On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted a conference titled, “Post-WWII Reconciliation and Cooperation: Lessons for East Asia.” This conference invited panelists from various embassies to the Republic of Korea and experts from Europe to discuss the European experiences of reconciliation in the post-WWII period. One of the main goals of the conference was to draw lessons from the European experience and apply them to the current situation in East Asia.
Session 1: Inter-State Reconciliation in Europe Post-WWII
In the first session, the three panelists discussed how reconciliation took form among European nations in the post-WWII period. They pointed out that reconciliation is oftentimes difficult to achieve but essential to peace and stability. In the case of France, a deep process of reconciliation took place soon after the end of WWII. State policies, including the education of French students in German history and language, allowed for genuine reconciliation to take place between the two countries. Moreover, cooperation between German and French ministries as well as NGOs strengthened its sustainability. In the United Kingdom, however, a shallower form of reconciliation took place. As one of the victors of the war, the UK was more reluctant to take part in the process. One of the panelists identified this as a lost opportunity for the UK. The examples of France and the UK prove that reconciliation requires great efforts by both sides and its success varies case-by-case. While all three panelists were reluctant to draw lessons for East Asia, a set of common themes were noticeable. First, reconciliation is essential for peace and stability. Second, reconciliation requires active participation by all nations involved. Third, society as a whole must take part in the process. There must be initiatives by NGOs and academic institutions to engage with their counterparts in other countries, political leaders must take political risks, and citizens must be willing to transform their identities from “victims” and/or “aggressors” to a common identity of “human beings.”
Session 2: Europe Today: Experiences of Inter-Social Reconciliation
During the second session, the four panelists presented the experiences of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Poland, and Germany. The presentations, despite dealing with three distinct experiences, arrived at a similar conclusion: reconciliation is defined by acceptance, remembrance, and the willingness to pursue it. Echoing the lessons from the first session, the panelists agreed that reconciliation can only be attained when all members of the society are involved. Governments must convey the importance of reconciliation to their citizens, civil societies must make the difference in terms of deepening cultural relationships, and citizens must engage in honest discussions about history and the common path toward a better future. In that sense, the panelists assessed that Poland, France, and Germany were successful in their efforts to reconcile in the post-WWII period.
Session 3: East Asian Regional Perspective
The last session dealt with reconciliation within the framework of East Asian regionalism. Two panelists, Prof. Ku Yangmo and Dr. Lee Jaehyon, expressed their pessimism toward reconciliation among South Korea, Japan, and China given the current conditions in the region. Prof. Ku emphasized the importance of honest dialogue on history issues between South Korea and Japan, similar to how Germany, Poland, and France went about their reconciliation process. He also stressed the importance of youth exchange programs and education. In the end, however, he was skeptical that his recommendations would be heeded. Dr. Lee pointed to the existence of strong nationalism as a deterrent to cooperation among Northeast Asian countries. He argued that, unlike European nations, Northeast Asian nations have a relatively short history of nationalism which, in turn, has prevented them from effectively coping with such issues. He also pointed out that Northeast Asia has lacked a conflict which could force nations to cooperate. The Asian Financial Crisis was a missed opportunity in that once the economies recovered, memories of cooperation dissipated. Unlike the other panelists, Prof. Lee Geun was optimistic about the prospects of cooperation in Northeast Asia. He argued that cooperation will eventually occur due to the power of the market and multilateral institutions.