Korea’s atoposIn chaotic times, the world is strangely poetic. The surreal reality of President Park Geun-hye and her friend Choi Soon-sil playing with government affairs, the citizens’ candlelight protests and Park’s impeachment reminds me of the word atopos.
It is not a word that most people need to know in their everyday lives, but it appeared on the answer sheet that Chung Yoo-ra, Choi’s daughter, had paid someone else to write for her, though it was misspelled “apotos.” Still, it was marked correct, a foreshadowing for all the corruption and irrationality to come.
Atopos is used to describe an ambiguous space, an unfathomable object, something foreign and unfamiliar. “Topos” is Greek for place, and with the negative prefix “a,” it means “not in the right place,” just as Korean society finds itself in an unfamiliar place.
But atopos is neither good nor bad. Greeks described the unfathomably unique Socrates as atopos. Romantics call their lovers atopos. It highlights the unfamiliarity that cannot be defined either positively or negatively.
Recently, I met a friend in his 70s, a self-proclaimed far-right supporter. “In the next election, I won’t vote for a ruling party candidate to atone my wrong. I thought voting for the top candidate was patriotic, but Park Geun-hye left me in despair.” He said he believed in Park’s patriotism even when the controversial tablet PC was found. He wanted to believe she was lonely and fell into a trap because of her friend’s abuse of power.
But he is in despair because he cannot trust Park’s patriotism. He lamented, “China keeps building pressure on Korea for Thaad, and Japan is more rude than ever before. Neighbors look down on Korea as the national leadership is in jeopardy. But she is scheming to delay the Constitutional Court process and only focuses on making excuses.” He asked me, “Please write in your column that it is Park’s last act of patriotism to appear at the Constitutional Court and ask the judges to finalize her impeachment so that a new leadership can be established in Korea as soon as possible.”
Another friend was disappointed by President Park’s sense of laws and principles. When Park said in a meeting with reporters on Jan. 1 that prosecutors and the independent counsel had tangled her up, he thought, “She is not a president anymore. When the president claims that prosecutors have conveniently framed her, who can trust the justice system?” In her testimony at the Constitutional Court, Choi Soon-sil denied the charges she admitted to the prosecution, and the president and her cronies still scoff at Korea’s justice system by not responding to the summon or refusing to testify.
As President Park betrayed her supporters’ belief that she was patriotic and a person of law and principles, she has become an atopos. Her supporters have lost hope as they watch her actions and responses since the impeachment motion was passed. She has dismissed our security crisis, used the legal situation politically, attempted to bring together those who opposed her impeachment and attacked others by delaying the legal process. It is so unfamiliar that we can hardly call someone like her our president.
We do not have time to drift without leadership. As the international situation rapidly changes, our security is in crisis. The Korean economy has no momentum for growth, and youth unemployment is at its highest in history. We are approaching an “age-quake” where the older population outnumbers the youth. Even when deflation is a greater concern for Koreans than inflation, the prices of everyday products are still rising. When we are faced with challenges even a unified nation can barely overcome, we cannot waste time over political wrangling.
Park is set to hold another meeting with the press on Sunday. Hopefully, she does not reveal her personal self this time and instead displays the last bit of patriotism and respect for laws and principles fit for the presidency. Let’s hope that the latest “atopos” will have a positive ending.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.