[Viewpoint]North turns celebrations into farceA few days have passed since the June 15 National Unification Grand Festival ended, and yesterday marked the 57th anniversary of the Korean War. Since the inter-Korean summit meeting in 2000, which is considered the symbol of reconciliation of the divided country, the festival has been held in June and August every year. The purpose of the festival is “to support and celebrate the June 15 joint declaration and to gather national determination to put the declaration into action.” However, the festivals have not yet been received favorably due to Pyongyang’s breaches of promises and intolerable actions.
During the festivals over the last seven years, North Korea has failed to keep many promises. Most notably, the North Korean organizers changed the VIP seating assignments at the recent festival in Pyongyang. As a general rule, the inter-Korean events have prearranged seating assignments for VIP delegates, established through a working-level meeting beforehand. Based on the agreement between the South and the North, the VIP guests, including Grand National Party lawmaker Park Gye-dong, were seated a certain way at the opening ceremony and the welcome banquet. Of course, the seat assignments were made after thorough deliberations. However, a South Korean organizer spotted a problem when he checked the seat assignments at the last minute for the main event of the festival.
The North Korean organizers put the place card for Mr. Park in the back row without the consent of the South. The South Korean official who discovered the change strongly protested and demanded that the North Korean organizers stick to the original seat assignments. With Mr. Park and high-ranking North Korean officials exchanging harsh remarks, the event turned into chaos. While the organizers and authorities did their best to resolve the problem, there was no way of turning the situation around. The main event of the festival had to be postponed two days due to the ridiculous seat assignment change.
Another farce was staged due to song lyrics. It happened at the fourth festival held in Incheon in 2004. When there is an art performance attended by the two Koreas, working-level officials meet in advance and agree on the title and content of the performance. The second verse of the North Korean song, titled “Mount Baekdu and Mount Halla are my Homeland,” contained a line, “Joseon, the Sun, Becomes One and Unifies,” and the South pointed out that considering South Korean sentiment, using the word “sun” to refer to the North Korean leader was not appropriate. So the South asked the North to repeat the first verse, “All of Korea Becomes One and Unifies.”
After demanding various preconditions, the North, in the end, accepted the request. However, at the actual performance, the North Korean performers sang the controversial lyrics in the second verse. The North broke the promise. The South protested and the North refused to take responsibility, so the other events were all delayed and the dinner banquet ended at daybreak.
When a ridiculous fuss is caused due to North Korea’s breaches of promises, do we have to laugh with them? If it helps inter-Korean relations, we will be more than happy to share in the laughter. However, when Pyongyang’s absurd actions are intentional and political, it does no good for inter-Korean relations.
Thus, North Korea’s intentions regarding its breach of promise need to be thoroughly understood and analyzed.
The change of the seating assignments reflects Pyongyang’s intentions to have dinner with the Grand National Party, but not to have the conservative party share in the festival’s main event.
Moreover, it might have intended to magnify the incident at the main event, cause division among the South, isolate the Grand National Party and ultimately establish an anti-conservative front.
By performing the controversial lyrics, Pyongyang wanted to display the infinite loyalty to the Sun, or King Jong-il, to the North and to propagate his image as a “leader of the unification” to the South.
The North’s designs at the Grand Festival are very political. Pyong-yang must realize that political tactics cannot coexist with the spirit of June 15 and Aug. 15, namely reconciliation, cooperation and the unity of the nation.
Knowing its political intentions too well, Seoul also needs to stop being dragged around by the North. The South should have a more solid stance, clearly warning the North, demanding an apology and finding a way to prevent future incidents when Pyongyang unilaterally postpones an event, breaks a promise or interferes with our internal affairs.
*The writer is a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yang Moo-jin