A difficult pathThe committee that has been investigating property owned by pro-Japanese collaborators (who performed anti-Korean acts during the Japanese colonial period) has decided to confiscate land worth 3.6 billion won ($3.9 million) from the descendants of nine collaborators and convert it to public ownership. This is the first action of its kind to be taken against the property of pro-Japanese collaborators since a special law was passed in 2005. The colonial period was the greatest sorrow in Korea’s history. Koreans were stripped of their language, names and identity. Although 60 years have passed since Korea was liberated from colonial rule, many wounds have not healed, such as those that were inflicted by Japanese soldiers who forced Korean women to become sex slaves. However, there were Koreans who “sold” their country to Japan, and for their active cooperation, they received wealth, honorary titles and power. A long time has passed, but returning the ill-gotten gains of collaborators to the government is a way of affirming the justice of history and passing a message of morality to the present.
There were 452 people who were subject to investigation under the special law. The properties that are to be “returned” to the public are limited only to assets that were received from the Japanese government between 1904 and 1945 in return for cooperative services. This seems like a logical standard, but it is not easy to produce evidence. In a legal sense, attempting to confiscate private possessions under a special law may be a problem, according to the Constitution. There is also criticism of the guilt-by-association procedure and the possibility that the descendants of the pro-Japanese collaborators will file a lawsuit or appeal to the constitutional court. Even if it takes time, the committee must investigate in a precise and discreet manner. It must not be in a hurry in order to demonstrate that it is doing something, since this could create social conflict and confusion. The fundamental reason for taking property away from the descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators is to correct the wrongs of history, not to reallocate wealth.
The personal information of descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators must be protected so that they do not suffer disadvantages and defamation.
Politicians must also be careful about abusing this issue to stir up populism. We are trying to correct historical ills. In doing so we do not want to create a new sickness of social division. We should purge past sins while walking the road of reconciliation.