President Roh Moo-hyun swiftly apologized after the anti-North demonstrations held on August 15, Korea" Liberation Day, responding to the North" demands. Conservative civic groups critical of North Korean dictator Kim Jeong Il and his plans on nuclear weapons led the original protests, and later accused Roh of failing to ensure their rights of freedom of speech. On August 24, weak security led to a direct conflict between conservative groups and the North Korean press, resulting in a North Korean" sudden act of violence that injured a foreign human rights activist.
The South has been split in opinion, whereas it is clear that the North operates under a different system, where freedom of speech may not taken for granted, and pictures of the nation" leader are to be held sacred, not burned. Some believe that the conservative groups provoked the North, and the apologies that followed were in due course. Others, however, criticize the violent reaction of the North Koreans, asserting that the groups did not violation the law, and see the protests as a chance to show world how critical the North Korean human rights situation is.
The question a number of people ask, however, is "Why?" Why did this outburst of North Korean condemnation suddenly happen during the Universiade, an event that promotes harmony among youths, and an event that was hoped to provide a closer link between the North and South? What was the motive behind the conservative groups" protests? Were the protests only trying to raise certain issues to the public? attention, or was there a hidden political motive as well?
The consequences of this conflict have hardly been satisfactory. The South Korean government may not have resolved problems apporpriately, and has lost face in the international community. The North has used the conflicts in the South to its own benefit, politically maneuvering to their benefit.
Whether any party involved in this clash was fully aware of the consequences that stem from their actions is questionable.
However, it would be wise to think about the long-term effects of such actions in the future.
Rights wing activits say that we have an obligation, with our goal of future unification, to help North Korea develop into a more responsible and open state. This may be true. It is also important to note, though, that such changes cannot be brought out without gradual acts based on the understanding of all the parties involved. Perhaps this year"s Universiade will act as a reminder of the differences that we must overcome if we wish to live in harmony in the future.