succeeded in winning Soviet backing to "overcome division in Europe" by offering a huge aid package. West Germany's diplomatic skill in securing Washington's backing and softening Moscow led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and paved the way for reunification.
After 15 years of economic hardship, North Korea's very existence is under threat. At this moment, more than 50,000 North Korean defectors are wandering around China and Southeast Asia hoping to enter South Korea. Like Germany's, Korea's reunification will happen at the least expected time and in a way nobody anticipates. And the support of regional powers is essential. Just as German diplomacy won the backing of the U.S. and turned the Soviet Union into a passive opponent, so South Korea needs to turn supporters into stronger proponents of reunification, while turning opponents into backers or at least persuading them to stay quiet. The future of the country depends on it.
For the first five years after reunification, West Germany pumped 1.5 trillion euros into East Germany each year, and still the economy of the East German region is only 70 percent the level of West Germany. Social antagonism between former East and West Germans remains. But up until 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, 5 million East Germans visited West Germany and 1 million of them were in their 20s. Every year, hundreds of thousands of East Germans received passports and traveled abroad.
Although both the former East Germany and present-day North Korea march to the beat of communism, they are light years apart. It has been more than 60 years since the Korean Peninsula was divided, but each year only around 200 to 300 separated families gather at Mt. Kumgang for three days of reunions before they part ways again.
Reunified Germany has recouped its initial costs of reunification and begun reaping the fruits. It is believed that North Korea would put a great deal of burden on the South after reunification, but from a long-term perspective, it has potential to take the Korean Peninsula to a higher level.
But how many South Koreans are planning and preparing to deal with reunification? Watching Kohl, Bush and Gorbachev gather together to commemorate the 20th anniversary of German reunification generates a quiet sense of despair.
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