Koreas win UNESCO recognition of traditional wrestling

Divided for about seven decades, North and South Korea together won their first international recognition of Korean traditional wrestling as one of the world’s cultural treasures on 26th November 2018.

The joint inscription of ‘Ssirum/Ssireum, traditional Korean Wrestling’ of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO was approved during the 13th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Port Louis, Mauritius. (CCFU is accredited to this committee and participated in the proceedings in Port Louis)

The Koreas had earlier pushed separate bids for the sport’s UNESCO recognition before merging their applications amid an easing of tensions this year. Local media reports said South Korea had first proposed the joint bid after a leaders’ summit at a Korean border village in April.

“The joint inscription marks a highly symbolic step on the road to inter-Korean reconciliation,” UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay said in a statement. “It reminds us of the peace-building power of cultural heritage, as a bridge between peoples. This marks a victory for the longstanding and profound ties between both sides of the inter-Korean border.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed the UNESCO inscription, calling it a “result of recent South-North cooperation.” The South’s Cultural Heritage Administration said that the two Koreas have been given a new opportunity to further promote exchanges in the field of cultural heritage. It said in a statement the joint nomination is the “fruitful outcome of a meeting” between Moon and Azoulay in October.
UNESCO said during that meeting with Moon, Azoulay proposed a series of concrete projects involving UNESCO that would facilitate inter-Korean reconciliation. It said similar discussions also took place with North Korea in recent weeks. “The commitment of UNESCO to facilitate peace between the two parties has led to the joint inscription in a short time frame,” it said.

The Koreas were a single country before their separation in 1945. Split along the world’s most heavily fortified border, the countries now have linguistic, cultural and other gaps.

North Korea has won UNESCO recognitions of two Korean cultural assets — the Korean folk tune “Airrang” and the making of Kimchi. The two are among the 19 items that South Korea has received UNESCO recognition for, according to South Korean officials.

Korean wresting is a national sport and a popular cultural practice in both Koreas. In the sport, participants with a belt around their waists and thighs use their hands, legs and other body parts to bring down their opponents. In South Korea, it gained wide popularity in the 1980s, threatening the long-running popularity of baseball and soccer.