Letter from Seoul "Memory and Hope"

Publication type
Pull Quote

It is apparent that, all Koreans, regardless of whether they are in favor of reunification or not, do feel like one people. The South believes the North is separated and lives under an authoritarian regime, and new initiatives should eventually lead to a softening of the border, thus opening possible long-term perspectives of reunification.


It is clear to all that the aspiration to unify North and South Korea is a very unique case of “positive self-determination” in our world, while simultaneously being one of the most complex ones, which involves nuclear weapons, and the direct interest of at least five major powers including neighboring China, Russia and Japan, the United States and the European Union). Thus, their incisive focus on the peninsula and the outcome of recent developments will likely result in global consequences. In this context, there is a powerful reality of a de facto complete separation of North Korea and the Republic of South Korea along the 38th perimeter and consequently South Korea being akin to an island. South Korea can only be reached by plane or ship, or as one young Korean said, by “rowing or swimming.” Neither road nor rail connect the world’s eleventh largest economy to the North nor further on to China, Russia, and EurAsia. Hence, it is vital to seriously consider new ideas to continue the existing connection between the south eastern Busan in the Republic of Korea to Seoul further on north to and across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into North Korea and China and further on west by the Trans-Siberian Railroad towards Europe.

Behind the booming economic activities of today are the still very powerful elements of the past, both within the complex and strict Korean society and the remembrance of wars past— including periods of Japanese domination, the War in the 1940s, and the intra-Korean war after Chinese aggression in the 1950s. Surprisingly, the adoration and fascination with the art, culture, and values of Europe spans across generations. There seems to be a deep fascination with Austrian culture from Klimt to Mozart, Schubert and Strauss, Jr., and one is struck by the rem- iniscence with Switzerland, which can be found in a similarly strong national identity and will to defend; in the highly organized advanced life in sometimes tight living conditions due to the topography (with the key difference of access to the sea); also in the effective and superbly organized infrastructure in a complex mountainous and coastal setting; and even in the architecture of old roof constructions.

We were particularly impressed by the expressed hope and aspiration of a normalization of the intra-Korean relationship, which could potentially result in a declaration of the end of the war of 1950, an opening of rail connections, some economic activities, and perhaps a bit of tour- ism—albeit gradually.