A generation with mixed feelings (KOR)

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A generation with mixed feelings (KOR)

The author is a deputy editor of the political news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

During a National Assembly Steering Committee meeting in November 2017, main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Rep. Jun Hee-kyung claimed that the Blue House had come under the control of Chundaehyp, the pro-North Korean council of university students that had been active during the military regime rule in the 1980s. Former Blue House chief of staff Im Jong-seok responded furiously over the “humiliating” remark from Jun. He said, “we did not ask what you did when the military regimes stamped out and violated human rights in Gwangju” and added that the people who Jun had scorned had put their lives at stake to defend democracy.

The heated response from Im, who headed the National Council of Student Representatives and served in prison for aiding an unauthorized visit to North Korea by another student in 1989, underscores the pride of the former student activists who fought against the authoritarian regime under generals-turned-politicians during the 1980s. There is a common strain of emotions among those who spent their youth under the military regimes in Korea. There are those who can talk with pride of their student activities despite threats of raids and secret police and those who live with silent shame for having stayed on the sidelines during the tumultuous period. Kim Oe-suk, who served as the first minister of government legislation and now as the president’s secretary of appointments, confessed that she decided to become a human rights lawyer out of guilt for having had studied law while many of her friends at university devoted themselves to the democracy movement. Many who had spent their days as students in the 1980s still feel indebted to the minority student activists who contributed to bringing about the end of military rule and the beginning of true democracy in the country.

The generation, now in their 40s and 50s, inevitably have mixed feelings about the controversy surrounding Cho Kuk, a justice minister nominee facing a myriad of allegations about prerogatives and irregularities committed as an iconic figure on the progressive front. “Some would have felt betrayed to learn someone who they once revered turned out to be worse than they could have imagined, while others may feel they can finally free themselves of the sense of guilt,” said Yim Dong-woo, professor at the Korea National University of Transportation. In his book “The Generation of Inequalities,” Lee Chul-seung, a professor at Yonsei University, wrote that the students in the 1980s may have championed the value of equality in Korean society, but they were never free of Asian hierarchic culture and tradition. Lee notes that the fall of the Park Geun-hye administration shattered the fantasies that many conservatives had about her father Park Chung Hee, the strongman who had helped Korea achieve its rags-to-riches transformation. The disillusionment over Cho may bring about an end to the sense of supremacy of the student activist generation among liberals.

해소된 386에의 부채감 최민우 정치팀 차장
2017년 11월 국회 운영위. 전희경 한국당 의원은 “청와대가 주사파 전대협에 의해 장악당했다”고 질타했다. 그러자 당시 임종석 대통령 비서실장은 “전 의원 말에 매우 모욕감을 느낀다”라고 강하게 반박했다. 그러면서 “5공, 6공때 정치군인이 광주를 짓밟고 민주주의를 유린할 때 의원이 어떻게 살았는지 살피지는 않았다”라며 “거론한 그 사람들은 인생을 걸고 민주주의를 위해 노력했다”고 했다. 심지어 “그게 질의냐”라고도 했다.
느닷없는 커밍아웃처럼 보이는 임 실장의 답변엔 ‘어디 감히 너희 따위가’라는 386 운동권의 속내가 고스란히 배어 있었다. 이는 1980년대 군부독재 시절 대학시절을 보낸 이들의 공통된 정서이자 묘한 세대관이었다. 학생운동에 뛰어든 이의 ‘선민의식’과 주변을 맴돈 이의 ‘부채의식’으로 말이다. 이 정부 초대 법제처장으로 현재 청와대 인사수석인 김외숙(52)씨도 인권변호사를 하게 된 이유를 “학생운동에 투신하는 친구들이 많았는데, 그 옆에서 고시공부를 했던 부채감”이라고 했다. 80년대 소수 운동권을 향한 다수 동료ㆍ후배의 ‘주눅’은 그렇게 한 세대를 이어왔다.
그래서 ‘조국 사태’를 바라보는 40,50대의 감정은 복잡하다. 임동욱 한국교통대 교수는 “미안함을 가지며 살아왔는데 ‘더 해 먹었다’라는 배신감과 이제야 짓눌렸던 진보 콤플렉스에서 벗어나게 됐다는 홀가분함이 교차할 것”이라고 전했다. 이철승 서강대 교수는 『불평등의 세대』에서 386을 가리켜 “평등의 가치를 한국 사회에 전파했지만, 자신은 연공제에 기반을 둔 동아시아적 위계 문화를 여전히 체내화했다”고 지적한다. “박근혜 정부 붕괴가 박정희 패러다임의 해체”(최장집 교수)를 가져왔듯, 세간엔 “조국 사태로 386 우월감도 시효가 끝났다”라는 말이 많다.
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