By Kim Heung-sook
If the Guinness Book of World Records had a category recording nations with the fastest turn of events, this Republic will top them all.
When you think you have heard everything, something new pops up usually for the worse. Since late September, a series of scandals made headlines after headlines, causing shame and mockery among the people. It will be both interesting and meaningful to reflect on these happenings and key characters one by one.
First, mockery. President Lee Myung-bak volunteered to become an object of ridicule by making an unwarranted claim that his government was ``morally perfect” on Sept. 30 in a meeting with senior presidential secretaries.
He may have said so to present a moment of laughter for his compatriots suffering from soaring life expenses, but best intentions don’t necessarily bring best results and his words got as many as 20,000 sarcastic replies no sooner than they were floated on the Internet.
On the very day he made the remark, the vernacular daily Hankook Ilbo printed an editorial with a question mark ― ``The President’s relatives, are they under control?” ― lamenting yet another addition to misconducts by Lee’s kinsmen.
On Sunday or two days after Lee boasted of being ``morally perfect,” his chief of staff, Yim Tae-hee came out in defense of his boss, explaining that what Lee meant was he hadn’t received any money from business conglomerates.
Yim’s words were construed as being targeted at Park Won-soon, the civic activist-lawyer, who was then vying to become a unified opposition candidate for Seoul mayoral race. Yim confirmed such allegation by saying that if the donations received by Park’s organization had not been for purely humanitarian purposes, they could pose a serious problem.
It is well-known that the Beautiful Foundation founded by Park has heralded the nation’s campaign for sharing even after he left it to launch the Hope Institute, a private think-tank focusing on policy alternatives. BF is also famous for its clean management of fund: Its website has a section showing how money comes and goes all time.
Affirming all donations have gone into the foundation and its charities, Park pointed out that Yim was violating the election laws by intervening in the mayoral contest whereas he, as a government official, should maintain political neutrality. In a nutshell, Park won the all-opposition ticket and Yim may have inadvertently contributed to the activist’s win.
Second, shame. Since the dramatic film ``Dogani,” or ``Crucible,” was put on 815 screens across the country on Sept. 22, shame gripped the nation amid boiling public resentment. More than 3 million have seen the film so far, including President Lee, Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae, and Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party.
The movie shows how female students at a special institution for the hearing impaired fall victims to sexual assaults of their own teachers at their own school and how the heinous crimes are dealt with in the court. The film is based on a 2009 novel of the same title by Gong Ji-young, one of the most popular writers in Korea. Gong wrote the novel by delving into what really happened to students, aged between seven and 22, at Inhwa School in Gwangju over five years from 2000.
In actuality, the offenders were convicted but not all of them were ousted from the school thanks to their ties to its foundation. The court was kind enough to the criminals to withhold the execution of what light sentences given to them. The school could keep on getting government funding owing to the loopholes in the Social Welfare Business Law. If the government worked ``for the people,” most of those involved in the case would be behind bars now.
With the success of the film, the authorities concerned have decided to close down the foundation operating Inhwa and a few other institutions and politicians are noisily promoting the flawed law’s revision. However, many cool-headed observers wonder if the on-going heat would produce something tangible to improve the situation and rights of people with special needs. Sexual crimes against them increased markedly from 199 in 2007 to 320 last year. During the first eight months of this year, 385 such cases were reported.
Underlying this increase are the loose laws and lenient courts, yet there are people who think differently and President Lee seems to be one of them; Hours after seeing the film, he said that to prevent similar incidents overall reform of social consciousness was more needed than legal and systematic supplementation. Perhaps, he has forgotten that change of laws and legal systems is the first step to reform ``social consciousness.”
Skepticism runs deep for the much touted revision of the ``Social Welfare Business Law” for justifiable reasons. In November 2006, a Democratic Labor Party lawmaker initiated a revision to the law, making it mandatory for welfare foundations to fill one-third of their boards with non-related public directors. In January 2007, the Ministry of Health and Welfare advanced a notice for the revision, lowering the ``one-third” to ``one-fourth.”
However, the conservative Protestant groups, that operated more than half of such foundations, feverishly opposed the revision and GNP took their side. Finally in May 2008, the revision bill was scrapped. This is why the nationwide Society for Abolition of Discrimination against the Disabled (SADD) is demanding that the ruling party apologize first and revise the law later.
With all these shameful records, one may see little hope for the nation to become truly civilized in spite of its economic power. However, there certainly is hope and one outstanding sign is Park Won-soon, the first lawyer who brought ``sexual harassment” into the nation’s courtrooms in 1990s and earned a victory for a powerless victim over a powerful offender. With less than three weeks remaining until the by-election on Oct. 26, the ruling party and Yim and other president’s men will struggle desperately to smear Park because, as everyone knows, the upcoming election is not simply about a Seoul mayor.
If Korea has hope, Park will defeat the ruling party candidate. If not, the nation will probably remain in an inhumane ``Dogani” for sometime more.