[Viewpoint] The ‘Bicycle Thieves’ come to Korea

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[Viewpoint] The ‘Bicycle Thieves’ come to Korea

Right after World War II ended, Rome experienced extreme material and psychological devastation. The splendor and glory of the ancient empire were nowhere to be found. Italians became heartless and desperate. Streets were filled with people who hunted for food each day.

Italian neorealist filmmaker Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film “Bicycle Thieves” tells a story of the desperate life in post-World War II Italy.

In the film, Antonio Ricci was one of the desperate people looking for a job to support his family. He finally finds a job pasting up posters, but it requires a bicycle. His wife Maria pawns their new bed sheets to buy him a bicycle.

On the first day, Antonio had high hopes for the job only to find that his bicycle has been stolen. Antonio and his young son Bruno look all over the streets of Rome with no luck. Neither his friends nor the church could help him. The police were indifferent to his loss. He finally finds the thief only to realize he can’t get his bicycle back. Out of frustration and fury, a bicycle parked on the street catches his attention.

In the end, Antonio tries to steal the bicycle, but he is caught on the spot. Antonio and Bruno hopelessly face merciless reality. The bicycle owner does not press charges, and as Antonio walks back home with his son, tears stream down his face.

The government assured that there would be no problem with the Busan Savings Bank, but the stories unveiled after the bank suspended its operation are shocking. Until the night before the shutdown, the so-called VIP clients withdrew all their deposits. It was revealed that Financial Supervisory Service officials received bribes in return for overlooking corruption. Retired FSS officials work in many financial firms, including Busan Savings Bank, and they interfered with strict financial supervision. Naive individual account holders lost their precious assets after trusting the bank and the government.

The president recently visited the Financial Supervisory Service and censured the failed supervision, and the prosecutors are investigating legal accountability. Now, the government is seeking a way to reform the financial supervisory system. Nevertheless, the citizens, not to mention financial victims of the Busan Savings Bank case, do not trust the authorities to resolve the problem. They remind us of the hopeless eyes of Antonio.

Regional discord is growing over the site selection for the international science-business belt and the relocation of the Korea Land and Housing Corporation. The prime minister asked for cooperation. He expressed his regret to the regions that have been excluded, but asked for understanding for the sake of the nation’s future.

In fact, the people of the excluded regions never asked for the government projects. It was politicians who made empty promises during the election season. The local residents only had hope for the promised gift without understanding the reality and circumstances of the projects. But when their hopes are betrayed, they are bound to feel frustration, and the frustration is now developing into anger.

Political parties and politicians are responding in a ridiculous manner. Heads of local government agencies and lawmakers from the regions that fail to attract government projects are denouncing the decisions. But their sincerity is in doubt. It is hard to believe they have strong passion for the region and their residents. It is no coincidence that the next general election is only a year away. The innocent people, like Bruno from the “Bicycle Thieves,” may have to shed tears.

The legislature, the judiciary and the executive branch are defined by the Constitution and mandated by the citizens to govern. When the government loses the ability to rule, citizens’ basic interests are left abandoned. It will take a long time to recover public trust. Korean citizens are feeling like the Italians in post-war Rome. If De Sica’s masterpiece is released again or remade in Korea, it would be a guaranteed box office hit. Bruno’s tears reflect the frustration of the victims of the Busan Savings Bank case, and Antonio’s fury is shared by the residents of the neglected regions.

*The writer is a professor of mass communication at Korea University.

By Ma Dong-hoon
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