By Keiko Sometani
More than one hundred people, including South Korean citizens, North Korean defectors, and civic leaders, gathered at the Peace Center at UNICEF to engage in a lively panel discussion on strategies for Korean reunification in July of 2018. The forum is one of many in a series of Unification Forums that are promoting a Korea-led movement of reunification of the peninsula.
Panelists at the Third Advanced Unification Strategy Forum included Eun Sil Lee, a college student at the Hanyang Ciber University who defected from North Korea; Se Jin Oh, a graduate student at Seoul National University Graduate School of International Studies; and Bekhzod Komilov, a foreign exchange student from Uzbekistan studying at the Seoul National University Graduate School of Education.
Representative Advisor to the Korea Institute for National Unification, In Je Lee, and Co-President of a pan-civilian organization, Jong Hwan Seo, were among the notable attendees at the forum, which was organized by the North Korean Strategy Center, Advanced unified National Union, the Women’s Unification Research Society, Action for Korea United (AKU), the Advancement of the Korean Peninsula Foundation and the Korea Unification Research Institute.
Prior to the panel discussion, Co-Chair of AKU and recipient of a Presidential Commendation from the Ministry of Unification, Inteck Seo, gave a presentation on the “Korean Dream,” a vision for an enlightened, unified nation that could benefit humanity. Mr. Seo shared that just as this vision served as catalyst during the mass peaceful protests of the 1919 March 1 Movement, it could also be a powerful force within the reunification movement and draw support from the international community.
Eun Sil Lee resonated with the vision and shared, “In North Korea, they do not appreciate a citizen’s movement that does not have one specific hero. The values behind the March 1 Movement that I learned today are inspiring.”
Bekhzod Komilov and Se Jin Oh also appreciated the insights they learned and conveyed the need to teach about the March 1 Movement in depth on an international level. Ms. Oh shared, “It seems that students learn about the March 1 Movement in history class without really understanding the value inherent in it or even considering its links to the current unification movement.”
Despite concerns about denuclearization and whether North Korea would be open to reforms, the panelists remained optimistic and expressed their conviction in the potential that civic education could serve in building a citizen’s movement for reunification. Mr. Komilov offered suggestions in spreading awareness within the international community saying, “When foreigners visit Korea, they often visit division sites such as the DMZ, which do not allow them to understand clearly the reality of the division and North Korea. Sometimes it seems that it is simply an expensive tourist site rather than an educational site. If more educational systems and opportunities for exchanges with North Korean defectors existed, foreigners would understand the situation better on the Korean peninsula and would support a reunified nation.”
As the only North Korean defector on the panel, Ms. Lee had some important insights to improving education. “North Korean defectors are trained at Hanawon in the early stages of their settlement in South Korea,” she said. “However, three months of short training is not enough to fully understand Korea. At least the teenagers go to school after finishing the Hanawon training, but it’s difficult for adults who need to start earning an income. I hope that the education system will improve so that North Korean defectors who will play a major role in the post-unification process can settle in the early stages.”
Ms. Oh expressed the need for civil society to contribute to reunification efforts, going beyond the work of just political authorities. She reiterated the urgency to bring awareness to civic education on building a citizen-led movement for reunification.
The forum illustrated the importance of engaging young people in ongoing discussions for reunification as they offered unique insights. Just as the Arab Spring of 2011 demonstrated the power of young people coming together in solidarity to bring about social transformation, young Koreans with the support of young people from around the world have the potential to shape the destiny of the Korean peninsula by becoming a part of this growing global campaign for reunification.
Former Representative In-je Lee shared his hopes with the forum participants saying, “I hope that more young people will have good insights regarding the situation on the Korean peninsula and that Korea will be able to find the right path to unification.”
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