[REPORTER’S DIARY]Stockpiling scapegoatsA vice president of the International Olympic Committee, Kim Un-yong, is July's “flavor of the month” in Korea where somebody has to take responsibility when something goes wrong.
But there is something familiar in the new frenzy that is again calling for someone’s public humiliation. When short-track skater Kim Dong-sung lost a race in Salt Lake City last year, it was the American skater Apolo Anton Ohno whom Korea wanted disgraced. The frenzy wanted former President Kim Dae-jung’s head to bow (but not quite roll) twice, because of the bribes his sons took. It even went after U.S. President George W. Bush after a U.S. military vehicle ran over and killed two Korean girls last year.
Looking at the list of alleged transgressions by Mr. Kim, the IOC vice president, it seems likely that he is not altogether innocent. Critics say that despite his clout as one of the longest-serving members of the IOC, he did not give all he had to help Pyeongchang host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. He did instead what it took to get himself elected vice president. He pushed the Pyeongchang bid committee to subscribe to an Olympic newsletter partly owned by his son. He tried to get Korea’s deputy foreign minister to take time off from his negotiating schedule on the North Korean nuclear problem and make a trip to Bulgaria to try to get his son, who is wanted by U.S. authorities, out of detention before a possible extradition to the United States.
“The United States gets two of their guys who ran over some people out of here and brings them home,” Mr. Kim said. “Shouldn’t Korea try to protect its people abroad?”
There are always two sides to a story, and Mr. Kim has tried to come up with a rebuttal to almost every single charge hurled against him. Most of them are better than the comparison of his son and the two acquitted U.S. soldiers.
Whether or not the accusations against Mr. Kim are well-founded is beside the point. A massive witchhunt is in progress, and Mr. Kim is on the brink of demise, perhaps proving again what a Western diplomat noted: Korea is a culture that always manages to find a way to punish somebody when there is a scandal.
Another diplomat said Korea even appears capable of having a scandal “manufactured” and ready just as the previous one is about to fade. All that energy could be better used, the diplomat said, in recognizing how close Pyeongchang came. “Look at the close fight it pulled off against a city as well-known as Vancouver,” he said.
The Gangwon province city is now on the map, with a good chance of winning the next time around.
And don’t assume that something like the Olympics or a World Exposition bid is a cinch and then be crushed ― hence the “manufacturing” of scandals ― because a disappointment of that magnitude requires some brooding. Finding a scapegoat to take the responsibility may be the easiest way to vent frustration.
by Kim Young-sae
The writer is a staff writer of the JoongAng Daily.