The world doesn’t change so easily

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The world doesn’t change so easily


As I am writing this column, 43 Danwon High School students are marching from Gwangmyeong to Seoul. They are the sons and daughters who barely escaped with their lives from the half-sunken Sewol ferry three months ago. They are the children who survived because they were on the deck when the accident happened and jumped into the water or were fortunate enough not to listen to the captain’s announcement to “stay put no matter what.”

The survivors arrived in public for the first time since the tragedy, and the destination of their two-day march was the National Assembly. They walked 47 kilometers (29 miles) on foot to join the hunger strike of the parents of their classmates who died trapped in the ferry. The students stayed the night at the Seoul Metropolitan Young Workers’ Welfare Center, but no members of the National Assembly visited them. Instead, citizens shared their grief and appreciated their efforts.

Three months after the Sewol ferry tragedy, the world hasn’t changed a bit. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned after taking responsibility for the government’s lethargic response to the disaster only to be reappointed by President Park Geun-hye. The leader of the ruling party at the time of the calamity has been nominated for education minister and vice prime minister for society. A military operations specialist has been named the deputy minister for social safety.

The members of the National Assembly who openly rebuked victims’ parents failed to pass the Sewol ferry special act by the promised deadline. The ruling party lawmakers fear that the truth-finding committee would create an independent investigation authority and conduct searches and seizures on the Blue House.

Last week, my car was stopped at a checkpoint on the way to Gogeum Island from Gangjin, South Jeolla. Six police officers, three on each side, were lined up, stopping cars that passed the checkpoint. But they did not ask that I open the window or the trunk. I was wearing sunglasses and a hat, and they briefly glanced at me and waved a signal to let me pass. I was stopped for less than two seconds as were the other cars in front of me.

That’s how the search for Yoo Byung-eun - the de facto owner of the ferry and a fugitive - has gone, even after 1.3 million officers have been mobilized. They are no different from the rescue workers hovering around the ship and the Maritime Traffic Control Center staff who were not doing their jobs as the Sewol sank.

On a recent television drama “Jeong Do-jeon,” the title character dreams of a new world, but powerful aristocrat Lee In-im tells him, “You may be buoyant and hoping in vain for now, but you must remember one thing. The world doesn’t change so easily.” The dialogue came from the writer’s imagination, but it reflects reality candidly. Citizens pledged national reforms and social changes with a yellow ribbon, but frustration and a sense of shame have made the passion subside.

The author is a deputy editor of JoongAng Sunday.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 31


Correction and rebuttal statement by the Evangelical Baptist Church

The Korea JoongAng Daily, regarding the reports since April 16, 2014, about the Evangelical Baptist Church (EBC) and Yoo Byung-eun, is publishing the following corrections and an excerpt from the rebuttal statement by the EBC.


Through three past investigations by the prosecution, it has been revealed that Yoo and the EBC, also known as the “Salvation Group” and Guwonpa in Korean, are not related to the Odaeyang mass suicide incident. That was also confirmed by the prosecution in its official statement on May 21. The prosecution’s investigation also found that Yoo had not made an attempt to smuggle himself out of the country or seek political asylum in France. We, therefore, correct the concerned reports.

Yoo retired from his executive management position in 1997. He did not own any shares in the noted companies, nor had he managed operations or used the operating funds for personal reasons. There are no grounds to call him the actual owner and chairman of the company. As such, he did not provide any directives in regards to the overloading of the Sewol ferry or its renovation.

It was verified that the captain and crew members who abandoned ship at the time of the Sewol ferry accident are not members of the EBC. It has also been verified that the EBC does not own any shares of Chonghaejin Marine Company and did not engage in its management.

Rebuttal statement

The EBC’s position is that the museums in the United States and Europe can never authorize an exhibition unless the artistic value of an artist’s works is recognized by the screening committee, irrespective of the amount of money an artist donates. The EBC’s position is that the exhibitions were not a result of Mr. Yoo’s patronage or donation, and Yoo also has not coerced Chonghaejin and its affiliates to purchase his photos.

