By Foreign Correspondent Lee Jun-seo
Editor’s Note: The Suyang Times-Courier is a private newspaper based in Suyang, Haesan. As with all Haesanite news media, on issues regarding Laeral or Soeyan Province, we are required to comply with the provisions of the Media and National Security Act of 1974.
HANSHUI, LAERAL: Yesterday’s Opening Ceremony of the Hanshui ’23 Olympics was well regarded across the IDU, but in Haesan, it hit a more discordant note. As an opening montage played describing Laeral’s illustrious historical legacy, viewers in Haesan were stunned by the rosy depictions of some of the darkest moments and most problematic figures in Haesan’s history. In Haesan News Network’s coverage, some of the casters even found their shock turn into subtle bemusement at the extreme nationalism displayed in the event.
Haesanite President Kim I-seul was in the audience last night, and to put it mildly, she was not amused. Her pained expression throughout the program suggests that even she was blindsided by the move, despite guarantees that she had supposedly received as Haesan confirmed its invitation. Kim originally had plans to stay in Hanshui today and meet with foreign dignitaries on matters of scientific and economic cooperation, but last night she returned to Hwagang. There were also plans for her to return for the closing ceremonies, but at this point that seems highly unlikely.
The Office of the President put out this statement: “We are dismayed by the lack of tact shown in the direction of the Opening Ceremony in Hanshui last night. The government of Laeral is aware that issues surrounding the legacy of Gramont and the nation’s involvement in the Great War are of great sensitivity to us in Haesan, and that the games would be seen in Haesan as not merely hosted by Laeral, but also setting the context for which we make our Olympic debut. To have what should be a great moment of national pride soured by an unnecessarily nationalistic and superfluous presentation of history is truly a great tragedy, and our heart goes out to all the Haesanite athletes in Hanshui now. You deserved better. The Olympics are supposed to be about putting aside historical divisions and uniting as one IDU for the sake of peace and prosperity, but unfortunately the Laeralian Olympic Committee decided to put those divisions front and center. Amelioration is a long and painful process, and we were hoping that these Olympics would be another stepping stone to progress. Unfortunately, without some kind of apology or serious reversal of tone, it looks like we simply cannot reach an agreement on how to address these complicated historical narratives.”
There was a broad expectation in media on both sides of the border that an Olympic détente could lead to a serious peace agreement between the two nations to stop the high levels of violence in the eastern mountains of Soeyan, but now that hope is in shambles. The Olympics have served the opposite result, with nationalistic sentiment only becoming increasingly entrenched. An accord seems further away than anyone had expected.
Kim’s statement comes with elections a few days away and her Free Democratic Party down big in polls, especially in Seocheon and Sinhan, where they are losing seats to the nationalist One Haesan Party. Some political commentators, like Hanyeong National University’s Marcus Baek, believe that Kim’s condemnation of Laeral is brought on by a desire to make a political play to reclaim ground in those critical southwestern provinces. Others, including Jia Kim in these pages, are adamant that since Kim I-seul failed to pardon Choi Da-yeon, she has completely abandoned her party apparatus. As such, her motivations are unclear at best, and judgment should be reserved before calling this a blatant political play.
While surely both Haesan and Laeral would like to see a smooth resolution to this diplomatic snafu, at a time when national pride is so elevated, it is unlikely that will occur. Additionally, this week’s elections throw a healthy dose of uncertainty into the diplomatic machine. Only time will tell how this situation will resolve.