How relevant is the German reunification for Korea today?

It has been 30 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. FES Korea explored the significance of the German reunification for the Korean peninsula.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the German reunification fascinated people in South Korea. Many of them thought they could be reunified as well. A lot of South Koreans have visited Germany to learn from its experiences and conducted research into its every facet. To this day, the German reunification has long been considered a prime model for reunification in South Korea.

Thirty years have passed, but for the two Koreas the divide remains, and the Korean War has still not seen its end. Is the German reunification still relevant for the Korean peninsula today? And if so, how relevant is it? To explore the significance of the German reunification for the Korean peninsula, FES Korea talked to 13 South Koreans and Germans. 

Despite the desire for reunification, the circumstances surrounding 1990 Germany back then and present-day Korea are quite different. The tragedy of the Korean War left millions of dead on both sides, leaving long-standing wounds. This is exacerbated by North Korea continuing to develop nuclear weapons, destabilising not only the peninsula but all of East Asia. These differences make it difficult to follow the German model in the same way, especially if we are seeking not a quick reunification but a long-term process of mutual dialogue and rapprochement which will eventually lead to reunification.

However, the German reunification has left the Korean peninsula with several lessons. First, Willy Brandt and his Ostpolitik (eastern policy) taught us how important rapprochement and reconciliation is to the process. The history of the Korean peninsula has proven that hostile policies only destabilize situations and increase conflicts. Second, the significance of consensus-building and consistency of rapprochement policies. We need to pursue continuous diplomacy and policies towards North Korea independent of the political line of governments. It is a basic condition for building trust. In addition, we need not only sufficient political and economic but also personal and cultural exchange and cooperation before reunification is achieved. We need to take a step-by-step approach. Last but not least, what Germans have done to enhance social unity and resolve conflicts post-reunification such as long talks between people of both Germanys to share their life stories could be crucial for social integration of the Korean peninsula.

Learn more about what South Korean and German experts as well as the South Korean citizens have to say: 

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About the author

Sung Dain is a project manager at the FES Korea Office. For more information on the work of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Korea contact the FES office in Seoul.

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