"Why do you always have to go to the most dangerous places in the world?"my mother said to me when I told her that in September my plane would leave for South Korea. I reassured her that ?othing is going on in Korea, even North Korea has been calm lately.?Now my mother can? help thinking ? told you so.?After the nuclear testing she asked me if I'm scared to be here.
It has been interesting to follow the situation between North Korea and other countries from the South Korean point of view. To Europeans, North Korea seems like a mythical relic from the past. The country is hidden from the rest of the world and ruled by a reckless dictator. It is the unknown which is always the most frightening.
My Finnish friends ask me whether the South Koreans are panicking due to the nuclear situation. I don't know if they expected the South Koreans to be running on the streets with cries of desperation, but they have been a bit disappointed when I say that all the Koreans I know have been quite calm about the latest events. When I ask the Koreans about their opinion about the situation, the typical answer is, "I know the situation, but at the moment it doesn't really affect my life." I have been wondering why the South Koreans seem so calm about the situation going on right next to them. Is it because they don't want to scare the foreign investors? Is it because North Korea? nuclear capabilities were already widely known? Or is it because of their shared history that the North doesn't seem so intimidating to them? The reasons that lie beneath the reactions are somewhat hidden and unfamiliar to me.
Maybe the calm reactions are due to the fact that South Korea isn'talone dealing with its neighbour. Its strong connections to the U.S. ensure that it doesn? have to face the North alone. Apart from the involvement of South Korea and Japan, the major players in the game of North Korea? nuclear weapons actually seem to be the U.S., China and the UN.
One of my professors claim the nuclear testing doesn? increase the security threat in South Korea. In his opinion, it is no longer necessary for countries with nuclear weapons to test them since they already know how the weapons work. Maybe that? true.
Even though I would never have wished for the nuclear testing taking place in North Korea, I'm glad to have the opportunity to follow the news in South Korea instead of in Finland. The Korean media has covered the issue more properly than would ever have been done in Finland. I couldn't have had a better opportunity to learn about the challenges South Korea faces today and about the country's foreign politics and relationships.
And what have I answered to my mother when she asked me whether I am scared to be here? My answer has been that if my Korean friends aren't scared then why should I be.
- Minttu-Maaria Partanen (University of Jyvaskyla)