Beyond ideological disputes
Last Friday evening, I was on a KTX bullet train heading to Daejeon to take part in a funeral ceremony of the father of my friend.
It was hard to buy a ticket online. A professor friend of mine asked his teaching assistant to go to Yongsan Station and buy tickets for four of us who were tied to our respective workplaces.
Thanks to the errand of the assistant, who was powerless to resist the order from above, we were able to travel comfortably.
But dozens of passengers had to stand in the narrow aisles. To me, it looked very dangerous. They were standing for several hours in a train that runs at about 300 kilometers per hour.
While I was thinking what would happen to the standing passengers should the train come to a sudden, screeching halt, one of my friends woke me up from that thought with a question: “Is it okay for a bunch of pro-North Korean lawmakers-elect to enter the National Assembly?”
Another friend answered furiously: “It’s nonsense that communists become lawmakers. What if they hand confidential national information to the North?”
Of course they were referring to the “jongbuk” forces or North Korean followers who uphold the “juche” or self-reliance ideology, in the leftist opposition Unified Progressive Party (UPP), which has been embroiled in internal feuds over vote-rigging in choosing proportional representative candidates.
The three friends I was travelling with on the bullet train were quite worried about the leftists’ entry into the Assembly.
Three days later, President Lee Myung-bak echoed their concerns.
In his biweekly radio address (the only, one-way channel he uses to deliver his message to the people), Lee said the jongbuk pro-North Korean followers are “more problematic” than North Korea.
His remarks are adding fuel to the already-hot controversy involving jongbuk forces. It is the first time that Lee has uttered the word jongbuk and openly criticized them, a move that will lend leverage to the prosecution to crack down on North Korean followers for violation of the National Security Law.
Just like in the past, disputes over the ideological colors of opposition parties and their members have emerged as the most important news item for the press. For weeks, they have made headlines on the front pages of major dailies.
Some UPP members, known as key jongbuk followers, have appeared on TV and radio programs but answered ambiguously to such a question as whether they still follow juche ideology, giving the public an impression that they are real North Korean followers.
Under the self-reliance ideology created by the late founding leader Kim Il-sung, the Kim family is running the communist nation for a third generation, leaving its people stuck in hopeless living conditions.
No one with common sense would follow juche. If there are still firm believers in the ideology, they should be left out of the Assembly which doesn’t need such radical leftists.
On the other hand, caution must be issued against the move by conservative forces to ignite ideological disputes in the run-up to the December presidential election. The escalation of ideological disputes, usually fueled by major conservative newspapers, puts aside other key issues that affect people’s livelihoods.
The President, who has been mum about a series of bribery scandals involving key aides and relatives, abruptly came forward to scold North Korean followers. Lee has so far made no comment on the illegal surveillance of civilians apparently orchestrated by his secretaries and aides.
Understandably, he might hope that ideological disputes intensify further to bury all other sensitive issues.
Under Lee’s leadership was an absence of North Korean policies. The lack of consistent strategies has served only to ratchet up tension on the peninsula, allowing the North to keep its people blindfolded to the outside world. Caught in a lame duck period, Lee may want to hide behind ideological conflicts.
Those who blindly follow North Korea should be there, not here, and the two UPP lawmakers in question, deemed responsible for vote-rigging, should quit to help progressives regain public trust.
However, those using ideological disputes as a vehicle to attain political gains are also the groups that are helping the North Korean regime maintain the status quo.
From the tight job market to snowballing household debt, we have too many social and economic problems to spend so much energy on ideological disputes. Rather than burying our heads into ideological conflicts deeper, we need to lift our heads and look for ways to make people’s livelihood better.
What’s more important than hunting and purging a handful of pro-North Korean leftists might be to discuss whether to allow the operator of KTX bullet trains to keep selling standing-only tickets.