[Viewpoint] Lee Seok-gi and ‘Aegukga’Democratic United Party Representative Jung Chung-rae criticized Unified Progressive Party Representative Lee Seok-gi’s controversial remark on “Aegukga,” Korea’s national anthem. “All you do is gather reporters of the Chosun, JoongAng and Dong-A and chatter.” Jung posted the comment on his Twitter. If he wants to criticize others, he should get the facts straight. His habitual attacks on the three major newspapers are completely inappropriate.
The ten reporters for various media, including the conservative Chosun, JoongAng and Dong-A, attended the lunch in question last Friday. Others included the Hankook, Segye, Seoul, Newsis, OBS, OhmyNews and MBN. Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang were not in attendance as they were at a luncheon news conference hosted by the Democratic United Party senior adviser Moon Jae-in, which was held at the same time. The lunch gathering was arranged by chance on June 5, when Representative Lee first attended the National Assembly. Besides, the first media company that reported Lee’s off-the-record remark was not the Chosun, JoongAng or Dong-A. As a courtesy to the media company, I don’t want to name it, but if you are curious, you can look up recent newspapers.
The lunch began with an awkward atmosphere, as Lee was a first-time lawmaker and many of the reporters were newbies with less than five years’ experience in journalism. A reporter from “S” newspaper suggested that the meeting be off the record, and Lee said, “Then, I will speak freely,” and made the depreciative remark. Some reporters recorded the conversation with their smartphones. It is the nature of politics that some off-the-record comments make the press when they are especially sensitive. Therefore, the controversy over Lee’s offensive remarks about “Aegukga” was not the result of foul play by the conservative media which wanted to draw some ideologically provocative remarks from Representative Lee.
Actually, the problem was the response from Lee’s side. Other UPP insiders were furious and complained that he lives in his own world. But he was not stirred and responded that he would like to have a more serious debate over “Aegukga.” He seems to have two strategies. First, the writer of the lyrics is uncertain. The leftists believe that Yun Chi-ho, a collaborator with the Japanese during the colonial days, wrote the lyrics. They also consider Ahn Eak-tai, the “Aegukg”a writer as we know, to be a Japanese collaborator. Nevertheless, that does not damage the status of “Aegukga,” as we embrace it as the national anthem as a custom. Choi Nam-seon may have been a Japanese collaborator, but that does not undermine the meaning of the Declaration of Independence he wrote.
Another strategy involves political calculation. Later this month, the former mainstream faction of the UPP is likely to join hands with the Busan-Ulsan-Gyeongnam coalition within the party. When they take over the party leadership, the UPP will return to its roots. Of course, they will still have to face the prosecutors’ investigation on the vote-rigging in the party primary, fierce violence at an emergency meeting and the Lee-owned CN Communications’ campaign fund scandal.
But Lee doesn’t have much to lose by creating the “Aegukga” controversy. Instead of being branded as a shameless criminal, he’d rather be a martyr as an icon of the juche (self-reliance) ideology faction. He may also be able to win support from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, which still sing protest songs instead of “Aegukga” at internal events. Similarly, the Democratic Party’s new head Lee Hae-chan hung up the phone in the middle of a radio interview and manipulated the primary in his favor.
In fact, the extreme right and the extreme left are collaborators in some respects. They denounce each other but find the justification for their existence thanks to their archenemy’s existence. They both claim that they are tired of ideological confrontation, but whenever a party convention or primary approaches, they provoke the other side. Being attacked by the other side is the most effective way to bring together their own people.
The conventional confrontation of the conservatives and progressives hinder Korea’s advancement to a healthier society. If we get unnecessarily agitated, we get trapped in political tactics. The younger generation is laughing at accusations of following the North’s juche ideology. In other words, the autoimmune system of the society has begun to kick in.
Let’s carefully see who is distorting the truth to instigate the people. The investigation authority should focus on specific illegal and unlawful activities such as a vote-rigging in a primary and campaign fund scandals instead of the ambiguous pro-Pyongyang allegation. In Europe, as constitutionalism and realism take root, the extreme right and the extreme left were filtered out gradually and inevitably.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho