[VIEWPOINT]Time to stop the red-baitingThe opposition Grand National Party has accused a ruling party lawmaker, Lee Chul-woo, of being a North Korean spy.
That’s a rather serious charge.
If it turns out to be true, Mr. Lee can expect a long prison sentence for treason. If false, the people making it, including the leader of the opposition, should resign ― but not after being forced to run naked into the Han River in mid-January and then spanked with rolled-up conservative newspapers for having wasted our time.
Here’s the background. In 1992, when he was 32, Mr. Lee joined an underground group called Minhaejon (Patriotic Front for National Liberation). The members thought that North Korea’s juche ideology actually made some sense.
This organization was led by a mineworker, but included young intellectuals such as Mr. Lee. Its lifespan was short. Six or seven months after its formation, its members were arrested.
Some top leaders are believed to have been members of the (north) Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), a fact that most in the group were unaware of until it came out in the investigation.
In 1993, the Supreme Court sentenced Mr. Lee to four years in prison and confiscated a North Korean flag and pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il, which he had admitted to possessing.
The opposition has now resurrected the claim that Mr. Lee was a member of the KWP and raised suspicion that he still operates in the South as a spy.
I hate to spoil what could be a great Reader’s Digest story, but I’d err on the side of caution on this one.
First, some context. There’s a long history in Korea of good and sensible people being accused of being communists because of leftist leanings in their youth.
It is a conveniently forgotten fact, but two of South Korea’s eight presidents were, at one time, suspected of communist sympathies.
Park Chung Hee, the father of Park Geun-hye, the current Grand National Party leader herself, and father of all modern Koreans for that matter, was once arrested for his role in a communist group within the military. He was cleared and, in fact, became the anti-communist creator of the world’s most successful centrally-planned economy.
Former President Kim Dae-jung, as a young man, was briefly a member of an underground group and was doggged for years by charges of leftist connections. He went on to embody for the whole world the aspirations of Koreans for democratic freedom.
The Korean War turned their generation decisively against the left. But their children grew up wondering how bad the communists could be if they were the enemy of the nasty dictatorships that ruled South Korea until 1987.
As Kim Dae-jung used to tell reporters in the 1980s, the government was unwittingly “manufacturing” communists through its failure to democratize.
The irony of course is that while the world was finally tossing Marxism into the ashbin of history, “the children” of Park Chung Hee were reading its forbidden texts and embracing it. Most are now quite embarrassed. And so they should be.
Now, back to Mr. Lee. In his defense, it should be point out that he is innocent until proved guilty. (That’s a joke. It only happens America where the system is so perverse that Mr. Lee would get tried by a jury of his “peers,” who would all presumably be other alleged North Korean spies.)
Still, it is appropriate to examine his accusers. It is obvious even to kindergarten pupils that Grand National Party partisans are not bringing this up now to protect Korea from the Reds.
They’ve got a better reason than national interest: politics. They are seeking to pressure the Uri Party into dropping its push to annul the National Security Law.
The fact that they are proposing a “parliamentary probe” into Mr. Lee suggests a preference for airtime over truth and justice.
Also, they cite as their evidence a magazine article. Yes, this is the front-line of their case. Apparently, a weekly newspaper called “Mirae Hankuk” (“Future of Korea”) is the source of the claim that Mr. Lee is still a spy.
Finally ― and this is the thing that seems ridiculous ― the Grand Nationals say that Mr. Lee lied when he claimed he was tortured into falsely confessing that he had that flag and those pictures of the two Kims.
Let’s be honest. Did the nation not develop on the notion that exporting was good and not torturing communists was bad?
And therein lies our problem. We’ve got to move on from the Cold War and accept that importing foreign luxury items and letting ex-communists roam free is no threat. We should also leave spy-catching to the professionals ― not to people who wave magazines and punch each other out in the National Assembly.
* The writer is an author and the managing director of Insight Communications Consultants, a public relations company.
by Michael Breen