Raking up the past

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Raking up the past


Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

It is baffling to hear someone state the obvious without knowing he’s doing so. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon observed that the current handling of the outbreak of the new coronavirus is “beyond comparison” with efforts by the past government in the last outbreak.

It would be abnormal if it were not so. The present is built on the past. The unprecedented outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015 started with a disease affecting a region relatively far from our shores. A patient returning from Bahrain was treated for a common form of pneumonia in a hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. He was then taken to Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. A patient in the hospital emergency room was unaware of the threat of the unfamiliar virus and became infected. Vulnerable patients in hospitals were infected in large numbers as a result. The government and health authorities came under fire for a lax response in the early stage. The quarantine system was toughened as a result. Authorities have since been alerting the public of the numbers of patients confirmed with communicable diseases.

Past failures and mistakes come together to produce today’s wealth, according to the book “Time of Accumulation” authored by Lee Jeong-dong, a professor of industrial engineering at Seoul National University, who serves as a special adviser on the economy and science to President Moon Jae-in. Seoul Mayor Park has been equally impressed by the book and recommends it to people in the city administration. “Leaders of politics can change even dealing with contagious disease,” Park claimed.

He went on to say the book shows how poorly the administration under President Park Geun-hye handled the epidemic. Mayor Park is not fit to aspire to the presidency with such small-mindedness.

The numbers of infections and deaths continue to grow in China, the epicenter of the new virus strain. The outbreak is hardly over, but government officials sound as if it is entirely combated in Korea. Lee Si-jong, governor of North Chungcheong, expressed “admiration” for the president for demonstrating the world’s best control over a new infectious disease. The ruling party declared victory over its battle with the coronavirus.


Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon delivers opening remarks at a meeting with leaders of the tourism industry at the Summit Hotel in Seoul on Friday to discuss how to overcome the novel coronavirus outbreak. [YONHAP]

This embarrassing back-patting underscores the powers-that-be’s preoccupation with the past. Over the last three years since Moon took office, the ruling front has been entirely engrossed with eliminating the practices and beliefs of the past conservative governments that were in power for nine years. A retired judge who was recruited into the ruling party upon resigning from the bench claimed himself to be a victim of power abuse under the past conservative government. But testimonies show he had relayed unjust orders from the National Court Administration to a colleague. His claim of being demoted for defying an unfair order from above is also being questioned. He argues he was being framed by those resistant to judiciary reform. Even someone from the bench is capitalizing on the past for self-gain.

What makes people find causes for the present from the past? It could reveal their inner insecurity or a belief that the past forces remain powerful. But the powers that be have demoralized the prosecution and disregarded legislative authority as well as the basic right of the public to know such things like details of an important criminal indictment. They may be feigning weakness to gain sympathy from their support base.

The future is foggy if one lives in the past. In accepting the Oscar for Best Director for “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho paid tribute to Martin Scorsese, who was also nominated for the award in the same category. He quoted Scorsese: “The most personal is most creative.” What creativeness have the powers-that-be shown? They showed ingenuity in avoiding a domino effect when their beloved Cho Kuk went down. They may imagine holding onto power for the next 20 years. Democratic Party head Lee Hae-chan declared the upcoming legislative election in April will be a “battle with the past.” The ruling party is already the winner. A winner should be different in its vision for the future. It must stop borrowing the looking glass to bend the past to see a future to its liking.
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