Everybody enjoys a good old family reunion. Meeting the folks. Having a knees up. Family barbecue in the summer. Reminiscing about good times had, and good times yet to come. No matter how far you are away from your kin, or they from you, there is always at least one day in the year when you can come together and be a family. That is of course unless you happen to have been divided by the Korean war and separated by the 38th parallel!
The Korean war ended on July 27 1953. The peninsular has seen an uneasy peace ever since. Peace, is probably not even the right word, as North and South Korea only ever signed an armistice agreeing to cease hostilities, leaving them technically still at war. The two countries still ‘face-off’ across the demilitiarized zone and skirmishes involving exchanges of fire are fairly frequent.
When the North Koreans finally retreated back across the border in the summer of ’53 they took some 120,000 South Koreans with them. Over the intervening years this has created huge problems for families desperate to see their loved ones. For many years any kind of reunion was out of the question, however in recent years some selected families have been able to meet up (if only for a short while) with their relatives from the North.
The North Korean authorities choose the lucky families by utilizing a lottery system. A system that puts the names of each family into a draw for the opportunity for a tearful family reunion with their Southern kinfolk. For many families though this is still just a slim hope as it offers a mere 100 North Koreans the chance of reunification. It is claimed that the North Korean authorities even give preference to those who have been loyal to the state.
The idea of getting families reunited began in South Korea in the 80’s, although over the years they have largely been hijacked by the North for political purposes. Most of the initiatives proposed by the South have been cancelled at the last minute by the North, thereby causing even more distress among those Koreans separated by the conflict.
In 2015 however the stance of the North Koreans softened and hundreds of people were allowed to make their way to the demilitarized zone to see family and friends. Of course it has been over 60 years since official hostilities ceased which means that many family members have died. Many more are at an age whereby this reunion will almost certainly be their last.
It remains to be seen whether the North Koreans will continue to run more of these lotteries and help to bring more families together. It may be that the divisions caused by the Korean war will continue for many years to come. For Koreans though the significance of winning the lottery is far greater than any amount of money.