50 years of experience in the communist dictatorship and atrocious war
“Chairman Lee is a leader in the true sense of the word”
[Cheonji-Daily News=Song Tae-Bok] “I am one of the survivors of this tragic history of Europe that have a deep and sincere empathy for the Korean people, and one of the few that can perhaps intuit what is going on in the hearts of North Koreans across the border.”
Emil Constantinescu, the third President of Romania, was born in the year of World War II. His childhood memories were full of war and death, and he finally experienced freedom and peace only afterthe 50 years of communist dictatorship.
So, for him, 'liberal democracy' or 'peace' is not a word that can be said lightly. Having dreamed of a world without war, he met Man Hee Lee, Chairman of HWPL in 2014 like destiny, and became a partner of peace. We interviewed the former president Emil Constantinescu when he visited Korea last month to attend the 4th Anniversary of the WARP Summit, at a hotel in Incheon. Due to the time conflict, we managed the remaining interview via email.
- Could you please introduce Romania to us?
Romania is a country located in the north-eastern Black Sea coast of the Balkansin southeastern Europe. Romania is a member of the European Union, and after Brexit will be the sixth largest country out of the 26member-states by surface area and population.
Romania’s size is approximately the same as that of the entire Korean peninsula, roughly twice the size of South Korea, while its population is under half of that of South Korea. Like Korea, Romania has a history several thousand years old, beginning with the prehistoric cultures of Cucuteni, Hamangia and Gumelnița, and continuing during ancient times with the Dacian kingdoms, after which it became part of the Roman Empire.During the Middle Ages, the fate of the Romanian Principalities was similar to that of Korea, them having to defend their national, Latin identity and their Christian religion from the neighboring Ottoman, Russian and Austrian empires.
The territory of modern Romania evolved through three separate Principalities: Moldova, Wallachia and Transylvania. While Transylvania was part of the Austrian Empire, Wallachia and Moldova were tributary subjects and then vassals of the Ottoman Empire, having to pay tribute to the Sublime Porte in exchange for Ottoman protection of the integrity of the Romanian religion and language.
In 1854, Moldova and Wallachia entered a personal union and shortly thereafter formed the Kingdom of Romania, which gained its independence after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. This year, we celebrate 100 years from the Great Unification of all Romanian-speaking territories, as in the aftermath of World War I the territories of Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia were adjoined to the Romanian kingdom. Later, following World War II, Bessarabia became part of the Soviet Union under the title of the Soviet Moldovan Republic.
In 1989, Romania was the only country where the price of freedom and democracy was paid in blood, with thousands of its citizens arrested, wounded or killed by the military under the command of dictator Nicolae Ceauṣescu, who, after his final visit to North Korea, had wanted to imitate the North Korean model. Romania successfully braved the transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one, and after 1996, when the democratic opposition won the elections for the first time ever, firmly and definitively opted for its accession to NATO and the European Union.Although in recent years Romania has seen one of the strongest levels of economic growth in Europe and standards of living have risen – due in no small part to the remissions being sent home by the 4 million Romanians working abroad in other European countries (approximately 3 billion euro annually) – it has not yet even come close to reaching the level of economic development of Korea.
- The Balkan Peninsula is a beautiful land with a heart-breaking history. Could you briefly explain some particularities about the region?
The Balkan peninsula, over its millennial history, was the cradle of the Western European civilization as we know it today. The concept of “democracy” evolved in ancient Greece, in the Balkans; the principles of the rule of law come from the Roman civil law, constructed around the Code of Justinian, the Emperor of Byzantium who ruled from Constantinople – modern-day Istanbul. The third pillar of Western civilization, Christianity, has at its core the writings of Christianity’s foremost ideologue, Paul the Apostle, who lived and preached in Ephesus, on the territory of modern Turkey, and later in Macedonia, before he was convicted and executed in Rome. This fascinating history of the Balkans has known a variety of cultures that lived together and influenced one another: Thraco-Scythians, Illyrians, Celts, Greeks, Ottomans and Slavs. Nowadays, the Balkan peninsula is a space in which a peaceful coexistence between Islamic, Orthodox and Catholic countries is a reality.
- I know that you are actively involved as the President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization (ISACCL). What kind of organization is it, and with what purpose did you establish it?
I founded the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization in order to transfer to Romania the experience and the projects I have undertaken as President of the Academy of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, where I had the opportunity to launch “The Levant Initiative for Global Peace”.When I launched the Levant Initiative for Global Peace, I had in mind my own experience as a scientist where, if you can solve the most complicated situations or problems through the application of knowledge, then it becomes easier to solve the other issues left unsolved.
As such, if the Levant was considered the font of global contradictions, based on religious conflicts, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Levant was at the same time the cradle of the great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in order of their historical appearance, and that the biblical underpinnings of each of these does not speak of war, but rather that everyone agrees that Peace is the name of God, down to even the greetings people use, be they Shalom, Salam aleikum or Go in peace. If religious leaders were to strongly affirm this principle, they would annul the arguments of those using religion to justify conflict and propagate violence.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization aims to rewrite the history of the Levant, through which we understand a broader space that does not solely refer to the Middle East, but also to Northern Africa, the Balkans and the Caucasus. For millennia, all these areas were ruled by the great empires that marked the history of the world: The Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Kingdom of Egypt, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. In time, this led to the establishment of deep human connections between the peoples of these regions, sharing common myths, common customs and a certain lifestyle that greatly valued hospitality. Let us rewrite history through the lens of what brings us together, not what sets us apart. This is not an easy feat, because history, as it has been written until now, is a history of incessant warfare, in which the protagonists are the lords of war, not the lords of peace.
