May. 26, 2020

WCC reflects on ‘common humanity, common Korean-ness’ as pursuit for peace continues

Peter Prove, director of WCC' Commission of the Churches on International Affairs at the launch of the WCC's prayer campaign for peace on the Korean Peninsula, 6 February 2020. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

26 May 2020

In remarks at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Democratic Uprising, World Council of Churches director for International Affairs Peter Prove reflected on “The Prospective Future of the Korean Peninsula After Peaceful Reunification.”

On the one hand, the reunification of the Korean Peninsula may be seen as inevitable, Prove said. "A people who share the same language, traditional culture and ancient history cannot possibly remain divided forever,” he said. "A period of some 75 years of separation must certainly be seen as a temporary anomaly when set against the vast millennial sweep of shared history.”

On the other hand, Prove said, this division has proved extraordinarily resistant to historical shifts that have rewritten the world order elsewhere. “The bloodshed and bitterness of the Korean War have left a persistent legacy of hate, fear and suspicion in the minds of people on both sides of the divide.”

The May 18 Democratic Uprising took place in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, from 18-24 May 1980. The 40th anniversary event was organized by May 18 Memorial Foundation.

The National Council of Churches in Korea issued a statement on activities to keep pursuing justice and peace, in which its leaders pledged to actively participate in carrying out the process of forgiveness needed to create a reconciled Korean Peninsula.

Reflecting of the events 40 years ago, Peter Prove said that from the Gwangju experience “an understanding grew that without pursuing reconciliation and reunification of the divided nation, it is not possible to achieve a peaceful Korean Peninsula in which the value of human rights and democracy is realized in its fullness.”

Prove further reflected that the extraordinary events of the last couple of years have shown that the pivot between the apparently impossible and the seemingly inevitable is very finely balanced, and can swing wildly back and forth. “In 2017, the Korean Peninsula seemed to be on the very brink of war, threatening catastrophic human and economic consequences, not just for South and North Korea, but for the region and the world,” he said. “But then in 2018 peace suddenly - miraculously - became possible, following the Olympic Peace moment and a series of high-level political summits which produced images that most people could hardly have imagined.”

Then, in 2019, the political atmosphere chilled once again. "What we have learnt from these decades of engagement in people-to-people encounter is that North and South Koreans, when enabled to meet, recognize in each other their common humanity, their common Korean-ness, and a shared hope for peace and togetherness rather than conflict and division,” said Prove. “That mutual recognition is a powerful antidote to the enemy images, suspicions and disillusionment that have otherwise prevailed in much of the modern history of inter-Korean relations.”