The Korean peninsula is divided by a demilitarized zone or DMZ. The strip of land is 4 km wide and 240 km long from coast to coast. It was created in 1953 when an armistice ended the Korean War. Because the two Koreas are still technically at war, the zone remains enclosed in barbed-wire fences, dotted with land mines and guarded by thousands of soldiers. Ok, so far, nothing really new right? So here we go...
In 1955, the two Koreas decided to each build "model" villages on their side of the DMZ. The idea was that each village would highlight the superiority of their way of life. The Northern village is called Gijeong, the Southern, Daeseong Village. Over the past 50 odd years, each country has thrown wads of cash at their village. The schools in the village have access to technology that other citizens wouldn't even dream of. They compete over everything from the health of their citizens to the height of their flagpole. Only a few hundred people live in each village and the weird thing is, they aren't even really aware of the oddity of their situation. They are rural farmers mostly and have never traveled very far from their respective homes. During the height of the cold war, any furrow(accidental or otherwise)into the DMZ was met with armed confrontation and sometimes imprisonment. The new generation of DMZ villagers have grown up surrounded by barbed wire and have not experienced the tensions often associated with the cold war. Malaria has become an issue because the wildness of the area has provided a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. The citizens must abide by strict rules which include a curfew of 11 pm. They must carry special ID's to gain admittance to their neighbourhood. Every few years someone is maimed or killed by accidentally stepping on a landmine. And yet, the overall population of the village of Daeseong has dropped by only a few people since 1955. The villagers are given special privileges such as provincial tax exemption and release from mandatory military service.
I thought the whole concept was really interesting...I am surprised that people choose to remain there and yet at the same time, I am not. They have reached their goal...they are model citizens.
There was a big protest last week in Seoul...with riot police and everything. Two weeks ago Korea took in it's largest number of North Korean refugees in history. You would think I read about it in the Korean Herald, wouldn't you? I didn't. I read about both in the Globe and Mail online edition. JC.