In Major Diplomatic Push, Nonprofit Looks to Bring North Korean Orchestra to U.S.

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Alex Staroseltsev /

March 21, 2012; Source: Associated Press

As enemy states, relations between the U.S. and North Korea have been frigid, but a humanitarian nonprofit is hoping to help bridge the divide with a historic concert that would amount to something of a diplomatic coup. Robert Springs, the president of Global Resource Services, a nonprofit group that works in North Korea, is planning on bringing the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra to the U.S. for a tour that would start in Atlanta with performances in several other cities to follow. The tour would take place four years after the New York Philharmonic performed in the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. The January 2008 concert was a “historic cultural exchange between musicians from two nations that remain enemy states,” the Associated Press notes. Springs is aiming to repeat that exchange in the spring; the details are still being coordinated as the tour awaits government approval.

Today, more than 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea at the heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ). The DMZ is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth, with armed North and South Korean forces aligned against one another. The countries have remained in opposition since an armistice ended Korean War combat in 1953. Currently, North Koreans cannot freely travel around their country, much less travel abroad. Any intelligence that has been gained on the state of human rights in the country has been pieced together from stories of refugees and defectors. In cases where the North Korean government discovers that contact has occurred between refugees and NGOs, many of which are Christian-based or associated with South Korea, refugees have faced punishments of torture and execution upon their repatriation back to North Korea. The potential visit of the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra to the U.S. occurs amidst encouraging signs that the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea could be improving. In an agreement last month, both the U.S. and North Korea announced that Pyongyang would halt its nuclear activities to allow U.N. nuclear inspections entrance in exchange for food aid. The deal, however, could be jeopardized due to North Korea’s recently announced plans to launch a satellite on a rocket.

Over the last 14 years, Springs’ nonprofit has sent three musical groups to North Korea, including the Christian rock group Casting Crowns, and now he hopes that the musical exchange can flow in the other direction as well. “The hope is that we can better understand the people of North Korea and that they can better understand us,” says Springs. “And that could lead to more normalized relations.” If that somehow comes about, it seems both nations would owe a debt of gratitude to this nonprofit. –Saras Chung