A lack of respect

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A lack of respect

In an utterly alarming development, our civil servants have made insulting remarks aimed directly at President Park Geun-hye. A Gwangju branch of the Korean Government Employees’ Union put up a placard on the street yesterday ridiculing president Park as gwitae, a derogatory term loosely meaning “someone who shouldn’t have been born.”

Last month, lawmaker Hong Ihk-pyo, former floor leader of the opposition Democratic Party, created a stir by calling former president Park Chung Hee gwitae and his daughter, President Park, the “offspring of gwitae.” After his remarks ignited a fierce uproar, he resigned from the floor leader position. The placard in question reads, “Gwitae, gwitae, why don’t you cough up democracy? If you won’t, I will roast and eat you.” That’s a furtive switch of the lyrics of “Gujiga,” Korea’s ancient folk song.

The KGEU is technically an outlawed union because it is not officially registered. With as many as 140,000 members, however, it wields a considerable level of influence over various issues, usually by holding nationwide rallies when it feels the need. The placards were created by members of the North Gwangju District Office, a part of the Gwangju North District Branch of the KGEU.

The incident explicitly shows how far our civil servants are willing to go in the name of free speech. Like their counterparts in the central government, local government employees should maintain their social standing according to the law. The code of conduct for local civil servants stipulates that they observe their work ethic and respect order by abiding by the decree.

No doubt the president is the head of state and chief of the executive branch regardless of her political affiliation, as she was elected president by the people. If local civil servants provide services for their local governments, they must also respect the head of state who’s in charge of administering all regional governments. That’s part of their work ethic and discipline.

Of course, local government workers can express support for or opposition against a particular political group or policies because they, too, are voters. But the way they demonstrate must be different from the way others do given their positions. As the state guarantees public servants’ social and legal status, they must bring their private opinions under control in return for those privileges. If they really want to enjoy their freedom like any ordinary citizen, they should take off their uniforms first. Otherwise, they should not have become civil servants.

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