Regaining our composureDuring an unexpected visit to Paengmok Harbor yesterday to commemorate the anniversary of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster, President Park Geun-hye was ostracized by the families who had gathered there. When news spread that the president would appear, the bereaved shut down a memorial altar set up for the victims of the accident and left the scene after putting up a placard criticizing the government.
President Park addressed the nation on her own on the breakwater, while earlier, Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo was also turned away from a group memorial altar in Ansan, Gyeonggi.
President Park’s visit to the harbor could not disperse mounting tension over the Sewol tragedy. In yesterday’s statement, she promised to “salvage the ship and do her best to alleviate the pain felt by the victims’ families.”
Shortly after her speech, they went so far as to cancel a memorial ceremony scheduled to be held at 2 p.m. in Ansan, in an expression of strong resentment over the president’s statement.
It’s sad and regrettable that the president and the prime minister were denied an opportunity to pay their respects to the deceased.
But more deplorable is the fact that Park missed her timing even when she was able to do so. Before the anniversary of our worst maritime disaster, the Blue House lost the public’s trust by adhering to presidential protocol - for example, the president does not attend events organized by civilians. Maybe it would have been better if she had just acknowledged a few days earlier that she would be in Paengmok Harbor on April 16.
Psychoanalysts say that those who have lost loved ones accept reality after going through the stages of denial, anger, compromise and despair. They need enough time to mourn to reach acceptance. The most important thing in extending consolation to the families of the victims is not rhetoric, but to sincerely listen to what they have to say and show genuine sympathy and compassion. On the contrary, though, some people have expressed fatigue over the Sewol tragedy.
However, the unceasing anger of the families could have resulted from lingering doubts on the nation’s sympathy toward their grief. We hope that President Park reflects on their reactions at Paengmok Harbor during her 12-day trip to South America, and at least try to convey that she is capable of caring and compassion. We hope the victims’ families can also find a way out of this tragedy and regain their composure.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 17, Page 34