Time to pack up the tent

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Time to pack up the tent

The scuffle between a driver-for-hire and relatives of the victims who died in the Sewol ferry sinking is the worst of the worst. It is absurd that some members of the Sewol Family Countermeasure Committee are on hunger strike in Gwanghwamun, while others are drinking with opposition politicians in Yeouido. They offended public sentiment by displaying authoritarian behavior to the driver and nurses by saying, “Do you know who I am?” The parents who lost their children have turned into a superpower.

The development of the case provided enough reasons to doubt the intent of the families. The driver and witnesses have been consistent in their accounts of the case, while the families changed their stories. At first, they insisted that the fight was mutual and resulted in an arm injury and six broken teeth. However, the video of the fight tells a different story. One family member slipped and injured his arm while kicking; another smoked after the fight. The police investigation revealed that five of the six teeth were dentures. It is only natural that the public is growing cold toward these families.

Kim Young-oh, who lost his daughter on the Sewol, said the assault case “could be a trap they had prepared.” Who are “they”? If it was a trap, how come the 20-minute video of the scene couldn’t catch it? The camera on mobile phones can capture clear images even at night. Kim’s 46-day hunger strike has already been tainted by those around him. His former brother-in-law claimed he had not been a good father after his divorce, and proactive media captured Kim’s harsh words about the president. It is doubtful whether Kim’s continued media appearances will help the families of the victims.

Astute politicians are already seeking an exit strategy. Moon Hee-sang, chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s emergency committee, took a step back and said, “A special Sewol law should have the understanding, not the consent, of the victims’ families.” He must have decided that it is practically impossible to grant both investigative and indictment authority to the fact-finding committee. Moon displayed an animal instinct in reading the flow of the Sewol ferry case. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who condoned the hunger strike tent in Gwanghwamun, has changed his position and is set to impose a fee. The opposition is starting to keep its distance.

Repeated self-made moves have isolated the families of the victims. They have hurt their own credibility. In retrospect, the families of the Sewol ferry victims were not a target of criticism. The incident is a tragedy of 304 lives lost in front of everyone. It cannot be compared to the sinking of Cheonan, a naval vessel attacked in the dark. There were various ways to prevent the tragedy, but they all failed, including rescue efforts by the Coast Guard. The videos of the last moments captured by the victims before their deaths made the incident even more heartbreaking.

We need to reconsider why the families of the victims are now cornered.

When was the last time Korean society sympathized with the families? They kept a polite distance from the politicians visiting the Paengmok Harbor and said, “Please don’t make it a political show.”

Koreans were moved when parents of Jeong Cha-woong chose the least expensive shroud and coffin and said that they didn’t want to use government money carelessly. But as they joined with the opposition party and the incident became a political issue, the families separated themselves from the society. It was a bad move to hold the president and the government accountable for the incident instead of the captain, crew and the Chonghaejin Marine Company. Now, half of society is suspicious over what would happen if investigative and indictment authority is granted to the victims’ families.

When grief is internalized, it can be consoled and sympathized. People will turn away if it is perceived as hatred or retaliation. What do people think about the families rejecting a proposal agreed on twice by the ruling and opposition parties and staging a hunger strike in a tent? Opinion surveys already reflect the fatigue. Instead of another round of negotiations, more and more people prefer the second agreement. At this rate, Sewol affairs will sink just as hopelessly as the ferry itself. When the families kept a low profile and remained distant from politicians, they were more powerful. They should take down the tent themselves and return to Paengmok harbor.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 22, Page 38

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-ho
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