[OUTLOOK]A literary event offers hope

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[OUTLOOK]A literary event offers hope

As was already reported, a somewhat unusual award ceremony was held at Mount Geumgang on Dec. 13. The 19th Manhae Literary Award was belatedly bestowed on North Korean writer Hong Seok-jung for the novel “Hwangjini.” The event, which was held in the Magnolia House restaurant at the entrance of Guryongyeon Valley, was a small one where seven South Korean and seven North Korean literary guests attended.
At the dinner the night before, right after our arrival, we could already ascertain that the flow of communication and affection was easy among the writers of both nations. Also, as a consensus on the historic significance of the event was formed, the atmosphere at the ceremony was calm and warm.
It may sound like self-praise if I, a representative of the host group of the event, say this, but I think the significance of the meeting was special.
South and North Korean literary people had been in contact several times before too. But if the previous meetings were exchanges arising from events and unexpected incidents, this meeting was different in that exchanges based on literary works led to an event.
The award was decided after having read the works written in North Korea and screening them according to South Korea’s literary criteria. This decision did not just end up being a one-sided gesture, but the award was actually delivered to the writer himself in North Korea. It was the first event of its kind in the history of our national division and a truly precious precedent in the process of healing the wounds of the division.
As Hong Seok-jung said in his address, we could not even have dreamed of the event had it not been for the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration. Listening to him, I had the following thoughts: Although we should loudly ask North Korea to put the joint declaration into practice if necessary, we should now think in a way that breaks away from dividing the South and the North in our professional fields and make an effort to focus on specific practices.
For one thing, we should not limit literary or academic awards to South Korean figures. More important, we are required to constantly ask ourselves whether we have locked ourselves in the “limitation of a divided country” in literary and academic activity.
The award ceremony at Mount Geumgang was a kind of expedient. The quarterly magazine Changjak-kwa-bipyong, or Creation and Criticism, first invited Hong Seok-jung to attend the award ceremony in Seoul on Nov. 24, but there was no answer from North Korea. It would have been very dramatic if we had gone to Pyeongang and delivered the award. The second best thing was our meeting at Mount Geumgang.
But what is important in the present situation is the fact that even the second-best measure was possible. Since a bigger principle is laid out in the South-North Joint Declaration, it might be rather desirable that its implementation is done in the form of many expedient events.
Moreover, seeing how various meetings, including the reunion of separated families in addition to the awards ceremony, are held at Mount Geumgang, I’ve come to think that there might be a special meaning in this.
After a tour of Mount Geumgang in the 1930s, the Venerable Master Sotaesan, or Park Jung-bin, the founder of Won Buddhism, a Korean school of Buddhism, left a passage saying, “As Mount Geumgang is revealed to the world, Korea becomes a new Korea.”
This hope seemed impossible not only during the Japanese occupation, which he experienced, but even long after liberation. As the national division solidified after we suffered a fratricidal war, a unified new country seemed very far away. With fewer visitors than in the past, Mount Geumgang itself seemed to be hidden from the world.
But how much it has changed over the past few years! Along with the tourism project between South and North Korea, Mount Geumgang began to reveal itself to the world again, and since the joint declaration, it has come out further into the light.
Because of the reality of division, Mount Geumgang has emerged as a tourist attraction unparalleled by other famous mountains in North Korea, and has positioned itself as an important center of practical exchanges between South and North Korea. The unique status of Mount Geumgang is likely to be maintained even if inter-Korean relations get better in the future and exchanges are held in other places.
The real problem is whether a new and whole country will be built as Mount Geumgang comes into the world’s view. But rather than relying on predictions, we should build such a country with our hands.
I returned to Seoul, wishing that this event had removed part of the wire fences in our hearts, just as the wire fences at the military demarcation line has been cut off bit by bit with the opening of land routes to Mount Geumgang and the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and the editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine Changjak-kwa-bipyong, or Creation and Criticism. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Paik Nak-chung
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