Goodbye Park Chung HeeAre we ready to part with Park Chung Hee? Even though his daughter President Park Geun-hye has been impeached by the National Assembly, the ancien régime of the uniformed nationalism he established after seizing power in a military coup 55 years ago is still in progress. As selfish desires and fear of loss alternate in chaotic times, Park Chung Hee’s paradigm that tempts people to choose obedience and compromise over conscience and justice is still working. His regime was formidable. The late Kim Geun-tae, a former democracy activist-turned-lawmaker who fought against Park’s dictatorship, said, “Every Korean president had to wage an impossible war against the dead Park Chung Hee, who had a nearly unlimited political life of 18 years.”
The rise of President Park Geun-hye is considered a political event that brought back the retrogressive power of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte to 21st century Korea, just as he turned back the clock of the republic born in the French Revolution of 1789. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was incompetent, but he used public nostalgia for his uncle Napoleon I — the blood relation was disproven in a 2013 DNA test — to become emperor shortly after the French Revolution of 1848. Just like his uncle, he organized a coup d’état and took the throne.
After the dictatorship ended and democracy was established in Korea, people were getting tired of slow decision-making and low growth and expected Park Geun-hye to have a fast-paced leadership similar to Park Chung Hee’s.
If she had only kept the promise to let go of her father’s legacy, she wouldn’t have followed in the footsteps of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who was ultimately sneered at. However, Park refused to communicate and ran the government with her personal friend Choi Soon-sil. In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” Karl Marx used Hegel’s expression and wrote on the reigns of the uncle and the nephew, “History repeats itself … first as tragedy, second as farce.” The judgement also applies to the rise and fall of Park Chung Hee and Park Geun-hye.
As democracy regressed, the ones who brought a breakthrough to the aporia was not an armed Park Chung Hee or Chun Doo Hwan, but honorable citizens lighting candles to show the way forward on an uncharted path. Korea University’s political science professor Im Hyuk-baek defined them as a “multitude,” heterogeneous people with various identities. They are different from the uniformed masses of the industrialization era, as they have a mutual cause yet various objectives. The collective intelligence of the people punishes the incompetent politicians and leads a new awakening to part with the Park Chung Hee paradigm.
The multitude of citizens has different values and desires, but raised one, reserved voice, and they broke out of the bridle of the ancien régime through seven candlelight vigils so far. Just as Athenian soldier Socrates reached wisdom after nights of contemplation on the battlefield, citizens experienced the blissful moment of realizing justice with their own power in the open square of a collapsing community.
They know very well that returning to the past would be to live as captives of the dead Park Chung Hee. Politicians must read the flow of the time and listen to the demands of the people of the honorable revolution and address educational burdens and pressures, irregular employment and youth unemployment. Only then, will the door of a democratic republic defined by Article 1, Clause 1 of the Constitution open.
The candlelight revolution demands an immediate restoration of justice and civil values harmed by the ancien régime. Now, the politicians must respond. The outdated power device backing an imperialistic president’s monopoly of power and corruption must be immediately removed. Citizens want an end to the theater of the absurd, where the Blue House — which is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution — becomes the emperor and rules over constitutional institutions like the National Assembly and the executive branch. We must destroy the surrealistic structure of the “doorknob trio” ruling over ministers, and a shadow-power reigning over the “doorknobs.”
The strictly guarded, palace-like Blue House should be turned into a friendly space where the leader can feel the lives and feelings of the people. To allow civil servants with a sense of calling to do their jobs properly, Blue House staff should be reduced to a minimum. Also, we must not put off establishing a checking mechanism to prevent law enforcement agencies — such as the prosecution, police and National Tax Service — from become hunting dogs used to attack the people.
The April 19 Revolution ousted Syngman Rhee, but could not prevent the May 16 Coup a year later. The June Democracy Movement brought justice to Chun Doo Hwan, but it allowed the coup faction to outlive its destiny. These are the outcomes of political incompetency and greed. If they miss the opportunity created by the latest civil revolution, candles will burn down the politicians entirely. The people in the square are asking the final question: Are you ready to give up the vested interests of ancien régime and welcome a new world? If so, they must let go of Park Chung Hee without any regret.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 14, Page 34
*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.