Saturday, October 11, 2008

South Korea’s collective shrug on North Korea

At a coffee bar in downtown Seoul, Kim Seong-hun, 28, said he was too busy with his 12-hour-a-day job as an official at the national police agency to bother about [news from North Korea.] "We're living a stressed, pressured life in Seoul and there are lots of more fun things we want to talk about," he said over a cup of iced coffee. "It just doesn't have anything to do with our real lives."

After decades of separation from their brethren in the north, South Koreans have become blase, often even indifferent, about developments there. A recent poll showed that just 3 per cent named North Korea as their main concern.

North Korea fatigue is especially acute among the young, who barely seem to think about the repressive regime that lies just an hour's drive north of the teeming South Korean capital.

"To them, it is almost another planet," said Tim Peters, an American who heads Helping Hands Korea, a charity that works for North Korean refugees.

He said that southerners are so cut off from the North that they are often "dumbfounded" when he tells them about North Korean human-rights abuses from torture to prison-camp abuses. "I marvel at the depth of their ignorance."

As South Koreans have become more urbanized, globalized and wealthy, northerners seem more and more like distant country cousins, out of sight and out of mind. The per capita gross domestic product in the North is estimated at $1,900; in the South it is more than 10 times that.


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