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04/17/2018 Special > Opinion


Spring is Approaching

The Pyeongyang joint performance in the context of past North-South cultural exchanges


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A wave of tension pervaded the country as April 3rd drew closer. It was the date of the North-South Joint Performance in Pyeongyang, the capital of North Korea. The abrupt developments in the relationship between North and South Korea following their co-participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics presented a peculiar situation for citizens. With conflicting sentiments of hope and wariness, the nation waited under a silent tension as the date of the performance grew near.
The first cultural interaction of any kind between North and South Korea dates back to 1985. Most of the events were composed in a similar manner: the two countries would prepare a stage for performers and exchanged cultural contents in an effort to ease the sentimental disparities between the divided nations. However, such events were severely criticized by both sides, as they were evaluated as encouraging ideological competition underneath the formalities of the event. Accordingly, efforts to promote harmony gradually moved to the domain of sports, a realm more detached from political ideology. Such efforts eventually dried up as tensions between the nations heightened.
The North-South unified team competing in the World Table Tennis Championship in 1991
(Photo courtesy of Yonhap News)

Fortunately, this performance was a great success. It was a notable milestone, as it reestablished an air of hope for the public. It was one thing for us to see news reports on the recent growth of diplomatic interactions between North and South Korea, and another to see our favorite singers and K-pop idols performing in what we have grown to perceive as the most dangerous place in the world. Arguably being true, as the two countries are still in a state of ceasefire, the performers were technically behind enemy borders. Despite the nation’s composure, perhaps to the point of preceived indifference by the third party, everyone held their breath until the performers returned safely.
Adding to the ripple of relief as the performance ended on a positive note, another noteworthy aspect of the event is its historical significance. Along with the co-participation in this year’s Winter Olympics, this was the first great amicable interaction between the divided nations in nearly a decade. The success of the event is even expected to facilitate further talks of cooperation in the North-South Korea Summit, which is scheduled to take place in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjeom on April 27th. The last summit was held in 2007, and this will be the third official summit between North and South Korea.
A celebratory photo of the performers on the stage in Pyeongyang (Photo courtesy of Ilyosisa).

The long drought of diplomatic and cultural interaction among the divided peninsula began with a gunshot incident in Geumgang Mountain in 2008, where a South Korean tourist was fatally shot by a soldier in North Korea. When North Korea failed to provide reliable support for their justification of the shooting, ties between the two countries began to crumble. The deterioration of the relationship quickly accelerated as North Korea began to pursue its military ambitions, engaging in nuclear experiments and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) development, to the dismay of international society. As a result of the North's aggressive stance, people were confused to see the recent eagerness for cooperation by North Korea, and rightfully so.
In light of the historical context, how this momentum of reconciliation plays out will greatly shape the public's perception of North Korea in the future. This is especially true for the younger generation, who will witness cooperation between the two countries for the first time. The current situation will exert massive influence on their manner of interaction in the decades to come. Needless to say, every diplomatic step must be taken with great discretion. On that note, the successful completion of the North-South Joint Performance in Pyeongyang is an indicator of a great start. "A good start is half the work" is how the old saying goes, but a good start is nevertheless, only half of the work. Further dedication to establishing a solid foundation for reconciliation and stability will ensure sustainable benefits to be reaped by both nations, and will perhaps be the key to finally ending the war.

Lee Chang-hyun              
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