Minerva and Gaza
By Kim Heung-sook
``Minerva" is making headline after headline in Korea. I am one of the tens of thousands of supporters of the Internet-grown economic pundit, but I wonder if we are forgetting something more important, engrossed in the verbal war over ``the nation's economic president," who had disgraced and angered government officials by making diagnoses and forecasts that were often more accurate than their own.
The government may have hoped to end the Minerva affair on the Web front when it recently arrested 30-year-old Park Dae-seong, but it has failed again: We have more Minervas than ever. Scores of economic writings were posted on popular portal ``Daum" by Internet users who identified themselves as the Goddess of Wisdom, using the same font and type of letters as Minerva did. There also are rumors that Park is not the real Minerva and that the real one is in hiding.
Whether Park is the real Minerva as the government claims him to be or not, I feel sorry about his plight. ``As I have said repeatedly, I'm just a blogger who put his own views online," Park was quoted as saying to his lawyer. ``I feel desolate. I am scared of the fact that I have to do an interview with my hands tied and cuffed. I was wrong to think that my on-line writings would be valid only on line."
One good thing about all this fuss is the exposure of many problems the nation has, the most shameful of which being the deep-rooted respect for famous brands, not only those of goods but also of schools. If Park had been an economic specialist trained in a prestigious university, the government's treatment and media coverage might have been vastly different from what we have seen since his arrest last week.
However, Park happens to be a junior college graduate who learned economics by himself after his nation underwent the first financial crisis in 1997~1998 and a friend's parents killed themselves. Park said he then decided to study economics to protect his family from a similar debacle.
So, here at least is a lesson: One can become as knowledgeable as Minerva through self-teaching, without having a costly university education. Of course, you have to fight against the widespread preference for higher education, but prejudice will gradually lose ground as we see the signs everywhere, especially online.
Having said that, I hope the national media will relegate Minerva deeper down the news agenda, paying more attention to the tragedy in Gaza, where some 1,000 people are reported to have lost their lives. Please don't read 1,000 just as a figure. It means the whole world has ended for 1,000 people, and that the past, present and future dreams of 1,000 people have been exterminated. We can fight injustice, dictators, incompetent governments and any attempt to crack down on freedom of expression as long as we live, but we can't do anything once we are dead.
The Korean government has failed to make any visible efforts toward restoring peace in Gaza; it only issued a lukewarm statement in the name of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I am trying to believe that such a failure has come from the nation's lack of power in world politics or from the government's obsession with Minerva and other bothering elements, and not from any other reason.
Last year, when President Lee Myung-bak, a much-publicized protestant believer, was taking office, there was mounting concern that his fervor might endanger religious pluralism, a time-honored source of pride for Korea. Last year-end, the Korean Center for Arab and Islamic Culture in Incheon was closed by the city administration one year after opening, triggering regrets, anger, and worries. In contrast, the Israel Culture Center in Seoul has been in service since May 2000 and has seen the launch of the Korean Institute of Israel Studies last December.
Though the government is not happy with the unprecedented phenomenon called Minerva, he/she has offered solace to netizens and citizens suffering from ill-management of the national economy last year. I hope other countries will have their own version of Minerva that consoles them in times of distress.
Last but not least, I hope the conflict in Gaza will end right away and my government will join in the efforts to heal the wounds of the victims without asking of their religious credos. I hope the government will do for people in Gaza what Minerva has done for his compatriots.