It has been a strange couple of weeks being a foreigner here in Seoul, South Korea. While the world is watching how super powers threaten to wipe each other out, we all know that if shit hits the fan, it will explode here in the city of Seoul first. Yet, life goes on as if nothing special is happening internationally. There are importent national events comming up this spring, that will change the political landscape of the country. The North Koreans threat, has been there for 60 years. They are more worried about the new player, the American president.
Technically the war between North and South Korea never stopped. This limbo of building the demilitarized zone to ceasefire, was a temporary arrangement to freeze the fighting until they could agree on a solution. Too serve as a buffer zone between the two countries, they built the demilitarized zone. The Korean peninsula was divided in half, in an agreement between China and North Korea, United Nations and South Korea. It was agreed that a two-kilometer zone on each side of the border was to be demilitarized (the DMZ) as a buffer zone to stop the fighting. However, the demilitarized zone is heavily land mined.
There is a joint security area inside the DMZ, where negotiations are held. South Korea allows travelers to visit this area through organized tours. When I went to explore the DMZ, we were not allowed inside the joint security area because of “the situation”. Mike Pence on the other hand, he got in, and the world watched through CNN how he told North Korea to not test Donald Trumps’ limits, or they would repeat the Middle Eastern response.
Four tunnels have been discovered going from the north, under the DMZ, to the south. Each tunnel is built to send 20.000 soldiers through per hour. If Kim Jong Un decides to start the war again, the tunnels give the army of northern fighter’s free access to the south. How many more tunnels there are, they don’t know. We were allowed to go into one of the tunnels through a shaft build from the DMZ down to tunnel 3. It was about 1,5 meters wide and 1,8 meters high. It was a good thing we had helmets going in. There was a lot of head banging through the wet rough tunnels. At the far end, they sealed of the tunnel with four concrete walls. We were 170 meters from the border under the heavily land-mined DMZ. I wondered if four brick walls would stop the North from going through the tunnel if the fighting started again- probably not. Back out in the sunlight we continued by bus to a viewpoint. We could see how the world’s most heavily armed border scratched its way through nature. It is believed that the wildlife inside is flourishing, as no person will or can set foot inside the area and get out alive.
Back in Seoul after visiting the DMZ, my group was dropped off in a minefield of demonstrators, election ralleys, singing and yelling, and truck loads of police controling the masses of pedestrians, demonstrators and cars around this central intersection in Seoul. Two months ago, the President were indiced and imprisoned together with half the government, for being corrupt. The people are more concerned with the upcoming election. Demonstrations and rallies like these are held in the cities. The people demonstrate to get focus on their demands and the politicians rally to gain the trust of the people before election day next month.
South Korea went from being a dictatorship to being a democracy of two parties with free elections in 1987. They elect the president for 5 years at the time. After the resent governmental scandals surfased last year, the country is in a political turmoil. Each of the The two political parties were devided in two, and there is a woman running for the first time with a fifth, more socialistic party. The five parties all have their presidential candidate and they are very visible around towns theese days as the countdown to the election on may 9th continues.
Every year when North Korea is celebrating the sun, there is some threat of the war starting again – my Korean friend tells me. Growing up, they learn that one day North and South Korea will be united again as one happy prosperous country. They understand that it will happen in some sort of war. At the DMZ, we were driven to a modern train station. It had one line, going to Pyongyang. On the wall, there was a giant poster displaying train tracks from Seoul, through Pyongyang and China to Europe. They have dreams of being more closely connected to cultures that nourish growth and development. South Korea has demonstrated incredible growth and is a high-tech economic giant to follow closely. Well known Samsung and Hyundai being two of the stars that helped put the nation on the world map of trillion dollar economic countries.
Only time will tell how “the cold war” will unfold and what new political governance will own the power to keep developing South Korea.