Brand new thugs

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Brand new thugs

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

A few days ago, Hong Se-hwa, an icon of liberalism in Korea, criticized the 586 group as a “gang disguised as democracy fighters.” He said, “They didn’t study democracy properly and don’t know how hard it is to make money in real life.” Democracy 21 co-chair Kim Kyung-ryul joined the attack, saying, “The Moon Jae-in administration is like gangsters in the back alley moving only by power and interests.”

Members of the 586 group, the core of the ruling party, mostly have lifetime careers in activism and politics. Unification Minister Lee In-young and former presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok, former student presidents, engaged in social activism until the early and mid-90s. In the late 90s, they were recruited by former President Kim Dae-jung and became lawmakers in their 30s thanks to their activist careers.

Naturally, activism and politics became their bread and butter. In a lecture in September, Kim Young-hwan, author of “Iron Letter” and “The Father of Juche (self-reliance) Ideas,” said they “are interested not in ideology and but in making a living and power.”

Sogang University’s sociology Prof. Lee Cheol-sung explains it as a network principle. They created a vast network among themselves thanks to their organizing skills they learned during college. “They acquired the mechanism of ‘solidarity’ across academic, regional and blood ties, occupied the civil society and state and ‘over-occupied’ the high level in the hierarchy,” said Prof. Lee.

To the tight-knit 586 group, politics is a kind of business. So they can openly demand priority in getting admissions to colleges and employment and financial assistance to the children of democracy activists.

In fact, they only spoke of “democratization” but didn’t properly study and exercise democracy. The goal of “activism” in the 1980s was to overthrow dictators and win self-reliance, and was far from having democracy take a root in the country. Instead, they followed Leninism and viewed the political system at the time as bourgeois democracy to be toppled. After the fall of the Soviet Union, activists still call for revolution in words and enjoy bourgeois life.

The “democratic” gangsters whose service is politics don’t have democratic values and enough order in their mind to acquire and maintain power. The ruling party railroaded the Act on the Establishment of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) through the National Assembly with one word from the president. Just as Justice Party Rep. Jang Hye-young said, if prosecution reforms were for democracy, the decision process should be democratic. To the 586 generation, however, the process is not important. Only the patron’s funds, or power, matters.
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