Like nonstop rerunsPresident Park Geun-hye returned home last weekend after a tour of three European nations - France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. It’s her fifth overseas trip since her inauguration. She visited the United States and China first, and when she attended the G-20 and APEC summits, she went to neighboring countries. However, this time, her visit appeared to lack a clear purpose. There was no special agenda she needed to address. Perhaps she thought she may as well go to Europe early on in her administration since she would have to go there sometime anyway.
While the Blue House promoted the trip as “diplomacy promoting the creative economy” and “Korean Wave cultural diplomacy,” they didn’t seem very persuasive. So the cordial treatment she received, including “the most splendid banquet ever” and a ride in Queen Elizabeth II’s “golden carriage” were emphasized. Most citizens responded with, “So what?” Korea is no longer a poor, starving nation, and no one believes Korea’s national dignity is elevated because of the hospitality the president received abroad - even from a queen.
The media was just as retro in the way they covered the visit’s details, which were released by the Blue House. We have grown tired of hearing how Park looked in her traditional hanbok or how fluent she was in some foreign language. The president is supposed to be better at Korean than any other foreign language. Even the most impressive details get old and lose effect when they are repeated too often.
The high point of the three-nation tour was actually provided by Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Jin-tae. It is unclear how this first-term lawmaker got to accompany the president, but he managed to make his mark. During Park’s visit to France, some local Koreans staged a rally protesting “election illegalities,” and Kim expressed his fury on Facebook.
“How can they be considered citizens of the Republic of Korea?” he wrote. “You are not a citizen of the Republic of Korea if the protest doesn’t make your blood boil.” He also made a completely inappropriate remark, which sounded a lot like a threat: “Those people who participated in the protest will have to pay the price.”
It is simply ridiculous to assert that you are not a citizen of Korea and will have to pay some kind of price if you protest against President Park. Kim’s name became the most popular search term and his website was overloaded with hits, not necessarily from admirers. Kim certainly enjoyed ample attention online from his performance abroad. It’s also old-fashioned to discover someone still ignoring basic principles of democracy such as the freedom to assemble and protest while proclaiming yourself as the “guard of the master.”
The day President Park was elected, I convinced myself that she may prove to be a good leader and it was for the best. I thought we shouldn’t be prejudiced against her for being the daughter of a dictator. Time moved on; history moved on. I believed she would have insight into people and the world because she lived a dramatic life. I hoped she may present a new kind of leadership that combined the brain of her father and the heart of her mother. I expected motherly tolerance to embrace all people regardless of where they stood politically. We all had high hopes for the “Era of Happiness” she promised for all people.
It feels like it’s been years since she became president. We are watching a boring drama stuck on repeat. While we expected to see current and cool things from this administration, all we got is an outdated, black-and-white movie. It’s not fun or moving, and we have grown bored and frustrated.
The issue of the unlawful involvement of state agencies in the presidential campaign, including the National Intelligence Service, grinds on. The controversy over the 2007 summit meeting and its mysteriously disappearing transcript refuses to vanish. While President Park may not be personally at fault, she has political accountability as chief executive of the nation. If she had acknowledged these issues early on and promised strict consequences according to the law, she might have been able to make them go away. She didn’t respond promptly and fanned the problem.
Her government’s request to dissolve the far-left Unified Progressive Party is problematic, too. Why the rush, especially since the trial of Lee Seok-ki is still ongoing? The habit of authoritarian governments, cornering the opposition with pro-Pyongyang labels, seems to have come back. I am concerned the basic values of democracy may get undermined.
While the Blue House seems complacent with its nearly 60 percent approval rating, the rating can go down anytime. It may be too early to give up our hopes after eight and a half months. We don’t want our nation and people to become unhappy. We have a long way to go. The president needs to give the people hope and courage that the society is going forward. I urge the Blue House to take a new turn.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok