Seoul to pursue academic exchanges with Pyongyang
By Do Je-hae
Culture minister Choe Kwang-shik has shown keen interest in inter-Korean cultural and academic exchanges since the beginning of his appointment.
A scholar whose area of expertise is Korea’s ancient kingdoms, Choe stressed in his inauguration speech that he would actively pursue such exchanges with the North. Although due to unforeseen circumstances like the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December, it has not been easy.
North Korea’s repeated provocations during President Lee Myung-bak’s term have not helped, either. Anger erupted among South Koreans when in 2010, North Korea launched a sneak submarine attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors and sank the Cheonan, a warship sailing in South Korean waters. The North also rained artillery shells on a South Korean island, killing four people.
“Due to the stalemate in inter-Korean relations, there has not been much progress in the exchanges of cultural heritage. But we are fully ready to engage the North when (political) circumstances improve,” Choe said. “Cultural exchanges are a crucial reminder to the shared history of our peoples prior to the Korean War.”
The culture ministry will undertake initiatives regarding three key cultural heritage projects in cooperation with Pyongyang.
First is resuming the excavation of the Manwoldae Palace, the official royal palace of the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) in the ancient capital city of Gaesong, North Korea. Work at the ruins began under the supervision of the North Korean government, but merged into a joint Korean cultural project in 2007.
“We will start working-level dialogues this month and take active steps to re-start the excavation,” Choe said.
The two Koreas previously worked together to excavate paintings from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37B.C.-668) found near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The ministry plans to launch a second excavation project in September in cooperation with the North.
Also important is the enlisting of the age-old folk song of Arirang as a UNESCO heritage of both Koreas. The ministry will submit the application in June.
“In the meantime, the ministry has made consistent efforts to develop culture policies in preparation of unification. We hold a monthly seminar on inter-Korean cultural exchange projects,” Choe said.
On May 16, the ministry will hold a seminar on the exchange of visual arts with relevant exports within and outside the government and artists who have defected from North Korea.