Milking a mad cow

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Milking a mad cow

The candlelight vigils that started out as a protest for citizens’ health rights have turned into violent street rallies, and have now developed into a movement to oust President Lee Myung-bak from power.

As we are all aware, the Lee administration itself ignited the trouble by exhibiting a careless and half-hearted attitude toward the negotiations on resuming imports of U.S. beef. The government should have made an effort to alleviate citizens’ concerns by securing the right to quarantine inspection as well as seeking all possible measures to reinforce restrictions on the labeling of the origin of the beef and controlling the import of beef from cattle 30 months or older.

However, the government failed to reassure the citizens. Tensions escalated as the administration ignored criticisms while the media addressed the administration’s indifference and lack of sincerity about what ends up on the average citizen’s table.

Having been disappointed by the English education controversy, wealthy cronies in the cabinet, problematic nominations for the general election and conglomerate-friendly policies, the citizens expressed their distrust by gathering at Cheonggye Plaza.

Systematic hijacking by the anti-American faction and clever propaganda and agitation contributed to the evolution of the beef scare from peaceful protests to street rallies. The pro-Pyongyang groups has been very dissatisfied with the current administration’s desire to restore the Korea-U.S. alliance and its hard-line North Korea policy. There was no way in the world they would miss this perfect opportunity.

Since May 6, an alliance called the National Conference Against Mad Cow Disease has been leading the candlelight vigils. While it is made up of 1,700 civil groups, Solidarity for Progress is the brains behind the conference. Solidarity is a successor of three leftist pro-Pyongyang groups, the National Federation of Democratic Reunification, the Solidarity for Reunification and the National Alliance. It has been closely working with the Pan South Korea Solution Committee against the U.S. Base Extension in Pyeongtaek, the Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. FTA and the Mad Cow Disease Watchdog.

The Solidarity has turned the economic issue of U.S. beef imports into a struggle for the right to health and survival. Now it is attempting to make this a political struggle to oust President Lee Myung-bak or disable the administration. The group compares the movement with the April 19 Revolution that overthrew President Syngman Rhee in 1960 and the June Struggle in 1987 that won direct presidential elections. The situation is reminiscent of Lenin’s classic tactic of turning an economic issue into a political one. I wonder if it is really progressive to go beyond criticizing policies to doing battle with a legitimate government.

In fact, the U.S. beef import issue could have been resolved through reasonable discussions and careful planning for possible future problems. However, biased reporting by certain sectors of the media has obscured citizens’ objective thinking. Domestic and international experts have said that there is only a 1 in 480 million chance of dying from mad cow disease after eating American beef, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy is a disease that is disappearing from the face of earth. The deputy director general of the World Organization for Animal Health said that even beef from cattle 30 months or older is safe as long as you are careful with specific risk materials. However, the public did not pay attention to the specialists opinions. When the issue required scientific expert knowledge, the specialists failed to play their role, making the problem more complicated.

The lack of consideration from the right and the division and carelessness of the ruling party have all provided the left a chance to strike back after their election defeats, using the beef import issue and an emotional public. The opposition parties and the anti-Lee groups are milking the crisis to their political advantage.

The purpose of candlelight vigils is to convey to the government the demand to secure the health and safety of the citizens, and it has been accomplished in large part. Now it is appropriate for the innocent citizens to stop their anti-government political rallies and illegal street demonstrations. The government needs to accept the citizens’ demands and make its best effort to resolve the crisis. The officials responsible for the crisis should be reprimanded, and the masterminds who encouraged the anti-government movement should be prevented from inciting more illegal rallies.

The politicians should bring people together to find the best possible measures through reasoned discussion. Of course, we could resort to the law with a constitutional appeal. However, staging street rallies and encouraging political chaos obstructs the constitutional government and the National Assembly.

Hopefully, the government and the ruling party will display better leadership through clear communication and harmonizing national interests with the public’s health.

In turn, the citizens need to keep in mind that undermining law and order is an obstacle to the establishment of a healthy society and prevents Korea from developing into an advanced country.

*The writer is a professor of law at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jhe Seong-ho
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