South Korea History and Politics
Kingdom of the Dolmens
The Korean peninsula was settled 18,000 to 12,000 years ago. The people who settled there probably came from Siberia and Mongolia. Much of the world’s megaliths were found in Korea, by the way. Structures made of megaliths are called dolmens. This is why Korea is also known as the “Kingdom of the Dolmen”.
What are megaliths?
Megaliths are mostly uncut stones that were used to build graves or other cult structures. Buildings with several bearing stones and a cover plate are called dolmens.
Before the Japanese came to power over Korea, the country had a very distinct culture. At that time the country was very uniform and didn’t have much contact with the outside world. So it is that North and South Korea have some cultural similarities to this day. Many cultural characteristics are shaped by Confucianism and Buddhism.
Occupied by Japan
In the first centuries after Christ, the religion of Buddhism came to Korea. Several dynasties took turns in the rule. In between the country was taken by the Mongols. The Kingdom of Joseon was founded in 1392. It did not officially end until 1897, the year in which a Great Korean Empire was proclaimed.
But shortly afterwards, in 1905, the peninsula became a protectorate of Japan. In 1910 Korea was officially incorporated into the Japanese Empire and thus became a Japanese colony. It was called Chosen. This time ended in 1945: After the Second World War, Japan, as an ally of the German Reich and thus a loser in the war, had to capitulate. In both North and South Korea, August 15, 1945 is celebrated as the day of independence from Japan.
How Korea was divided
After Japan surrendered, not only Japan itself, but Korea, which belonged to Japan, was occupied by the Allies and – like Germany – divided into zones of occupation.
The Koreans themselves were not at all enthusiastic about it, after all, they thought that Korea would finally become independent. The land was divided along the 38th parallel. The northern part of the country went to the Soviet Union and the southern part into the hands of the Americans.
Contrary to what was originally planned, there were no free elections in the entire country of Korea. The beginning of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States intervened. The elections were held separately in both parts.
On August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was founded, which we usually refer to as South Korea. A few days later, on August 26, 1948, the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” followed in the north, ie North Korea.
But both actually claimed the other side for themselves. Neither in the south nor in the north wanted to come to terms with the division. In 1949 the two occupying powers had left the north and south, and at this point in time conflicts arose between the “two Koreas”.
Outbreak of the Korean War
In 1950 – two years after the proclamation of the two countries – North Korea wanted to bring about a military agreement and sent troops across the border into South Korea. And as is so often the case when soldiers march, a war breaks out, in this case the Korean War.
On the North Korean side, the North Koreans fought with support from the Soviet Union and later also from the People’s Republic of China. The United States and other western states fought with the South Koreans. One speaks here of a proxy war.
In 1953 there was an armistice between the two countries, but the peninsula remained divided. A four-kilometer-wide zone was added to the dividing line, in which no soldiers are allowed. A peace agreement was not signed. To date there has only been one ceasefire between North and South Korea.
A communist state developed in the north. The South became first a dictatorship and then a democracy based on the system of the West and especially the United States.
And how is it today?
Unfortunately, relations between the two countries have deteriorated again since 2000. It can be said that this is mainly North Korea’s fault. In the past, attacks on members of the South Korean government and civilians were repeatedly carried out from there. In addition, there should be tunnels that lead under the demilitarized zone from North Korea over to South Korea, a country located in Asia according to computergees. They should be used in the event of war and lead North Korean soldiers into enemy territory.
In addition, North and South Korea are officially still at war with each other, because there is no peace agreement, only a ceasefire. An agreement or even a reunification seem very unlikely at the moment. But North Korea is dangerous because the state is a dictatorship and also a nuclear power.
In the meantime, there are occasional meetings between the American president and the North Korean ruler in order to improve relations or at least to keep the North Koreans from their nuclear program. A rapprochement between North and South Korea also seems possible. So far, however, there have been no concrete contracts or agreements.
Moon Jae-in has been the President of the Republic of Korea since May 10, 2017. So far there have been two prime ministers under him. The current incumbent Chung Sye-Kyun took over the office on January 14, 2020 from Lee Nak-yeon, who held the office on May 13, 2017.