A fence at Imjingak, on the South Korean side, that separates the country from its Northern neighbour. It's filled with ribbons with prayers and wishes for North Korea and reunification written on them. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
A fence in Imjingak Park, on the South Korean side of the border, covered with ribbons containing prayers for North Korea and the two nations’ reunification. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The reunification of North and South Korea would not be similar to that of East and West Germany, according to a German theologian.

“The division between North and South Korea is already of much longer duration than the German division, and it goes much deeper. In the beginning there was a cruel war against one another, whose wounds are still not healed to this day,” Professor Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Ambassador for Human Rights for the World Evangelical Alliance, told the Martin Bucer Seminary.

Also North Korea has isolated and brainwashed its people to a larger extent, he added, saying “Christians from South Korea told me that at encounters they didn’t recognise their relatives in North Korea, and they were unable to find a common basis for discussion”.

People in former East Germany were able to watch television programmes broadcasted from West Germany and they knew what the world looked like beyond the wall, he said. This, Schirrmacher told Radio Vatican last year, is not the case with North Koreans.

“You meet very few people who, even behind closed doors, when everything is quite safe, utter any critical queries,” he said. “The result is that anything like a civil society – even be it only a very small percentage of the population, around which something new could crystallise – does not exist. That makes things extremely difficult.”

There aren’t any “open” churches in North Korea and Christians who speak out about their faith run the risk of being sent to one of the many prison and labour camps, where they face “living hell”, according to a North Korean woman who survived detainment and torture in the prison camps and was able to escape.

In a first reunion event between the two countries in three years, a group of 89 elderly South Koreans are visiting North Korea this week to meet relatives they have not seen since the Korean War (1950-1953).

The event, which is facilitated by the Red Cross, follows a thaw in relations between the two countries.

According to the Christian charity Open Doors International, the meetings are being monitored and there will be repercussions for North Korean participants who spread negative messages about the country.

Before the event, the North Koreans went through a propaganda briefing in which they were told that they had to tell their South Korean relatives they were well cared for by their leaders and that their country was the best place in the world in which to live, said Open Doors.