Pledge allegiance to the flagAnother domestic fight is brewing in the opposition Unified Progressive Party following the primary vote-rigging by its mainstream faction. The dispute has now reached formalities in Assembly procedure, such as pledging allegiance to the flag and singing the national anthem. During a steering committee meeting, Rhyu Si-min, co-head of the coalition liberal government, raised the question he was posed by many outsiders: Why are many of the UPP party members refusing to sing the national anthem? He was referring to the resistance to protocol procedures by members of the mainstream faction who were mostly student activists in their younger days.
It is not the first time factional groups of labor activists and experienced politicians have clashed over the national anthem. The party was founded in December of last year via mergers among the union-backed Democratic Labor Party, the People’s Participation Party and the New Progressive Party. DLP members refused to follow the customary pledge of allegiance or the singing of the national anthem as a formality to start a congregation. Instead, they sang the protest and rally songs they were more familiar with before becoming an established party. The two sides compromised by simplifying the procedure to salute to the flag and skip the national anthem.
The formality over national loyalty pledges is not legally bound. But the national anthem together with the national flag symbolizes this nation. A political party that has been established and protected by the Constitution should not refuse oaths and demonstrations of allegiance to the country. The activists of labor and democracy movements have their own reasons for being uncomfortable with the idea of singing the national anthem. They say national oaths and formalities are remnants of authoritarian regimes. But the country has been governed by democratic administrations for more than two decades now. They cannot call themselves “liberals” if their mindset is stuck in the 1980s.
Rhyu, who served as a minister under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, said it is taboo in the party to raise the issue of the national anthem, suggesting the party may be under the influence of a narrow-minded ideological bias. The party is the third-largest in the Assembly, having won 10.3 percent of the vote in last month’s election. The party runs on an annual 30 billion won ($26 million) state budget it has received since the DLP days. It must not isolate itself from the public due to outdated dogmatism.