The EBC states that Yoo did not participate in the foundation of the EBC in 1981, and the church does not offer him the title “pastor.” It also says a significant part of the 240 billion won ($206 million) worth of assets suspected of belonging to the Yoo family are real estate properties owned by the farming associations, which had been established by church members.

The EBC states that there are certain churches in Korea that call the EBC a cult, solely based on differences between their’s and the EBC’s doctrines.

But the EBC does not worship a particular individual as a religious sect leader or preach any doctrine that contradicts the Bible.

이 글을 쓰는 지금 이 시간, 단원고 학생 38명은 광명시에서 서울로 걷고 있다. 석 달 전 바로 이맘때 반쯤 물에 잠긴 세월호에서 구사일생으로 목숨을 건진 아들과 딸이다. 때마침 갑판 위에 있다가 얼떨결에 바다로 뛰어들거나, 다행히도 ‘가만히 있으라’는 어른들의 말을 듣지 않아 죽음의 문턱에서 기적처럼 돌아온 아이들이다.
사고 뒤 처음으로 함께 세상에 나온 학생들의 ‘1박 2일’ 여정의 종착점은 국회였다. 47㎞를 맨다리로 걸었다. 국회에서 단식농성을 벌이고 있는, 세월호에 갖혀 먼저 저 세상으로 간 친구들의 부모를 만나러 가는 길이었다. 학생들이 도보 행진 중 하룻 밤을 머문 서울시립근로청소년복지관에 찾아온 국회의원은 아무도 없었다. 바라보는 시민은 목이 메였다. “아프고 고맙고 미안하다.”
'포스트 세월호' 석 달, 세상은 달라지지 않았다. 비극과 희극을 오간 두 차례의 소동 끝에 돌아온 ‘도루묵 총리’, 세월호 침몰 때 집권당 대표였던 사회부총리 지명자, 사회 안전 담당 차관 자리에 오른 군사 작전 전문가 …. 희생자 가족에게 대놓고 면박을 줬던 국회의원들은 오늘로 약속했던 세월호 특별법 통과 시한을 어겼다. 여당 의원들은 진상조사위원회가 수사권을 갖게 될까봐, 그래서 혹여 청와대 압수수색이라도 벌어질까봐 전전긍긍이다.
지난 주말 전남 강진군에서 고금도로 가는 길목에서 차량 검문에 걸렸다. 도로 양쪽에 셋씩 여섯 명의 경찰관이 뙤약볕에 도열해 지나는 차들을 멈춰 세웠다. 차 창을 열라고 하지도, 트렁크 속을 보려고 하지도 않았다. 모자에 선글라스까지 낀 운전자를 힐끗 보고는 경광등을 흔들어 ‘통과’를 지시했다. 정차 시간은 2초도 안걸렸다. 앞에 있던 다른 차들도 마찬가지였다. 경찰관 130만 명(연인원)이 동원됐다는 ‘유병언 검거 작전’의 실상은 그랬다. 배 주변을 맴돌며 서성거린 구조요원, 형식적으로 시간만 때운 진도 해상교통관제센터 직원들과 다를 것이 없었다.
지난 달에 끝난 TV 드라마 ‘정도전’에서 권문세족 이인임은 새 세상을 꿈꾸는 정도전에게 이렇게 말했다. “그대 또한 잠시나마 허튼 기대에 부풀었겠지만 앞으로 이것만은 기억하면서 사시오. 세상은 그렇게 쉽게 바뀌는 것이 아닙니다.” 그의 말이, 아니 작가의 상상력이 얼마나 현실적이었는지 새삼 깨닫는다. 시민들이 노란 띠에 새긴 국가 개조와 사회 변화에 대한 열망은 어느덧 자괴감 속에서 허무하게 사그러들고 있다.
이상언 중앙SUNDAY 차장
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