Not enough has changedA year after the tragic sinking of Sewol ferry, we are still doing some deep soul-searching. Despite all the hyped campaigns to correct widespread malpractices in our society - from the Coast Guard’s lethargic response to the sinking ship packed with hundreds of high school students on a trip to Jeju Island, to the utterly greedy shipping company, to the abysmally incompetent bureaucrats - nothing has changed. All the vows from the government and politicians to make our society a safer one have ended up nowhere.
According to a survey by the JoongAng Ilbo, 65 percent of respondents gave our society a failing scorecard. Despite President Park Geun-hye’s teary pledge to overhaul government organizations dealing with public safety - as seen in the dismantling of the Coast Guard and the subsequent launch of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security - expert groups gave a grade of 58.8 points to the administration for its campaign on public safety. The reformation of the government fell way short of changing its often wicked ways.
A presidential promise to “invite the families of victims to the Blue House whenever they want” was nothing but lip service, given the long silence Park has kept on the tragedy. Some of the relatives who dared to go to the presidential office were stranded outside and others were showered with tear gas. Political parties sought to take advantage of the disaster.
Most deplorable was the low level of compassion by our citizenry and a critical failure by civic groups to take care of the bereaved families and lead the community with sympathy and compassion. Despite a few volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to help the families, some people’s rude behavior deepened social discord. They held a pizza party in front of the protesting families, ridiculing them and even branding them as money-hungry.
Did we expect our society to get better after a year? Probably not. Its leadership is already on the edge of the abyss. President Park embarks on an overseas trip today, Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan left for the United States on business and other ministers have chosen not to commemorate the Sewol tragedy except for a state-sponsored event to declare April 16 “National Safety Day.” The police plans to set up a barricade to “prevent violence” at a memorial ceremony organized by victims’ families. Doesn’t that say it all?
The state cannot force citizens to forget what they cannot. All parties must share their unfathomable grief, heal their emotional scars and strive to make our society a better one. As we witnessed during our worst maritime disaster, the state is not an almighty being. A mature body of citizens is the only answer to improving safety.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 30