Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg bzw. dem Koreakrieg war vieles in Deutschland und auf der koreanischen Halbinsel ähnlich. Die weitere Entwicklung verlief dann aber recht unterschiedlich. PAUL WHEATLEY informiert über die politische und wirtschaftliche Lage im
From war to economic wonder
Divided into democracy and dictatorship after a catastrophic war. Separated by a militarized border. And home to vastly different economic models. Sound familiar? Yes, there are more than just symbolic similarities between post-second World War Germany and the post-war Korean Peninsula. After 1945, West Germany slowly recovered from the Second World War and — with Allied guidance — developed into a highly successful democracy, with its famous social-market economy. Likewise, after the end of the Korean War, in 1953, South Korea embraced capitalism and democracy, with enormous growth rates. But the paths diverge in one major respect: following a peaceful revolution, communist East Germany and the capitalist West were reunified. There is little sign of this happening on the Korean Peninsula. Far from being part of a unified single state, or even one of two separate prosperous entities, the North is characterized by dictatorial rule and a desperately poor population.
While much hope across the globe has been invested in negotiations between US president Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, few South Koreans seem to expect that meaningful progress will be made. After all, for decades, they’ve seen countless headlines come and go about rapprochement.
Still, Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a senior lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, believes there are some promising signs. In particular, he says, the election of South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in in 2017 has invigorated relations between North and South. Throughout the election campaign, says Pardo, Moon “made it very clear that engagement with North Korea was going to be his way of dealing with Pyongyang and Kim Jong-un”. Meetings between Moon and Kim Jong-un helped pave the way for the 12 June talks between Kim Jong-un and Trump.
The reality for now, however, is that the North remains blighted by a poor economy, a dysfunctional political culture, executions and labour camps. Pardo explains that North Koreans “know what is going on outside the country — and they know the North is not a paradise”. And we know “from defectors”, he adds, that “they don’t believe [the propaganda] that the North is more developed economically than the South”.
While the North is the poorest country in north-east Asia, the South enjoys impressive economic growth — and this in a country that, up until the 1980s, saw years of authoritarian rule, martial law and military takeovers. Indeed, it held its first truly democratic elections in 1988, the same year its capital, Seoul, hosted the Olympics.
The importance of education
Fast-forward two decades and South Korea is among the most tech-advanced countries on the planet, going from mass illiteracy to being an economic powerhouse in two generations. Education has played a major role, reflected in high achievements in the international PISA tests, though this presents its own problems. The number of hours that kids spend in school and in after-school programmes can seem relentless. A typical day for many children is to start school at 8 a.m., finish at 4 p.m., head home for a quick dinner and then go on to further lessons at one of the thousands of hagwons (private cram schools) until 9 p.m.
In 2014, The Economist reported that parents spent around $15 billion (€13 billion) on private tuition. And a 2017 study revealed that 83 per cent of five-year-olds and 36 per cent of two-year-olds receive private education. The pressure from this overwhelming focus on education and success at work is cited as a reason why South Korea has the highest suicide rate of all industrialized OECD countries. For young South Koreans, connections made during school and university are extremely important. Anne Ladouceur, Canadian-born owner of the website Korea4expats.com, explains that they become part of a network of friends and associates during their education and it is through these connections that a whole world of opportunities opens up. “These connections help them through their life,” Ladouceur explains. They can determine whether or not they get into “a good university, get a good job and good wages”.