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New Left Review I/219, September-October 1996


Paik Nak-chung

Habermas on National Unification in Germany and Korea

Jürgen Habermas’s public lecture in Seoul on ‘National Unification and Popular Sovereignty’ came as a welcome intervention for those Koreans committed to a reunification process which would be both peaceful and democratic. Although little of what he said, even on German unity, was entirely new to many of them, it was a rare privilege to enlist his international reputation and authority to drive home a number of most important points. For instance, his warnings against adopting ‘a fast track’ to unity following the German model should have a particularly salutary influence at a time when many, even in the ruling circles, are entertaining doubts about South Korea’s ability to bring about or bear the consequences of a ‘German-type’ absorption but also when pressures to go for this option remain strong. Equally noteworthy, especially in the light of his known reservations about nationalism, was his acknowledgement that ‘fortunately’ in Korea the democratic forces were also the national forces promoting reunification—a timely reminder which at once bolsters the self-confidence of those forces and warns them that this link should never be taken for granted.

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