By Lee Chang-sup
Park Geun-hye often wears a red suit at official functions. Her dress code has a symbolic message, especially when the taciturn leader speaks little. The dress color often implies her view on explosive national issues.
Park, a strong presidential contender of the governing party, wore the red suit after her conservative Saenuri Party adopted the red color in its official logo. The logo in a bowl shape may indicate the party’s subtle shift from conservatism ― for decades the party had used blue to associate itself with the right.
The red may simply be a protective color. As red and blue are complementary, it wants its conservatism and the red color to complement each other so that it can woo non-conservative voters. Young voters like red. Red Devils supporters for the national football team wear uniforms in red. Marines and trainers of Special Forces troops also wear red berets.
The party’s new color is still puzzling to voters. Many conservatives, traditional supporters of the party, are allergic to the red color itself. The party regards North Korea as South Korea’s main enemy under President Lee Myung-bak’s hawkish policy. It had often classified liberal and progressive forces in the South as pro-North Korea sympathizers.
History shows that changing color itself does not necessarily mean a change of ideology. National leaders had sometimes picked colors opposite to their images to mitigate their prefixed or fabricated image.
Kim Dae-jung did not like red as he had been a victim of red-baiting plots throughout his political career. He chose yellow as his representative color.
His political rival and anti-Communist Kim Young-sam had splashed red during his failed campaign in 1987. The adoption of red in his campaign logo was his differentiation strategy from his rival Kim Dae-jung.
Whichever color they favored, Kim Dae-jung was a liberalist, while Kim Young-sam was a conservative.
Like the UK’s Conservative Party, conservative parties worldwide often favor blue. One exception is the liberal-leaning U.S. Democrats. The U.S. media have employed blue to identify the Democrats since 2000.
The UN also utilizes the light blue color azure to symbolize its dedication to peace and hope.
Red has traditionally symbolized socialism and communism as the color represents the blood of the workers who died in the struggle against capitalism. The left-wing political parties, alliances and organizations worldwide, go for it. It is no coincidence that China and Chinese people love red. European and Latin American parties of social democracy and their allies within the labor movement, also adopt red.
Such associations are not absolute as the U.S. media prefer the red color in denoting the conservative U.S. Republican Party.
Islamic groups generally favor black. Parties worldwide seldom cherish brown as it conjures up images of Nazism.
Grey often represents the interests of pensioners and senior citizens. Environmental groups and agricultural organizations like green. Populist parties often associate orange with themselves. French and Portuguese social democrats are fond of pink although the traditional color of social democracy is red.
Pink is a color symbolic of homosexuality in some EU countries. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals love the pink flag, which is allegedly the legacy of the Nazi Germany’s making homosexual prisoners wear pink triangles.
White denotes pacifism as in the surrender flag. Yellow symbolizes Judaism and some liberals.
Color has symbolism. Color is sometimes more powerful than the message itself. Especially, politicians and parties are careful in choosing colors so that they can manage their public image.
Korea has often lost more than gained just because of the squabbles over ideological colors.
A progressive judge was not rehired recently after he posted a comment critical of President Lee. In hindsight, the candlelit protests that followed Seoul’s decision in 2008 to import American beef were the result of the ideological clashes. The anti-Lee forces had sidelined truth in their exaggerated attack over mad cow disease.
Branding politicians as red (Communist sympathizers) was a recurring campaign strategy in Korea. The wasteful red-baiting plots have often divided the nation. Many Koreans have become victims of ideological clashes. Korea has also undergone chaos under bloody ideological confrontations, including the Jeju Uprising on April 3 in 1948.
This month, leaders of conservative and liberal NGO groups agreed to minimize ideological disputes during the general and presidential elections this year. They vowed to embrace ideological diversity, and urged liberals and conservatives to rise above ideological differences for consensus and objectivity.
Their meeting for the cause is the first and meaningful. Park’s party would hopefully become ideologically flexible although it advocates conservatism. The liberal opposition Democratic United Party could get respect when it tries to understand conservatives. Like inter-faith harmony, inter-ideology harmony is critical for social cohesion and national development.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. Contact him at email@example.com.