[Viewpoint] A chameleon and his colorsPark Won-soon, who is trying to be the sole liberal candidate in the Seoul mayoral by-election, is multifaceted. He is a veteran communicator with a wide network. His charity events are thronged by crowds. He has the imagination and skills to create an unconventional and fresh event. Through the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, his work as a civic activist has been powerful.
He knows the charm of language. He is very good at naming things. “Beautiful store,” “hope institute,” and “social designer” are some of the grabby names he has come up with. They touche the emotions of people.
He also picks up things quickly and is a prolific writer. His talents are as good as an investigative journalist’s. “I am a veteran in doing interviews,” he once said. A good interview can be the starting point of a good piece of writing.
Park’s image is generally flexible. He is seen as a practical progressive who has kept his distance from ideological disputes. But his historical view is undeniably leftist. He is a human rights attorney, after all, and his books show that side of him clearly. “Records of the Savagery: Korea’s Modern History of Torture,” “National Security Law Study,” and “History Will Rule Them Innocent” are good examples.
In regards to this country’s modern history, Park has sought out the darkness. “It is an era in which hellish tortures have become a part of our life,” he wrote. “The trial of a National Security Law violation in Korea’s modern history is amazingly similar to the trials of witches in the Middle Ages,” he also wrote.
In his books, Park turned a blind eye to the brightness of our modern history. There are no achievements or points of pride. The miracle of Korea’s industrialization in the 20th century is depicted wanly, while the books are stuffed with hostility and hatreds. “Korea’s modern history is riddled with dictatorship, authoritarianism, division, war, fights against the outside forces, poverty and isolation,” he wrote.
His books give the impression that he is a champion of the leftist ideology. There is no other leftist theorist who has a better understanding of history and the people that populate it than Park.
Twenty-five years ago, Park established the Institute for Korean Historical Studies. The institute’s books are sympathetic to the North Korean leadership, but they cruelly criticize Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee. This shows Park’s strong leaning toward the left.
Park is a man of reserve. He does not reveal his inner tenacity or talk about personal experiences. “If you shout the message of the progressive, listeners will feel intimidated. You must approach them with a warm voice,” a fellow professor said about Park’s method of approaching the public. The strategy is smart. It works wonders in fundraising.
Park barely acknowledges the achievements of Korea’s conglomerates, but his organizations have received the most support from them. Park is a conflicting and contradictory person, but he has managed his image very cleverly.
Park’s life lies close to politics. During the 2000 legislative election under the Kim Dae-jung administration, he took a leading role in civic groups’ campaign to “blacklist” unfit candidates. It was a time of serious distrust in politics. He won the public’s support at the time, and the Kim administration backed him up.
That campaign, however, was criticized. Kim Jong-pil compared Park to the crazy Red Guards in Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Kim was a man with a seasoned view.
Park is a prominent contender in Seoul’s mayoral by-election. Seoul’s mayor is like a little president. The key qualification for public leadership is a historical view, and a historical view is based on the spirit of the times.
What is the “condition for a beautiful world” that Park promotes? Can we find it in the worn-out shoes that Park likes to wear in public or the expensive rent he pays for an apartment in Gangnam?
Park’s view of Korean history is focused on the infringements of human rights that have occurred. Then what is his view on human rights in North Korea? This is a matter of common sense, but he has never mentioned it.
The money Park has collected for the Beautiful Foundation was given to other civic groups, and a significant number of them are antibusiness, anti-American and antigovernment. Did he get permission from his generous donors, such as the conglomerates?
Park is the godfather of civic movements. Questioning where a politician stands should not be new to him. In the past, civic groups worked hard digging into the weaknesses of politicians. They said that was their duty and also their right. Now, Park is the subject of the vigorous verification. It is the voters’ right to know who he really is. What goes around comes around in the world of politics.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Park Bo-gyoon