[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]We should cheer another ‘red spirit’ in JuneA few weeks ago, on the day of the Korean national soccer team’s friendly match against Bosnia-Herzegovina, exactly six students attended a class scheduled that evening at my school. The lecture was for a 30-student class, with a renowned professor from Russia teaching European culture and history. Seeing that only a few students showed up, the professor gave a weak smile and tried not to show his disappointment. This poor professor did not know what was coming in June. Where were the students?
On that day, students at Soongsil University had gathered in front of a giant screen at the school’s biggest stadium. Most of the students skipped classes and filled the stadium to cheer for the Korean team. It was only a foretaste of what was coming. The 2006 World Cup has started, and everything in town ― from the cheering crowds to street decorations ― seems awash in red. All goods with any association with “devil” are sold out in stores; all television commercials and programs try to hitch onto the World Cup wagon.
Students, who are big consumers, are caught up in the World Cup fad. They are ready to stay up most of this month to watch all the big games live. They dress in red and snatch up “red devil” goods.
June is the month of final exams in universities. But students don’t seem to care about their grades; they are more concerned about pouring out on the streets to cry out the four big words of the season: “Dae Han Min Guk!” Rowdy crowds making a racket are readily excused; it’s the World Cup season. Professors are giving their exams ahead of schedule so students can go out and cheer. I heard even the government is trying not to schedule meetings on the days the Korean team is playing. In short, the 2006 World Cup has become a national holiday for Koreans.
I want to ask my fellow students: Aren’t we forgetting something? Is the month of June only for the World Cup?
Sure, let’s cheer for our favorite team. But when we are cheering for our “red warriors” of soccer, we should not forget to remember another “red spirit,” the crimson passion shown by other students before us who fought against a tyrannical government in the very same month of June many years ago.
Every year, at Soongsil, we hold memorials for those who sacrificed themselves for democracy 18 years ago. Park Re-jeon is one of those who is being commemorated. A Korean literature major and poet, Park fought for democracy with such passion that he set himself on fire on top of the student hall building.
Eighteen years later, students have forgotten his brave and self-sacrificing act. His picture, though, is still on the wall. Most students in school today do not know who he is.
I think Park Re-jeon is the proudest “red spirit” that Korean youths should cheer for in June.
Although he is not one of the “red spirits” playing soccer abroad, Mr. Park was a man who truly showed his deep passion for his country. Remember not only him, but also thousands of others who died in June of the year that Mr. Park died. This should be the reason why we celebrate in June.
* The writer is the editor of The Soongsil Times, the English-language news magazine of Soongsil University.
by Lee Sun-kyung
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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