[OUTLOOK]Minister must take responsibilityThere are four distinct dimensions to the Kang Jeong-koo incident. The first is the matter of the genuineness of Professor Kang’s statements. The second is the question of whether the statements are punishable under the National Security Law. The third question is whether Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae’s exercise of authority over the prosecutor general was legitimate or not. And the last question is whether the subsequent measures taken by the political parties were proper.
However, as the controversy surrounding the issue has evolved without clarifying these four dimensions, it has become entangled further, rather than finding a solution.
First of all, it would have been best if the academic world took care of this problem from the beginning. Many scholars have already pointed out through the media how absurd Professor Kang’s statements were. They also revealed how he lacks even minimum scholastic sincerity and integrity. Mr. Kang lost his right to speak in academic circles a long time ago.
Judging from the fact that even those against his arrest start off by saying, “I do not agree with his statement but...” It appears he will have a hard time maintaining his right to speak even amidst his political allies. Therefore, the best way to take care of this problem would have been for scholars in the same field as his to come out and prove that the comments he made in the market of knowledge do not have merit anymore.
If that had happened, there wouldn’t have been a exhaustive debate surrounding the issue and Professor Kang would not have been made a symbolic figure for the abolition of the National Security Law. At this point, it is hard to hide how upset we are at the short-sightedness of a faction of conservatives who expanded the issue to a legal dimension by accusing him of violation of the law. Their swiftness in taking action has taken away the chance for the academic world to take care of the problem themselves.
Even after the problem expanded to the second dimension of the legal problem, it was possible to restrain it from expanding further to become a political issue. We needed the patience to wait for the courts to decide whether Professor Kang’s statement was in conflict with the National Security Law. Our constitution adopts the concept of a “defensive democracy” that does not tolerate actions that shake the basis of the free democratic system. It was up to the prosecution and the courts to judge whether or not Mr. Kang’s statement would be judged as such an action, and the politicians should have waited for the results.
It was Justice Minister Chun that ignored the virtue of waiting. He took the lead by proclaiming the legality of his authority to exercise command over the prosecution, just because that is the law. However, as his action did not fit with the purpose of the legislation, there are conflicting views that, while his action was legal on one hand, it was not justifiable on the other. Either way, Mr. Chun turned the issue into a political issue by exercising his authority to command the prosecutor general. He says that he exercised that authority because he wanted to protect the human rights of an individual. However, it has been said that he did so for his own reasons ― to make abolition of the National Security Law a matter for public opinion ― or to pave the way for inter-Korean summit talks.
Now the question of whether Mr. Kang was telling the truth and the problems related to the professor himself have become unimportant. Instead, the political community has become the center of the issue. The Grand National Party has driven this issue as a problem of national identity crisis, and the Blue House and the governing Uri Party are stating it is the usual debate over ideological color. The host and guest have changed places.
We must turn the issue back to its original questions and look for a solution. First of all Minister Chun, who politicized the problem and made the prosecution lose their objectivity, needs to take responsibility for his action. Also, everyone, including politicians, should refrain from engaging in a war of attrition by making the problem grow bigger, and wait for the prosecution’s investigation and the judgment of the court.
Korea’s rational conservatives now need to show that free democracy does not just depend on anti-communism. The case of Mr. Kang is a good opportunity for rational conservatives to show flexibility. Of course, this incident can be considered as part of an organized move to make this year “the first year of anti-U.S. independence.” Even so, there is no need to get overly excited and make Mr. Kang a hero. By accident, we could make him a symbol of anti-U.S. independence that goes even beyond making him a symbol for national security law abolition.
* The writer is a professor of political science at SungKyunKwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.
by Kim Il-young