Thursday, 28 January 2010

North, South and the bomb

The cold knocks me off but I can't sleep so I decided to write.

Albert recently asked me if the North Korean nuclear project is seen by South Koreans as a common Korean weapon which might be used against Japan.

I have read Huntington articles in Foreign Affairs, but I didn't get hold on his book so far. I cannot really refer in detailed way to what was written about North - South Korea relations in that book, but nevertheless I understand the idea.

There is a certain borderline between generations in Korean society. Young people in their 30's usually consider North Korea as a non-friendly state, or at least totally different country. Some of my Korean friends being asked that question give the very same answers, admitting though that despite anything they are aware that the language there is the same and people think similar as well.

But those who set the course of South Korean foreign affairs are people in their 50's and 60's. They are as well supported by their entire generation. That generation hoped for reconciliation and reunification of two countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War between USA and USSR. In both countries Japanese occupation left scars which need a lot of time to be healed. Children of people who experienced that invasion were raised with hatred in their minds and hearts.

The very same generation shares the attitude to historic Koguryeo land which is acclaimed by Poeple's Republic of China as historically chinease and which partially is situated in modern North Korea and China. Considering the possibility of reunification with the North, South Korea calls for recognition of historic Koguryeo as a part of long term foreign policy strategy. If it happens one day that the country is unified, it is better to protect interests of the northern sister.

Korea was the first state affected by Japanese colonial system, with it's economy not rich, but the closest. From Pusan to Simonoseki there is only 120 miles, when to Singapore 2800. The country's resources, labor force, agriculture and whatever else has been engaged into war machinery of occupant from the very beginning ( see more at Andrew Grajdanzev, Modern Korea, New York 1941). Korean climate was another reason for military action. It is rather friendly climate, not much struck by typhoons which very often attacked other territories conquered by Japan, with short monsoon season and large number of days with sunshine during the year.

That hatred was even bigger as the pre-occupation Choson state didn't really develop navy or merchandise. It's glory time passed away. Waclaw Sieroszewski says in his book Korea. Land and People. that the ethnic self perception of Koreans was close to none. In 1905 it was the agricultural society dominated by feudal beurocratic aparatus and the rulers either didn't want or had no possibilities to built the modern state. There wasn't any Korean marine, the trade was served by Japanese merchants and boats, and the city of Pusan was by that time divided into rich Japanese settlement and Korean poor ghetto.

That might be partially the reason why the hatred towards Japan is so big, and why the history books say both true and untrue stories about the eastern neighbor from the islands. Both North Korean and South Korean history books. Helplessness of own rulers is not an issue to consciously consider and noone would speak about it loud.

Common sense tells that time would heal every wound if only people don't stop it's influence. Current generation considers Korea on the global map with reasonable aproach. Korean wave makes quantities of Japanese people coming to Korea to study language and culture. Also in Japan, people around 30 think differently and have no Korean resentiments.

It depends on who will take over the political power in two countries within 20 years from now. There is a huge chance that at least South Korean - Japanese bilateral relations will settle down and become if not friendly than at least normal.

With recent fire exchange over the questionable coastline between two Korean states and fierce embrace of communism in the North and not welcoming attitude among the South, two Korean sister states will drift away from each other and definately will not become one within predictable time.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Blind brother parasite

It happened again.
North Korea threatened to take military action Sunday, blasting the South Korean defense minister for his remarks on a preemptive strike against the North in the case of an imminent nuclear threat.

Last week, Minister Kim Tae-young said in a defense forum here that Seoul would have to undertake an immediate appropiate action if the North shows a clear sign of attacking with nuclear weapons.

In a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency that was commented as an open declaration of war

It continued that Pyongyang may take prompt and decisive military action.

The warning came two days after the North proposed having military talks to discuss telecommunication, customs and immigration issues regarding the joint Kaeseong Industrial Complex in the North.

A senior official of the South's unification ministry said, asking to remain anonymous, that the government will suggest holding the meeting after Feb. 1 when working-level inter-Korean talks over the operation of the industrial park take place. (see more @ Korea Times online).

History of a conflict between North and South Korea is long and complicated and this post is by no means attempting to be a handbook on that.

Yet the Kaeseong Industrial Complex is a good area to study relations between two Korean states.

Approximately 15 South Korean companies employ more than 40 000 workers from North Korea with perspective to employ 26 000 as soon as possible. Everything is supported from Seoul, facilities, constructions, energy and transportation system together with money to pay for wages. By 2012 the Complex is said to employ approximately 725 000 North Korean citizens and generate more than $500 million of income for North Korean Economy.

North Korea supports physical power of homo sapiens. Because in this communist heaven in the Earth nothing else exists. There are hardly any cars, electricity is only in Phoenyang and even there sometimes windows are dark in the evening.

In her "Access to evil" Ewa Ewart shows Northern Korea as described above. Guarded 24/7 by her silent security angels dared to ask why she could not see anything apart from the authorities in Phoenyang scheduled for her to see. Without any possibility to shoot by hidden camera she still saw a lot of trush hidden so eagerly under the carpet.

Will the situation between two Korean states change, will they be unified? Despite that there is a will to unify the countries shown by South Korean authorities and intellectuals, the very process of it is a long way to go and full of obstacles.

One of them is a burden which would be caused by joining undeveloped impoverished sister country to the 21st century economy. A demand for jobs, wages and social securities so typical in the fresh post communist countries would weaken South Korean economy for a long time, just like it slowed down Germany after unification 20 years ago.

Another issue is South Korean society itself and its psychological attitude. Refugees from North even now are not considered members of community and live in isolation. They are lucky if they run restaurants or other businesses, but most often they are at mercy of church communities which help to organize their escapes. But, as I have mentioned, in the society they are not very welcome.

However the Ossie and Wessie in Germany still distrust each other and tend to pay attention to the West or East German origin of a person, the individualistic trait in Western mental construct makes it easier and in the current generation this will not be important anymore.

But the community and group identification in confucianist society like South Korean will not make the adaptation of North Koreans easier, especially of those who do not have families in south from DMZ.

Another possible scenario and more likely to happen is North Korean regime growing only in power due to economic profits from such projects like special industrial zones. Foreign investment in China had only strengthened the current system which builds huge nuclear arsenal with the very same dollars earned on trading their working power for Western corporate investment. The very same scenario is equally possible in North Korea.

On the contrary Soviet State collapsed due to central planned economy of shortages, when food was difficult to get and basic goods hard to achieve, and in such condition social devotion to the Party and system gradually faded. What would happen if instead of fierce arms competition and trade embargo Ronald Reagan decided to economically support Soviet Union...?

There is a chance, yet slight, that economic improvement will empower North Koreans enough to get rid of the regime on their own. With networking, internet access and some level of economic prosperity transformation might happen, like it happens in Vietnam.

That is all for now. Next post is coming soon.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Poland- Korea Year of Chopin opened

Yesterday, on 16th January 2010 The Year of Chopin has been officially introduced by the Polish Ministry of Culture.

Fryderyk Chopin sometimes known as Szopen, is the most famous piano composer. Born in the Russian part of Poland ( see: partitions of Poland) was composing his first waltzes in the age of 5 and by the age of 8 performed his first concert for the wife of the Tsar, Emperess Maria Fedorovna.

The Chopin Family accepted financial support from the Tsar, but young Fryderyk refused to become the official composer of the Russian Empire in the services for the Emperor.

Just before the November Uprising of 1830 Chopin left for his journey to Paris, where he spent most of his life. For many years involved in passionate and dynamic affair with scandalist Gerorge Sand, left the greatest heritage of the piano compositions resembling all his thoughts and states of mind.

It is a great phenomen in Korea, that so many young people play his music, and study for years just to enter the Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

Chopin is so popular in Korea, that Keimyung University created special department where people study only Chopin music, after graduation usually go to Poland to develop their skills at polish music academies.

Chopin touches emotions which are conceiled during the normal grey path of life. Under the perfect smile and perfect social mask emotions are. Love, pain, passion, misery, desire, all of that uncovered by his tunes leaves them crying each time they hear the characteristic piano sound....

Saturday, 16 January 2010

When, that is the question?

