By Jinhoon Lee
Welcome to the blog series, “Leaders of One Dream One Korea,” where the author introduces various leaders on the forefront of the movement toward Korean unification. This first installment features Monk Yeong Dam. Keep reading to discover different ideas and ongoing initiatives on Korean unification efforts featuring Action for Korea United and the One Korea Global Campaign.
Issues around the Korean peninsula are once again rising as some of the most critical global challenges due to current shifts in the dynamic between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and the surrounding region. With the ever-increasing threat from North’s growing capability of a long-distance nuclear strike, North Korea-United States Summits and inter-Korean summits of 2018 and 2019 have received a global spotlight.
Monk Yeong Dam, a chief monk at Sogwangsa Temple, warned that although these events opened new dialogues between nations, there are also aspects of concern.
“We should not look at the North and South relationship solely as a political issue.”
Monk Yeong Dam lends his voice as a significant expert on the issue of North Korea. Since 2003, he visited the North 30 times to open discussions for civilian exchanges between North and South. He has been making efforts to improve North and South Korea’s relationship through the Korean Sharing Movement and, since 2012, as an advisor for Action for Korea United (AKU), a grassroots coalition for Korean unification with over 1,000 civic groups.
In his interview, Yeong Dam raised his concerns that the “successes” seen in the current government-level initiatives can lead to a weakening of private-level organizations. He mentioned that the growing power of the Korean government can make the issues around the two Koreas become more political, which can have a negative influence on the progress toward unification, creating a hurdle for a more active civilian-level exchange between the people of North and South.
“Currently, in the North, civilian-level exchanges are considered unnecessary. Throughout the years, some large scale government-level exchanges have taken place. And as for just a single exchange could bring enough benefits, it is expected that North is disinterested in initiating exchange at the civilian level. This means that our [South] government should hold back on the governmental-level exchanges.”
To bring such a change, it is important that Koreans in the South and throughout the international community—and eventually the whole of the North Korean people—to come to a consensus on what kind of unification they want and voice their unified vision to the government. However, Yeong Dam raised his concern that people’s current disinterest in unification presents a great obstacle for such a change. He mentioned that it is important to raise people’s awareness through different cultural efforts and in related areas.
For such reasons, Yeong Dam is supporting a variety of works by AKU, including the One Korea Global Campaign. The One Korea Global Campaign is a pan-national movement to expand Korean-led grassroots initiatives and international support to advance the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. Different events and projects are ongoing to achieve this goal, which includes international forums, study circle/classes, unification talks, Korean history and cultural tours, economic empowerment of North Korean defectors, the One K Global Concert, and more.
The One K Global Concert, for example, uses music and performances to increase awareness on the importance of Korean unification and to unite people under the dream for Korean unification.
“Unification campaigns with a cultural approach of using music and more, have especially impacted the changes in the perspective of younger generations. The song One Dream One Korea created by Action for Korea United (AKU) was used as a finale for the  Panmunjom Summit. These were all meaningful work as they were effective in changing the perspective of Koreans and especially as it provoked the interest of younger generations.”
“North and South have been in conflict for about the past 70 years,” Yeong Dam sadly reflected. For such reasons, he said that it will be rather unexpected for the current situation to change overnight. “Therefore, we need to be patient. We need to approach each other to build trust and make efforts to open up their hearts. For our future generations to live in a peaceful nation, I urge everyone to continue to strive toward the path for unification.”