On Thursday, November 3, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies held a workshop with the Visegrad Group. In the first panel discussion, titled “Issues and Challenges of Democratic Transition,” three speakers, Mr. Péter Dobrowieki, Dr. Marek Radziwon, and Dr. Michal Vašečka discussed the democratization processes of the V4 countries- Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. They talked about the lessons that can be drawn from the East European experience and whether these lessons are applicable in the case of North Korea.
During the discussion, the three speakers for the panel discussed the conditions that may result in a successful transition to democracy. They tried to answer the following questions. “Will the democratic transition be successful? What are the pre-conditions of a successful democratic transition? Do these conditions exist in North Korea? Why haven’t some countries succeeded in the transition?”
Mr. Péter Dobrowiecki described the importance of the middle class and the role of elites in a smooth democratic transition. In his view, the democratic transition of Hungary in the 1980s -1990s began when the party reformist in the Hungarian government was able to express their view. Hungary became a member of NATO and was successful in its foreign policy. Without the middle class and the reformers within the political parties, the changes would not have been smooth.
Dr. Marek Radziwon shared his experiences in Poland. He believed that the communists started negotiating with the opposing side because they were “weak.” Liberal democracy could not be imposed by force, and the regime’s perception of its weakness was a crucial factor that brought both sides to negotiate.
Dr. Michal Vašečka expresses that for the V-4 countries, it was relatively easy to be successful in the democratic transition because these countries had achieved structural and cultural modernization before the emergence of a communist regime. Considering Intellectuals, powerful middle class and cultural modernity which had existed before the communist regime, the success of the V-4 countries shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Questions were raised on whether these conditions exist in North Korea. Does a middle class exist in North Korea, and are they capable of thinking independently? Moreover, have we witnessed any signs of fragmentation within the elites?
Polish ambassador Krzysztof Majka stated that the government has to deal with three areas of reforms in a democratic transition.
1. The reform of political changes and building institutions that supports political systems as well as building a favorable media.
2. Reforms of economic system based on private ownership.
3. Restructuring system of government faction and to reform public administration.
Ambassador Majka argued that it was crucial to carry out these reforms simultaneously. In his view, Korea will face similar problems during the process of unification. He recommended devising a plan in order to prevent the North Koreans from becoming “secondary citizens” in a unified Korea.
In the second session, entitled “Lessons Learned from Transitional Order – Implications for the Korean Peninsula” the speakers delved further into how Eastern Europe transitional justice apply to North Korea in the event of unification.
Dr. Ladislav Cabada explained the need for a strong stimulus to bring about fundamental change in the North Korean regime. This stimulus may be one of many possible crises, but despite undergoing various upheavals in the last few decades, the regime remained intact. The question, then, is what kind of strong stimulus is needed? It could be either the death of the leader or some unforeseen event in the circle around him. It is difficult to know who will be the winners and losers in such a regime change. Today, however, the North Korean people have nothing to lose.
Dr. Joanna Hosaniak elaborated on the idea of transnational justice. She stressed that revenge is not something you can count out, but we must focus on how to minimize these conflict in society. The impact of the past can only be eliminated by getting over the impulse for revenge. Trust must be established in a democratic society. International tribunals to prosecute crimes against humanity must be methods of last resort. Ideally, justice must happen at home.
During the question and answer session, the participants discussed the role of China on North Korean affairs and the types of crimes that can be tried under Korean and international courts post-unification.
At the end of the meeting, the ambassadors gave their closing remarks, stressing the difficulty of transitional justice and the need to prepare for all of the difficulties of unification as soon as possible.