Intervention of Ms. Emina Frljak, Program Coordinator, Youth for Peace, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the IAPD Session of the Think Tank 2022 Forum on 1 February, 2022.
Good morning, afternoon and evening from Bosnia and Herzegovina, depending on the place from which you are watching us. It is my pleasure and honor to be here with you and speak among these distinguished speakers. I wish to thank to the organizers for inviting me again to speak about this extremely important, yet complex topic.
I will start my speech with a quote from the late Desmond Tutu (God rest his soul):
“Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual, other-worldly activities. They have to do with the real world. They are realpolitik, because in a very real sense, without forgiveness, there is no future”.
So, reconciliation is both a spiritual and a very practical process. These two sides need to go hand in hand. Only then we can speak about real progress and real living together on the Korean peninsula, but also elsewhere. To achieve unification, there must be reconciliation on both levels: the political one, but also the level of the people. People are the ones comprising one country, people are the heart and soul of one state and, in my experience, we tend to forget that very often. People on both sides of the Peninsula have suffered and still suffer. They bear a great burden of the past that is laden with violence. Families were ripped apart; lives were completely changed and there is so much pain there that needs to be processed.
I want to emphasize that a careful and sensitive approach to this process is needed, with genuine interest in the people and their needs, with genuine interest in their fears, pain, and experience about the situation on the Korean peninsula, because people know the best situation in which they live.
Speaking from personal experience and as someone who comes from an extremely divided society, due to our past, burdened with the violence and war that we experienced in the 90’s, I have to highlight that reconciliation is never an easy or quick process. It takes time, years or even decades until people are ready to genuinely live with each other, not simply coexist, and until they are able to reconcile their differences. And reconciliation should never be imposed on people; the best we as an outside, international community can do, is to be mediators and carefully listen to the people who are part of the reconciliation process.
One study done by the Carnegie Endowment for Global Peace finds that the two complex and sometimes contradictory fundamental dimensions of the unification discourse in the Korean peninsula are striking - unification is both an emotional issue of the heart and a rational issue of the mind. How Koreans perceive the prospects for unification emotionally and psychologically can be very different from how they cognitively reason about how the unification process would actually work. This is important to understand and take into account when we speak about the unification process.
We also have to understand the diverse realities in the two parts of the Korean peninsula. Just to demonstrate this to you, I will quote the findings from the Global Peace Index 2021. On the Global Peace Index, South Korea is ranked 57, while North Korea is ranked 151. This means that South Korea enjoys a high level of peace and North Korea a very low one. This Peace Index is measured by the Institute for Economics and Peace, which uses various indicators to measure this index. I highly recommend you read about their approach, as it is very well imagined and put into practice and provides us with accurate data on the state of peace in the world with specific country focus. This shows that the realities of these two parts of the peninsula are very different, and we have to take this into account when thinking and speaking about the unification process on the Korean peninsula. Of course, there is and there will be a challenge to reconcile these two different environments.
Many things are done on the political level to unite the peninsula, but here I am not going to talk about these things, since I am not a political expert nor analyst, but I will try to convey a message from a young person of faith who comes from a divided society and as someone who works on peace and reconciliation processes with young people in BiH and the Balkans peninsula. But I want to emphasize that these are just my experiences and that not all of them may be transferable or relevant for the Korean peninsula.
One thing I learned in my work is that when you work with sensitive topics such as reconciliation, forgiveness, pain and establishing connections among people is that people find comfort in faith and spirituality. According to Professor Don Baker, Korea has one of the most diverse religious landscapes on this planet. And when we speak about this diversity, we need to also take into account those people who are not religious, since spirituality does not need to be linked to a specific religion.
We need to appeal to these faith and spiritual values, not just of the Korean people, but also people around the world. Faith based organizations, religious leaders, and people of faith have a large influence on the happenings in the world. So, this influence needs to be used for advocacy, lobbying, and raising awareness about the Korean peninsula. This influence needs to appeal to governments, groups, and individuals. Our world today is one big global village as some like to say. Our world is highly heterogenous; we don’t live in completely closed communities anymore, and definitely peace in one place influences peace in another place. On the other hand, with a heavy heart, I have to say that we also live in world full of wars and conflicts and with the COVID 19 pandemic, which highlighted all our inequalities, it is the time to ask ourselves what kind of place and world we want to live in and what kind of world we wish for our neighbors. I think that in today’s world we are all neighbors to each other and that now more than ever “Love thy neighbor” should be practiced.
Another very important note that I would like you to take from my speech is the inclusion of youth in peace and reconciliation processes. Here I refer to the meaningful inclusion of young people, which means having us at the table, giving us space and a voice, listening to us, listening to our narrative, taking seriously our perspectives, including us in serious discussions about the present and the future, since we are part of both. We are not some distant blurry future, we are the present, we are here and we are now and that is where and when we need to be included. As one UN article on the meaningful inclusion of youth states “youth are not a problem for older people to solve, they are actively a part of the solution”. Here I am appealing to intergenerational dialogue and, in the Korean context, we need to understand that the views of those who are older and who still have memories of a unified island and those who grew up in a divided environment may differ, and this needs to be considered in the process.
To wrap up this speech of mine, I will offer another quote with which I want to reiterate my words from the beginning. This quote comes from Malcolm Fraser who says that “reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change. It requires symbolic as well as practical action”.
Thank you very much!