Skirmishes over textbooks at SNU

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Skirmishes over textbooks at SNU

A group of historians held a national convention Friday and issued a statement opposing the government taking control of the writing of history textbooks.

The meeting of 28 academics, however, was disrupted by conservative groups that support the Park Geun-hye administration’s move, resulting in scuffles.

The historians held a rally at Seoul National University (SNU) and adopted a strong-worded statement protesting state-authored text books, claiming the introduction of such system would inevitably end up with the books being rewritten by each administration coming to power.

“A state-authored textbook system will be subject to subjective interpretation of history by governments every five years,” read the statement. The group urged other historians to join their cause.

“It will mark a retreat of Korea’s democracy if the government decides to move ahead with its plan unilaterally without thoroughly discussing the matter,” the statement said.

A deadline for the government to issue an official notification of the shift in the system is approaching this Thursday.

The rally by the academics was interrupted by conservative civic group members, who organized a counter-rally on the SNU campus, showing the ideological divide on the issue.

Some members of that group entered a building, where they physically brawled with the historians and their supporters, although no one was seriously injured.

People rallying in favor of the government writing textbooks say the current history textbooks have leftist views, especially on North Korea, and downplay the economic and political achievements of former South Korean presidents, particularly strongman Park Chung Hee who ruled the country for 18 years until his assassination in 1979. Park was the father of current president Park.

In the lead-up to the official notification on Nov. 5, the main opposition party spent the weekend trying to drum up public sentiment against the measure. Moon Jae-in, head of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), strongly criticized his ruling party counterpart Kim Moo-sung and those who support the state-authored textbooks on Sunday, saying their support was “tantamount to admitting they are descendants of the autocratic ruling class and Japanese collaborators.”

The NPAD has no means to stop the government from carrying out its initiative as it does not require a parliamentary vote.

Public sentiment on the issue was slightly in favor of those opposing the state-designated text books.

In a survey of 500 adults nationwide conducted last Wednesday by Realmeter, 50 percent of respondents said they opposed state control over text books while 44.8 percent were in favor.

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