A unified Korean flag flew at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang this weekend. The flag features a solid blue map of the two Koreas against a field of white and symbolizes a unified Korea. Realistically, North Korea and South Korea have been separated since 1945 and show little sign of actually reunifying any time in the near future.
The flag isn’t the only display of unity made by the Koreas. The two countries combined their women’s ice hockey teams and currently participate as one in the Olympic sport. Kim Yo-jong, youngest sister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, arrived in South Korea for the games and became the first in her family to visit the south. As a trusted advisor to her older brother, Kim Yo-jong is the deputy director of Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the ruling communist party of the country. She is in charge of her brother’s public image and holds the power for policy-making in a rogue regime, and her presence in South Korea may signal a shift toward reunification.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is a strong proponent of conversation and reconciliation with North Korea. In North and South alike, Koreans view reunification as a far-stretched ideal. To reunify would be to return their peninsula to the way it was before colonialism and dividing outside forces. Historically, Koreans are one people and one nation and to many it makes sense to desire this one, whole Korea again.
For many others, however, reunification would be the realization of a nightmare. Reunification was first proposed by the North, which was interested in absorbing its southern neighbor into its territory. Talk of reunification is especially sensitive riding on the coattails of North Korea’s impressive military parade on Feb. 7. Defectors of the North Korean state cite incredible stories of poverty, famine and torture. A soldier came across the border between North and South Korea with numerous parasites in his intestine, one of which is commonly found in dogs.
Vice President Mike Pence, who worked relentlessly to undermine North Korea’s propaganda at the Winter Olympics, has called North Korea the worst “tyrannical regime on the planet,” and made a visit to the demilitarized zone in 2017. “The American people stand with you for freedom and you represent the people of North Korea, millions of which long to be free as well,” Pence told the defectors, according to CNN.
North Korea has tight control over its media and its people. However, there are currently protests against North Korean participation in Pyeongchang. Protesters can be seen holding flags from South Korea and the United States and surrounding by policeman, according to CNN. Protests are consistently reported in areas the North Korean delegation visits, highlighting an undercurrent of unrest despite the appearance of optimism. As the Winter Games enter full swing, the North Korean missile threat still looms and the systematic and widespread human violations of the dictator-state continue. Only by turning a blind eye would reunification be possible.