Korea was split in two along the 38th parallel almost seventy years ago. Since then, chances of reunification have remained slim to none. Attempts have been made, talks have been had, hands have been shook, but, ultimately, all efforts have failed. Why? For a written overview, click here. For those of you interested in the visual Cliffsnotes, here’s one reason:
Source: Reuters via AEI-ideas.org
North Korea’s antics and moody behavior thwarted reconciliation efforts in 1972, 1990, and again in 1994. But there was movement towards progress in the first few years of the new millennium. Dorasan Station stands as proof. Located in the heart of the DMZ, this $40 million structure is now more living history museum than what it was originally intended to be: a train station that would connect a divided peninsula.
The station was a direct result of the South-North Joint Declaration made by the two Koreas in which they agreed to restore the Gyeongui Railroad Line. When the station opened in 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush stood alongside South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, expressing hope and support for a unified Korea. The line was officially connected a year later and freight trains began carting industrial supplies from the South to the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North in 2007.
Dorasan’s tagline “not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North,” is geographically accurate, but that’s about it. The short-lived cooperation ended in 2008 when North Korea, unhappy with the results of South Korean elections, closed its borders. The daily trains stopped running. Ever since, relations between the two countries have remained stagnant with occasional flare-ups coming from the North.
But Dorasan Station remains, still clean and shiny, its grounds empty, save for curious tourists like ourselves who recently wandered around. We purchased our tickets, pushed our way through the turnstiles, and walked under the “Tracks to Pyeongyang” sign to catch a train to nowhere. Modern rail cars sat tethered together, unmoving on the tracks. Three uniformed South Korean soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder on the end of the platform, facing north, chatting to pass the time.
While they and other soldiers stationed throughout the DMZ wait for their shifts to end, the rest of the world waits on North Korea to follow through on promises of reconciliation and reunification. As someone who lives within a 500 mile radius of the heavily armed country that is prone to volatile behavior, I’m waiting, too.