A cautionary tale

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A cautionary tale

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


Joan of Arc, also called Jeanne d’Arc, France’s national heroine, led the French resistance against English invaders during the crucial period that finally brought an end to the Hundred Years War. She ushered her army into Compiègne against orders from the King of France and was captured by the Burgundians. Jean de Luxembourg, a leader of the Burgundians, imprisoned Joan of Arc in a 21-meter (69-feet) high tower and offered the prisoner for a ransom, according to the rules of the times.

However, Charles VII did not answer or come to her rescue. She was handed over to the English instead, who paid 10,000 francs, amounting to about 67 kilograms (148 pounds) of gold at current value. She was declared a heretic by the British and was burnt at the stake. Charles VII had ascended to the throne in Reims all thanks to Joan of Arc’s feat of breaking the siege of Orleans and yet he abandoned her. He acted out of fear of Joan of Arc’s passion and his wish to end the war. There is a Chinese saying, “Kill the dog after the hunting is done.” There is no mercy in politics across the world and history as one can get abandoned once their role is done.

“There has never been such a staunch justice minister,” ruling party lawmakers say about Choo Mi-ae. But their words of cheer feel chilling as if unleashing the hunting dog. The Blue House backed Choo as she snapped at Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and walled him off from two ongoing cases — one on a ponzi scheme and the other on his own family members — by exercising the justice minister’s authority to interfere in prosecutorial cases when needed. The Blue House said the interference was unavoidable and more or less condoned Choo’s operation to oust the prosecutor general on grounds that the prosecution’s investigation of financial scams was biased regarding the role of figures from the political realm. But how is her command over an investigation into the families of Yoon connected to the fund scandal? Ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmakers claimed that family wrongdoings should not interfere with the appointment of Yoon as the prosecution chief.

A justice minister has used the privilege to command prosecutors’ investigations only three times since the founding of the country. Two of those times were by Choo. Both cases stemmed from claims from criminal suspects. The first was on suspected collusion between prosecutors and a media organization. The case turned out to be much-ado-about nothing. When Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae under President Roh Moo-hyun ordered the prosecution not to detain Dongguk University sociology Prof. Kang Jeong-soo for violation of the National Security Act, he had some grounds because a different approach to civilian rights in the post-Cold War era and the sovereignty of the prosecution collided at that time. The purpose was not to tame the prosecution.

Lee Nak-yon, head of the DP, cheered Choo on, saying her move was “democratic control of the prosecution.” The use of the word “democratic” is shameful. One example of an elected power’s exercising control over the prosecution was in 2015 when German Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas fired Chief Prosecutor Herald Range for political interference in a treason investigation. The prosecution’s probe of an internet rights website for publishing classified intelligence files had sparked a wave of outrage from journalists for the violation of freedom of the press. After Range disobeyed his boss’s orders to stop the investigation, Maas sacked him for greater protection of civilian freedom.

“Democratic” control at least should have such strong grounds to uphold democratic values. Democracy does not give liberty to the elected power to oppress government offices.

There may be an orchestrator behind the drama between the justice minister and the chief prosecutor. But the players also may have their own designs for keeping to their roles. Choo was almost abandoned by the liberals after she voted in favor of the impeachment of former liberal President Roh Moo-hyun. Her loyalty may stem from her survival instinct. That much brazenness may be required in the DP, given its all-out bashing of Keum Tae-sup, who left the party and blasted its narrow-mindedness.

Joan of Arc appears as a witch and a whore in Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI.” Some refer to the justice minister as Choo d’Arc. Some could find her overly stubborn, emotional and hotheaded. Others could see her as a person of conviction and principles. Views can differ depending on one’s ideological bent. Choo as a politician could be valuable for her record of rulings of conviction as a judge, bold marriage and courageous attempt to break regionalism as a lawmaker. But she is gathering more scorn and shame to her name as she extends her career. As a veteran politician, she should be well aware of the risk of becoming abandoned in politics.

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