Partition and Unity: The Irish and German Models

H.E. Eamonn McKee, Ambassador of Ireland and H.E. Rolf Mafael, Ambassador of Germany, in Seoul on Nov. 20, 2012. (Asia Society Korea Center)

SEOUL, November 20, 2012 — Irish Ambassador Eamonn McKee and German Ambassador Rolf Mafael gave a lecture entitled "Partition and Unity: Lessons from the Irish and German Models" at Asia Society Korea Center’s Monthly luncheon series.

McKee shared the Irish experience with cross-border North-South cooperation and explained what efforts Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain made to bring peace. According to the Ambassador, there were two identities that needed to be reconciled: one nationalist and the other unionist. The majority of nationalists were Catholic and Republican and called for independence from Britain, whereas unionists were British Protestant settlers and monarchists who were determined to remain a part of Britain. Because most of the unionists settled in the northern part of Ireland, six states in the north refused to be independent and form Northern Ireland with the partition of Ireland in 1921 when the south of Ireland became independent. The conflict starts with the existence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland which called for a British withdrawal and a united Ireland. The IRA carried out violent campaigns for unity with support from the nationalist community in North Ireland.

Seeing the death of over 3,000 people and endless violence and fear, John Hume and other policy makers criticized the IRA’s violent activism and strategies and came to sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 for a partnership between the Irish and British Governments. Although the 1985 Agreement was hugely successful in forging a resilient relationship between the two governments and brought about intergovernmental cooperation, it failed to build a local power-sharing government between unionists and nationalists within Northern Ireland. Continuous talks and conferences led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 which laid the foundation for the establishment of stable power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Ambassador McKee strongly emphasized resilience, patience, and comprehensiveness as three keys for peace on Ireland and suggested the same factors would be necessary for peace on the Korean peninsula.

German Ambassador Rolf Mafael lectured on the German model of unification which comprises two completely different elements of how the divided nations came to the point and how unification was implemented after the cold war ended. Ambassador Mafael claimed that several courageous decisions and changes in 1969 through 1975 made a great contribution. In 1969, West Germany accepted two independent German states within the notion that Germany is still one and that ties among the European countries got stronger with the United States out of Europe. Moreover, the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 valued democracy and freedom of speech in East Europe and succeeded in promoting positive changes in East Germany. These bilateral and multilateral movements coincided and made further talks about the unification possible.

From 1972 to 1989, the basic deals were discussed in which West Germany provided financing and East Germany allowed more communications. Even though West Germany paid a very high political price, the migration and phone calls between the two German states dramatically increased during this period. However, according to the Ambassador, the unification came more quickly than expected and the word "unification" was not used at that time because the West Germany was not sure if the West partners would accept their unification. The Ambassador emphasized that Germany chose the "Absorption Model" because there were no other alternatives. German unification was naturally followed by both costs and benefits. 1600 billion euro was spent to rebuild infrastructure and support social services and security in East Germany. Nonetheless, a united Germany obtained a huge reduction in military expenditure and gained more economic strength and potential.

The Ambassador concluded by saying, “Today, it has been 25 years since unification. But we need more time to finish the unification process than the period of time we were split. Therefore, we cannot conclude that Germany achieved its unification until 40 years finally go by.”