DMZ: in the border zone between North and South Korea

I was in the tunnel dug by North Koreans and felt myself uncomfortable.  The authentic tunnel was my height and it’s breadth was about 1.5 metres.  The granite walls were wet and cold; here and there were holes and black spots. Our guide said that the idea of North Koreans had been to explode the tunnel if South Koreans would find it, and that is why there are so many holes for dynamite.  The black spots were only a blind: North Koreans tried to make South Koreans believe that they were only seeking for coal. South Koreans have found already four tunnels and they believe that North Korea has tried to launch an assault on South Korea via tunnels.

I visited also an observation point where tourists could look at the ill-famed totalitarian country. I remembered my trip to West Berlin during my student time: there was also a vantage point for looking at the infamous East Berlin. The South Korean side was full of activity: at the Dorasan Station are a museum, souvenir shops, restaurants, theme park etc. For South Koreans the border zone is a place of business and a space of political tourism, for North Koreans the zone is the most important ideological border, a barrier between the two worlds. When I look at across the line, it was only empty land on the North Korean side of the border.

I came to South Korea from Japan where we had the BRIT XII (Border Regions in Transition) conference in Fukuoka. One day we spent in Busan, which is also called South Korean’s Riviera.  We spent also one day in the Island of Tsushima, the scene of a major sea battle between Japanese and Russian warships in 1905. From the Finnish political viewpoint, the war was a remarkable turning point: Finnish position under the Russian Imperium eased due to the defeat of Russia. We got the right to rebuild our parliamentary system and in 1906 also Finnish women got the right to vote and be candidates in elections. In 1907 the first 19 women started their term; they were the first female parliament members in Europe.

When we arrived in the South Korea, our host showed to us the most popular music video of the world, South Korean Gangnam Style; already 900 million people have loaded it! Instead of the music I read during my conference journey a book which has also shocked the western world:  Escape from Camp 14, a documentary book written by Blaire Harden. It tells a tragic and horrifying story of North Korean Shin who was born in a prison camp in 1982, a child of prisoners, who succeed to escape from North Korea in 2005. Shin Dong-hyukin, who is living nowadays in the USA and Seoul, visited also Helsinki in 2012 with North Korean civil rights activists: a calm young man with light brown eyes. In an interview he said: ‘We could change the situation in North Korea if the support of the international community would be stronger towards our cause...’  I remember that in the 1930s when Finnish neighbour, the Soviet Union, executed its own citizens, like members of ethnic minorities and political dissidents, none of the European countries helped the victims across the Iron Curtain. Therefore, I guess, political change must rise up from inside, from the acts of North Koreans in their own land.