Week ago I went to the National Museum in Seoul.

Museum is very impressive from the outside. Huge building in a heavy postmodernistic style raises hope for something interesting inside.

Every foreignner gets inside for free, maybe because talking to the White Face scares to death most of Koreans, especially when White Face dares to ask: Which part of the Museum do you recommend?

It's a no answer question. That's sort of questions which should not be asked in this part of the world. The reason is that Korean people are afraid of expressing individual opinions in public. Reccomendation is an opinion, hence better avoid it.

While wandering through the historic exhibition showing the fate of Koreans, my friend blown out one moment:
- Is this really history of a nation, when it is known that initially they were under Chinease domination and then there were three kingdoms fighting with each other on this territory?

History of Korea is a very interesting issue. Traditional version says that the nation was created around 2000 B.C. and developed into advanced society with the rules and systems. Western critique to this part is somewhat justified, because later on Korean Penninsula there were 3 kingdoms competing for power. So which of these kingdoms holds the right to be the legitimate Korean state predecessor? Unified Silla just because conquered the other kingdoms? Whether that be KoguryƏ, would then hold the title of Unified Koguryo. And why Three Kingdoms of Korea, as they are named in the history books? "...of Korea" imposes the fact that there is a state - Kingdom of Sweden for one example.

I have discussed this with Youna at lunchtime last thursday. I asked since when Koreans can be considered as a nation.

- Since always. - replied Youna. I enquired more and she admitted that definitely people inhabitating the area can be distinguished from Chinease culture based on the language difference. Indeed, Korean language is more similar to Mongolian, than to Chinease, from which it differs totally in its construct. Most of linguistic experts say that it's a language group in itself, an isolated linguistic island in the world.

- But can't the nation be distinguished since the Hangul was invented? - I kept asking.

- No, because the Hangul only coded the language which already was there in use.

Yeah...right. Indeed if I remember well, cyrylic alphabet only coded east slavic group of languages, was not invention in itself. The only linguistic invention of a kind is Esperanto so far.

Youna stated as well that the very name "China" was as well a Western name given by the missionaries.

- Names were different through the history, but the culture and the language remained the same. Descendants inherited from the ancestors and so it continues until now putting new pieces into the tradition.

- Isn't it everywhere like that? - added she.

If I may express my private opinion here. Modern Korea has it's roots in the New Joseon Kingdom, which opposed both Chinease and Japanese domination through the centuries.

Bit more about language and culture

Greeting someone in Korea one is supposed to bow gently and say:

- Annyeong - hasseyo?

We hear exactly the same in return:

- Annyeong- hasseyo?

We're not supposed to shake ones hand saying: "Hi dude". If we meet someone new, it's better to talk less and observe more. It might be challenging for an individualistic extrovert who doesn't always know when to listen.

In Korea, like in the whole East Asia, hierarchy matters a lot. So to someone older we would say:

-Annyeonghashymnika? - just in case. This way it is more formal, more polite.

Does this mean that older people are respected by default in Korea? I would not bet my dollars on that.

On the Seoul subway special seats for them are provided in the back of every coach, and noone else dares to sit there. Apart from those though, there is a brutal competition, who comes first, takes it.

Once I have witnessed such scene: Korean student was late for the morning classes, caught the hell for being late (on SNU it is not welcome). He bowed in front of the professor and very quietly and slowly reached his place in the last row. Immediately straightened and turned on his mobile tv with funny antenna.

- What are you doing, the prof kicks you out in a second! - I told him.

- No worries, he won't. He can't see that far, that's why I sit in the last row, hehe.

Ah...sounds familiar. It happens all over Poland at every university, sometimes even the teaching assistant PhD is late for morning classes after the whole night spent on FB or...elsewhere.

I am quite sure that every Western society got through this moment in between traditional obedience towards the elders along with collectivist aproach to social duties and one's own happiness and individual path in life.

Maybe Korea is going through similar transformation just now.

Time to say goodbye.

The person who leaves says in Korean:

- Annyeonghikeseyo.

Person who stays, replies:

- Annyeonghikaseyo.

There is no direct translation, it just is like that.