Under its new leader, many wonder whether Pyongyang will make an attempt at improving relations with Seoul. But after the arrest of a senior citizen who travelled north illegally, relations remain tense.
"Hooray for the great leader Kim Il Sung! For the great general Kim Jong Il! Horray for beloved comrade Kim Jong Un! Hip, hip, hooray!"
It is common to hear such things from North Koreans, who have been subjected to decades of propaganda and with whose help, the Kim dictator family has become an icon in the country.
But the man shouting hooray for the dictators this time was a South Korean man. That complicates matters.
When 68-year-old Ro Su-hui crossed the demarcation line, which has divided the two countries since the end of the Korean War in 1953, about a week ago, he was immediately arrested by South Korean authorities. Ro had travelled from Seoul to North Korea without permission - something that is illegal in the young democracy which was only able to get rid of its authoritarian leaders in the 1980s.
"Ro Su-hui is not unacceptable for our country. He denies the historical reality of the Republic of Korea and is standing up for North Korea. That's why we are demonstrating here - we demand that he is sent back to the North," one demonstrator said.
In autumn of 2007 there was a North-South Korean summit. The South Korean president travelled by car to the North Korean capital Pyongyang. The trip was the last pinnacle of the so-called "Sunshine Policy" which sought to establish economic ties with the North. Incumbent President Lee Myung bak initiated the policy and demanded North Korea abandon its nuclear program as a prerequisite for further help. (But the Kaesong Industrial Region in North Korea, which is very lucrative for the South, remains an exception.)
Under South Korea's National Security Act of 1948, the distribution of North Korean or Communist propaganda is illegal. In 2007, 39 people suspected of distributing propaganda were interrogated and three years later, in 2010, it was over 150 people. Last year, South Korean police alarmed the public, announcing it had found over 68,000 web entries whose content allegedly posed a threat to national security.
Officially, only a small South Korean delegation was allowed to travel to Kim Jong Il's funeral at the end of last year. An activist who decided to travel to Pyongyang despite restrictions was arrested upon his return. And now Ro Su-hui.
A spokesperson of the South Korean police said Ro admitted to visiting North Korea secretly and illegally. But the detainee denied posing a threat to national security. North Korea warned its southern neighbor not to punish Ro Su-hui.
Meanwhile, there is surprising news from the isolated North: the young leader Kim Jong Un attended a performance by Walt Disney characters not long ago and gave a standing ovation at the end.
According to the South Korean online newspaper Daily NK, there have been the first signs of an economic opening. The paper reported that Kim Jong Un had demanded an improvement to the living conditions of North Koreans and also instructed authorities to gather as much information as possible on foreign economic development.
Author: Peter Kujath / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams