From the DMZ: Freedom Villages and Flagpoles

By October 13, 2010Trade

Doug Goudie of the National Association of Manufacturers sends his thoughts having toured the DMZ as part of a business delegation’s trip to South Korea.

In the years after the truce for the Korean conflict was signed in 1953, it was assumed by both sides that a permanent peace treaty would be signed, ending the 4 km wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) and replacing it with an established legal border. However, 57 years later, this hasn’t happened. So, a pre-war village on the South Korean side within the DMZ continues to function — harvesting rice, ginseng, and other products. As the North and South Korean positions hardened in the years following the end of the war, North Korea engaged in a PR battle.

North Korean "Freedom Village" is really just an empty shell used for propaganda purposes.

North Korea's "Freedom Village" and the largest flagpole in the world. Photo: Doug Goudie

The South Korean village, known as “Freedom Village,” is unique. They pay no federal taxes but must reside for 240 nights per year in village. They are within the DMZ, which means that there are no walls protecting them from the North (South Korea’s protective barriers are behind them). The fences in Korea are not at the border — they are on both sides of the DMZ. Villagers have security, but a number have been killed or kidnapped by North Korean forces, as there is no barrier between them and NK.

So the North Koreans built their own “Freedom Village.” It lacks a few elements. Namely, residents. OK, the buildings look nice. But many of the windows are simply painted on to the walls. US forces say that the concrete shells have no floors, as lights at the top story simply fade as you gaze at windows below. No one lives in the NK village. No farms surround it. The ROK village, in contrast, predated the war and still continues to exist.

And the BIG flag? A few decades ago, South Korea built a really tall flagpole. North Korea built one a bit higher. An arms race of flagpoles ensued, but South Korea eventually pulled out. The pole in this picture is 160 meters high, the tallest in the world until Azerbaijan built one 162 meters tall a few years ago. The flag on the NK pole weighs 600 lbs dry and is so heavy it would require a class III typhoon to unfurl.

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