Europe and the Middle East—The seventh session of the July 2021 International Leadership Conference focused on the potential of the younger generations to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula and the world.
From July 27 to 29, 2021, eight sessions of the ILC were held online under the title “Toward the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula: Best Practices in Track II Diplomacy.”
The seventh session, held on July 29, was titled “Imagining a Unified World: The Youth’s Contribution to Peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
UPF organized the session jointly with the International Association of Youth and Students for Peace (IAYSP), an organization that is affiliated with UPF.
A total of 124 participants attended the “live” broadcast, with an additional 551 viewers on Facebook.
In this session, young panelists spoke about projects and initiatives in the fields of sports, the arts, and the environment aimed at rapprochement and, ultimately, the peaceful reunification of North and South Korea. As the Korean Peninsula has been divided for over 70 years, despite efforts for reunification, the future of Korea and the world now lies in the hands of the youth. Working together with the elder generation, young people will play a great role in bringing about harmony between the two Koreas.
As North and South Korea were divided by superpowers at the end of World War II, peace between them concerns not only the Korean people but also Europe, the whole world, and its youth. The generation of Koreans whose families were split apart by the Korean division are now much older. So, what is the significance of reunification for today’s generation of young Koreans? And what does it mean for young people across the world?
The panelists tackled those questions, looked at peace and unification from the perspective of youth, and invited young people to act as peacemakers in Korea and throughout the world.
The session began with a brief history of the division of Korea, given by the moderator, Mélanie Komagata, a UPF intern and a member of the committee of IAYSP-Switzerland, currently completing her graduate degree in East Asian studies.
She also described the efforts of youth to bring peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world, using their talents and skills—in sports, the arts and culture notably.
In the arts and culture, the Little Angels Children’s Folk Ballet of Korea performed in North Korea in 1998 and touched the heart of the audience. The same exchange happened the other way around, as a dance troupe of young North Koreans performed in Seoul in 2000.
In sports, several times the two teams of a divided country have formed a unified team to compete in world championships. This happened with East and West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s, as well with North and South Korea, starting with the unified Korean team at the World Table Tennis Championships in 1991, at which the Women’s Team won the gold medal. When the athletes had to separate after the tournament, it brought attention to the heartbreak of division between the Koreas. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, athletes of the two Koreas marched together under the unified flag during the opening ceremony.
A video was shown to encourage young people to contribute to peace and harmony in their own way and field of passion. This gave a great context for the messages of our guest speakers.
Ju-hee Um of IAYSP-Korea, who is a member of UniUS, a project working toward Korean reunification, was introduced with a video created by the UniUS team. Titled A Letter from a Unified Future, it focused on the perspective of Korean citizens in a future unified Korea, expressing their gratitude to the people of the past who contributed to peace and reunification on the Korean Peninsula. This project won the Grand Prize of the first 2020 Peace and Unification Video Contest, and the first prize of the Minister of Unification Award that was directly awarded by the prime minister.
Mrs. Um explained that the division between North and South Korea is ideological, between communism and democracy, and therefore is politically complicated. However, the relationship between the people of North and South Korea doesn’t have to be so difficult.
She emphasized the motto “Peace Starts with Me”—reminding us that every individual has a role to play in reunification. Rather than leaving it to the leaders, we all can take initiative by using our skills and talents, by joining an NGO, or by giving donations to organizations that contribute to peace. Even small actions can have a huge impact on one person’s life, she said, and we shouldn’t underestimate that. Mrs. Um emphasized the importance of each person’s investment with the motto “Little drops of water make the mighty ocean.”
Andrei Litvinov from Ukraine, who currently lives in South Korea with his Korean wife and five children, is the founder of the Ethnic Korean Kids Center and the Culture DNA online Korean-language school. He is also a teacher at the Senal school for foreign students.
Mr. Litvinov explained the perspective of non-Koreans toward reunification. From an outsider’s perspective, one might think that the two Koreas are worlds apart from each other. In fact, they share a common history of nearly 5,000 years. The division is very recent, relatively speaking.
We tend to see South Korea as a success story through its K-pop idols, K-dramas, and companies such as Samsung, and tend to feel alienated from the North Korean people. Mr. Litvinov agreed with the previous speaker, Ju-hee Um, that the division is not between people but ideologies. Therefore, the society needs to shift its perspective of the North Korean people and recognize the need for unification.
The family portrait of Korea is quite sad, he said. Families were divided after the Korean War. As young citizens of the world, we need to show care for others and not just “talk a lot, as it is now time for action.”
Recognizing that Korean culture is popular among foreigners now, Mr. Litvinov said that performing arts and sports can help shift our perspectives. In this way, regular people can change the world, he said. Young people especially, having grown up in the age of social media, have witnessed everyday people becoming influencers and activists.
We need to be intentional about how we use our influence, Mr. Litvinov said—and why not use it to bring about peace?
In addition, we need to keep in mind that “we [foreigners] brought tanks on the Korean Peninsula, and now [it is our responsibility] to bring peace” in Korea, he said.
The last speaker, Jeong Hye Hassinen, currently the secretary general and former president of IAYSP for Europe and the Middle East, is half-Japanese and half -Korean. She and her half-German, half-Finnish husband currently reside in Austria.
Because we live in an age in which borders are less and less significant, we are therefore all global world citizens, Mrs. Hassinen said. That is why it pains her to think that her own country is still divided.
She admitted that practically, financially and politically, unification will be hard. But ultimately it will be beneficial on a global scale. If we can shift our focus from immediate, self-centered gain to the greater good, looking past ideological differences, we will see how important unification is. Only when we all can see it this way, will it be feasible.
In this sense, leaders alone cannot achieve unification, not even the Korean people alone, she said. We all need to be involved.
Ultimately, it is also a matter of values. These days Koreans place a lot of importance on academic success and economic growth. Korean culture originally placed a lot of value on family and strength in connection. Nevertheless, around half of high-school students still believe that reunification is necessary. If we can remember our values on a worldwide level, then we can achieve reunification in our lifetimes, she said.
Furthermore, as there is no holiday that is celebrated by both North and South Korea, not even Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, Mrs. Hassinen proposed that the day of Korea’s reunification should become a holiday that is celebrated worldwide, representing world peace.
To conclude, the young panelists encouraged the youth to take responsibility and action, to care for our world and for Korea, and therefore to invest themselves for peace in their own way, either by using their talents and skills in their field of passion, by giving donations to organizations that contribute to peace, or by joining such an organization. As Mr. Litvinov stated, “It is now time for action.”