Radio Broadcasts Key to Civil Society in North Korea

Public discussion on unification of the
Korean Peninsula has gained momentum, particularly since South Korean President
Park Geun Hye referred to “unification as a jackpot” and has kicked off
efforts to build the foundation for a peaceful unification. A survey conducted
in January indicates 82.6 percent of the respondents believe that unification
is necessary, according to private think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
This appears to be the result of increased attention on the topic due to the “unification
jackpot doctrine.”

However, if you consider various aspects in
South Korean society, we cannot simply be complacent about a favorable survey
result. Reaching an agreement about the larger framework of unification may be
relatively easy, but public opinion differs greatly when it comes to specific
approaches towards this goal. This vast range of approach is reflected in the
controversial comments on “unification through absorption” made by the vice
chairman of the presidential preparatory committee for unification, Chung Jong
Wook; at the other end of the spectrum is self-proclaimed unification activist
Kim Ki Jong who attacked the U.S. Ambassador to Seoul. Pro-North Korean groups in
the South also claim they are carrying out campaigns for unification.

The idea of unification is exploited by all
forces in the South– the government, pro-North Korean groups, or
terrorists–to justify their actions. We cannot be overly optimistic
about the 82.6 percent that agreed unification is needed. What we need to do is
filter out unhealthy and fraudulent unification activists and build up strong
forces that can create a “unification jackpot.” To do so, we must hold multiple
discussions on how and in what method unification should be pursued and devise
principles for a viable and sound unification movement.

The conditions surrounding the division and
reunification process of East and West Germany are quite different from those
of the Korean Peninsula. However, Germany’s example can serve as a crucial
model for scholars and politicians studying the issue of Korea’s unification.
As the last divided country in this world, Korean society can learn much from
Germany’s process of unification. However, one thing is often overlooked — the
two Germanies had a longstanding shared identity as one modern nation and frequent
interaction and trade during their time of division.

One of the key characteristics is that both
Germanies had shared a modern civilization with a civil society in which
individual rights and dignity were upheld as the highest values. This modern
civilization that developed following the Middle Ages played a pivotal role in
the unification of East and West Germany. On the other hand, South and North
Korea share a common history of Japanese colonialism and the Chosun Dynasty,
but the two countries went their separate ways following the division after
liberation from Japan. North Korea took the direction of a complete
dictatorship wherein the dignity of individuals was utterly neglected, while South
Korea headed towards a free democracy that promotes and respects individual

The formation of civil societies did play a
positive role in the unification of the two Germanies. However, North Korea
completely lacks the bedrock on which it can build a healthy civil society, and
the third generation dictatorship has sealed off the possibility of such through
violence, tyranny, and surveillance of its population. Unification Media Group, a
consortium founded last year in the South, has set out to achieve its most
important goal of creating in the North a grassroots civil society–the pinnacle of democracy.

Both Radio Free Chosun and Open Radio for
North Korea that are part of the larger consortium have broadcast radio programs
into North Korea for over ten years. The two organizations have recently joined
hands with DailyNK to send two hours of radio programming to the North on a
daily basis from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. All member organizations have worked
so far to create a change in awareness within the North and raise more interest
in South Korean society about the lives of North Koreans.

From here on, Unification Media Group must
work to play an essential role in reigniting interest in discourse on unification
and facilitate the formation of a civil society in the North. Instilling values
such as freedom, human rights, and democracy within the North Korean people is
the first step in creating the “unification jackpot” Seoul has proposed. Unification
is now becoming a driving force in society that will move on irrespective of
individual support or opposition to it. It is yet unknown whether unification
will become a great opportunity for growth or be a calamity.

If we can build up
a civil society that draws out change and progress within the dictatorship,
unification will bring with it an opportunity for us to leap forward. The
response from North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun, strongly opposing these radio broadcasts and other efforts aimed at creating a grassroots movement, only
makes clearer which direction we need to take in order to realize the dream of
a “unification jackpot.” 

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