Koreas win Unesco recognition for traditional wrestling

The announcement is the latest in a string of symbolic gestures between South Korea and its nuclear-armed neighbour in recent months.
The announcement is the latest in a string of symbolic gestures between South Korea and its nuclear-armed neighbour in recent months.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS • North and South Korea marked a new step in their reconciliation efforts yesterday as Unesco accepted a joint bid for Korean wrestling to be recognised as one of the world's most treasured cultural practices.

The two Koreas had originally filed separate applications for their traditional form of wrestling to be recognised on the United Nations agency's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

''The fact that both Koreas accepted to join their respective applications is unprecedented,'' Unesco chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. ''The joint inscription marks a highly symbolic step on the road to inter-Korea reconciliation.''

The announcement is the latest in a string of symbolic gestures between South Korea and its nuclear armed neighbour in recent months. Last week, the two said they had connected a road across their shared border for the first time in 14 years, while earlier this month, the South gifted the North hundreds of tonnes of tangerines in exchange for pine mushrooms.

Annual joint military exercises between South Korea and its ally the United States have been scaled down for spring next year to avoid undoing diplomatic advances to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

The bid for recognition on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list, which is separate from its list of World Heritage Sites, was approved at a meeting in Mauritius.

Successful applications are largely symbolic, and can raise the profile of winning countries and their cultural practices.

Known as ssirum in North Korea and ssireum in the South, the traditional form of wrestling has been practised at village festivals for centuries. The sport has some similarities to Japanese sumo.

Until now, North and South Korea have always submitted separate bids for recognition on the Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

But at a meeting in Paris with South Korean President Moon Jaein last month, Ms Azoulay suggested the requests be combined. The idea was also taken up with North Korean officials.

The two Koreas are technically still at war after the 1950-1953 conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'Koreas win Unesco recognition for traditional wrestling'. Print Edition | Subscribe