Appropriating history

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Appropriating history

A bill recently proposed by 12 lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to prevent distortions of history dumbfounds us. It goes without saying such a bill could restrict the freedom of speech, and it will certainly fuel national division and ideological conflict — never a good thing in a divided society like ours.

The bill was initiated by Rep. Kim Yong-min, a member of the new leadership of the DP after its crushing defeats in the April 7 mayoral by-elections. It was co-sponsored by two other core members of a group of legislators blindly loyal to President Moon Jae-in.

The bill strictly bans any distorting of facts about the March 1, 1919 Independence Movement, the April 19, 1960 Student Democracy Movement, as well as about our forefathers’ resistance to Japanese rule for 35 years. Under the bill, any act of using Japan’s Rising Sun Flag or sculptures symbolizing Japanese imperialism are liable to jail terms of up to 10 years or up to 200 million won ($176,211) in fines.

Judgments on the distortions of history will be made by a committee to be set up with the goal of establishing a true history of Korea. Members of the committee are supposed to include experts in the field, including historians. If the bill passes, the committee would hold the final right to interpret history. Given the super-majority the DP holds in the National Assembly, the committee will most likely be under the influence of the liberal party. No country bestows an exclusive right to interpret history to a political party and its minions — except China.

Rep. Kim talks about “deepening public outrage over frequent defamation of the noble spirit of our independence movement against Japan.” But if the legislature tries to write history, it cannot avoid trouble. After the DP pushed the enactment of a special bill last year to punish any acts disgracing the May 18, 1980 Gwangju Democracy Movement, the ruling party was criticized for infringing on the freedom of expression. The party even attempted to pass a bill to punish acts of insulting the April 16, 2014 Sewol ferry sinking, but failed.

When it comes to modern history, in particular, we must be careful. The job of interpreting history should be left to experts with a balanced sensibility. If the powers that be attempt to own the right exclusively, it will lose public trust. The DP must withdraw the controversial bill as quickly as possible.
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