North, South unite as hosts of festival

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North, South unite as hosts of festival

Another stitch in the growing quilt of efforts to strengthen relations between South and North Korea is about to be woven.
The two countries, technically at war since 1953, will co-host the first World Culture Open Global Festival in September along with New York. The festival, to be held every two years, will emphasize humanitarian service, holistic approaches to well-being and the creative arts through a series of competitions, demonstrations, concerts, awards and seminars.
“For a successful hosting of the 2004 World Culture Open and for the safety of delegates and participants of the event from each side, we’ve agreed to cooperate with the International Culture Exchange Association of North Korea,” said Chung Ki-yul, secretary-general of the World Culture Open Organizing Committee, at a press conference Friday in Seoul. Mr. Chung added that more details would be announced following additional discussions with the North Koreans.
Dignitaries at Friday’s gathering included Mokhtar Lamani, the permanent observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations; Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega, a senior member of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Hugh Locke, executive director of the WCO New York Organizing Committee, and Suh Young-hoon, president of WCO 2004.
Mr. Lamani stressed the value of cross-cultural events like the WCO festival in promoting harmony among nations, adding that the organization’s future plans for an Open Center and a university are additional tools to achieving this end.
“I believe a lot of changes can be executed in this difficult world through education and cultural exchange,” Mr. Lamani said. “With all of the crises going on in the world, we need more initiatives promoting tolerance for the world. I strongly believe that the word ‘tolerance’ is not the right word, because that means you disagree with someone and you let him leave. Tolerance is the first step to reach what is the right word: respect. This can be done when we learn in school this culture of respect.”
Im Jong-hun, a lecturer of political science at Ewha Womans University, agreed, saying “Sports and cultural events will be grounds to develop political relations between North and South.”
The inaugural WCO festival will begin in New York on Sept. 8 before moving to Seoul from Sept. 11 to 15 and Pyeongyang on Sept. 17 for the final competition and performances by three award recipients. Panmunjeom, a joint security area in the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South, will be the venue for the closing ceremony.
An international non-profit organization, World Culture Open was founded in 2001 by prominent people in the areas of culture, business, politics and academy, including Hong Seok-hyun, president of the World Newspaper Association and president and CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper group; martial arts master Koh Jang-hong, and Chung Ki-yul, a minister at Unity United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland, and an advocate for Korean unification.
In New York, the awards ceremony at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall is being touted as the main event, where three individuals or groups will be honored for their achievements in the core themes and awarded $100,000 each. Though declining to identify contributors, Mr. Locke said $500,000 has been donated for the award and festival.
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and New York Governor George Pataki are expected to take part in the awards ceremony.
From there, contestants from around the world will be brought together at Seoul’s Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, to demonstrate a variety of traditional or contemporary dances, music, martial arts, meditation and exercise.
For the 2004 WCO, nominations for some awards and competitions have already been received and are no longer accepted. However, applications for two categories ― holistic well-being and humanitarian service ― are being accepted through July 15. The organizing committee has received applications from 80 groups in 36 countries.
Though the event was designed to break down cultural and political barriers, the political and physical divide between North and South will affect the WCO.
“It will be difficult for South Korean individuals other than official delegates and even participants to travel to Pyeongyang to watch the final WCO competition and the award ceremony,” said Chae Jin-sun, general manager of the organizing committee.
The committee will, however, handpick a select number of individuals following a screening and invite them to watch the Pyeongyang activities live. And both individuals and groups from each side of the peninsula will participate in competitions in Seoul and Pyeongyang, said Mr. Chae, though specifics have not yet been decided.
Among the most heavily armed land borders in the world, with forces on the North and South Korean sides tracking the other’s moves, the DMZ poses a formidable barrier to transportation during the festival. “Both sides agreed to be proactive in collaborating to make this event a success,” Mr. Chae said, adding that the Seoul organizing committee has recommended that land routes be used.
“Through culture and sports events, the North and South will become more familiar and the event itself is an opportunity for Korea, a nation with a long history.”
In addition to the festival, the World Culture Open aspires to create Open Centers and a university in the future. The Open Centers are designed to serve their respective communities by facilitating the exchange of ideas and talent and creating a network of meeting spaces in each region. The objective of the WCO University is to create a permanent learning environment for promoting cultural diversity. Plans are afoot to create one in Panmunjeom, Mr. Chung said.
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by Limb Jae-un
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