- How did your relationship with the HWPL organization begin?
I first met Chairman Man Hee Lee in Germany, at a reception hosted by the Institute and Academy of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, where I learned of the noble goals that the HWPL had set for itself. They coincided, for the most part, with the goals I had dedicated my efforts in cultural diplomacy to, aiming towards not only the resolution of open or frozen conflicts, but especially towards the creation of a culture of peace through the understanding of the Other, the only way, in my view, to ensure a lasting, durable and sustainable peace.
- What do you think of Chairman Lee?
I believe Chairman Lee is a leader in the true sense of the word, which is easy to see in the way he wins the hearts and the minds of the younger generation, in particular because of his destiny: a man who fought in the Korean War which, like all wars, pits man against man; but what is even more striking is that, in the case of the Korean war, it was pitting brother against brother. When youth and women’s associations were established, I think Man Hee Lee astutely picked up on the fact that herein lay the key, as youths are sent to die in wars by populist and ultranationalist leaders with dictatorial tendencies while women during war are not only victims but also suffer for their parents, children and brothers. We must never forget that while 20.000.000 soldiers died in World War II, 40.000.000 civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, perished in that conflict as well.
- I know that you participated the first WARP Summit.
In 2014, I was markedly impressed by the participation of the young people at the events. On the Olympic stadium, there were approximately 120.000 pupils and students, and nearly 200.000 took part in the March for Peace. When I had the honour of holding my speech on the Olympic Stadium, I felt the vibration of the crowd and I thought back to what had happened to the first president of Romania, Nicolae Ceauṣescu, when he attended the festivities organized by Kim Il-Sung in Pyeongyang in his honour. Because I had lived among the students which, during the Communist dictatorship, were forced to take part in events organized following the North Korean model, I had a realisation of how great the fundamental difference is between youth that are forced to attend rallies for fear of consequences that could drastically affect their futures and careers, and volunteers. You cannot fake volunteering, and for me this was the most striking impression of my trip to South Korea, and the main reason I decided to return this year, to attend the fourth anniversary of the 2014 Summit.
- What was your impression of the 4th anniversary of the WARP Summit?
Even though this time the rally was held on Incheon Stadium, with only 30.000 participants, I found myself surrounded by the same sincere enthusiasm and the same dedication to peace. Your people are models of solidarity.I think it was an important event not only for Korea, but for the entire world, as it demonstrates once again that the promotion of peace is the only solution, that the threat of war is not the only solution, as happened during the Cold War. In the end, dialogue is the most important.
- Do you think the Declaration for Peace and Cessation of War (DPCW) will be presented to the United Nations?
The level of publicity surrounding this Declaration, in correlation with the fact that through its signing religious leaders, people in positions of authority, presidents and democratic heads of government are joined by a large number of young people supporting the same ideal, makes it possible that military leaders, heads of state and military subcontractors are made to listen to the voice of the people. I believe the United Nations will indeed accept this Declaration, and I consider it an important step in the right direction because, despite the permanent criticism of UN ineffectiveness, we must keep in mind that it is the only forum that offers a platform for smaller states from across the globe to make their voices heard.
- Are you optimistic that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons program?
I am actually optimistic for this result. It was not by chance that, following the Bucharest conference, I suggested that the organizers also invite the former Presidents of Belarus and Ukraine to Korea at the same time as the meeting between the two Korean leaders. It gave us the opportunity to re-emphasize, as we had at the Bucharest conference, certain historical events that are completely overlooked by Western media and politics.The wealth of experience of South-Eastern European countries may be useful to North Korea, not only from the point of view of their eventual transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, but also with regard to their denuclearization.
- What is the most significant thing that is needed for the reunification of the Korean peninsula?
Of course, only the Korean people should be allowed to decide on their own fate, and I must stress that, like in the case of the unification of Germany and of the close relationship between Romania and Moldova, an honest decision can only come from within, not from pressures from without; and, if successful, the unification of the Korean peninsula will be one of the lynchpins of global peace. I firmly believe that now, with the denuclearization of North Korea, we will arrive much closer to implementing peace worldwide, kindling the hope of the younger generations to live in a world bereft of war.
- Finally, do you have a message you would like to share with our Korean readers?
I would like to convey my sincere admiration for the Korean people. As a professor of geology, I know that, compared to Romania, there are precious little underground resources in Korea. Neither is the soil quality particularly good in comparison, as Romania has over 80% of the best quality soils in the European Union. All of South Korea’s exceptional economic development, which has impressed the world over, is based on its wealth of educated human resources. This is the example that South Korea has set for the world: development through higher education. At the same time, I would like to reaffirm my great admiration for the high degree of solidarity espoused by the citizens surrounding an ideal: dignity and national unity.
I wish that both older and newer generations in Korea can enjoy peace, and that the entire Korean people can enjoy prosperity, and I hope that I yet live to see this come to pass.