Culture blacklist included a blind professorThe revelation of a blacklist by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of thousands of artists including Park Chan-wook, director of the internationally acclaimed film “Old Boy,” has sparked criticism that the Park Geun-hye administration targeted perceived enemies like a thin-skinned autocracy.
Those enemies included a blind professor.
“This country has become an absurd and terrifying one,” said Jo Song-jae, 45, professor in the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation at Daegu University, when he learned his name was on the Culture Ministry blacklist through a media report.
Jo was the second visually impaired Korean to be appointed a university professor four years ago.
His name appeared in the indictment of Kim Jong-deok, former culture minister, on Jan. 30. The indictment claims that Jo was dismissed along with 70 others on the orders of Kim, Park Jun-woo, senior secretary for political affairs at the Blue House and Shin Dong-cheol, former presidential secretary.
Jo stopped working as a reference examiner at the National Library of Korea, affiliated with the Culture Ministry, in February of last year after having worked there for four years. There was no request to extend his employment from the library.
“Publications for the visually impaired were lacking, so that became my job,” said Jo, who has a doctorate from the University of Michigan. “When the head of the library first proposed the position, there was no expert related to materials to be used by the visually impaired.”
In the blacklist procured by independent counsel Park Young-soo, Jo’s name is accompanied by the line, ‘Supports Park Won-soon,’ Seoul’s liberal mayor.
“During the by-election for Seoul mayor in 2011, I did join a statement to support Park Won-soon’s candidacy,” said Jo. “Besides that, I had no ties with Mayor Park. I also joined a declaration supporting former [liberal] President Roh Moo-hyun, but there was no other occasion in which I was politically active.”
Jo said he now understands some “strange experiences” he underwent. Starting in September 2012, Jo was dismissed as a director of the Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute, which is under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. In September 2015, he was dismissed as a member of the Committee for Policy for Disabled Persons, an affiliate of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
“I had to quit without any explanation or reason [given],” said Jo.
A source from the independent counsel said, “It is estimated the blacklist’s range of operations was involved in all aspects of society.”
In 2012, Jo and 13 other people at the Disabled Person’s Development Institute were replaced. The position of director went to a supporter of President Park in the 2012 race.
Jo was astonished to see his name in the media and found it difficult to explain it to his children. Jo said to them, “A government that likes red meat is saying that your dad is bad because he likes fish.” He continued, “I am earnestly hoping for the recovery of a society that respects diversity.”
In the ongoing investigation, former chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, 78, denied his involvement and submitted a notice of appeal to the Seoul High Court when arrested on a charge of drafting and enforcing the blacklist.
BY MOON HYEON-KYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]