Denying national anthem
Pro-N. Korean lawmaker is neither just nor right
The trouble-making abilities of Rep. Lee Seok-ki, the controversial, progressive lawmaker, appear to have no end. The left-leaning politician’s latest provocation occurred Friday when he denied the existence of the national anthem. ``What we Koreans know as the national anthem is but one of many patriotic songs,” he said during a lunch with journalists.
In strict legal terms, Lee may not be wrong, as the current national anthem was not stipulated by law but by a presidential decree. In other words, it is the product of a common law, which, however, means he was dead wrong in terms of the popular sentiments reflected on the song.
What he tried to take issue with might not just be the legitimacy of the national anthem but that of South Korea itself. Lee’s Unified Progressive Party (UPP) has made it a rule to sing a protest song instead of the national anthem during various ceremonies, saying obligating the people to sing the national anthem is a totalitarian idea and practice. This also is half right at best.
There are of course countries that do not obligate or even teach a national anthem, including Spain, Italy and Sweden. Yet Rep. Lee must know his remarks can seriously hurt people who love and have contributed to this country. What’s important about national flags and anthems are not their legitimacy but the understanding of the nation’s historical experiences and the values people share through them. A progressive, or popular, party must embrace such an understanding, not reject it.
Equally hard to know is why he made such a comment at this moment when he and his party are under fire for pro-North Korean thoughts and remarks.
It might be that Lee just wanted to justify the UPP’s avoidance of the national anthem, as he said.
Yet, we suspect that a more complex calculation lies behind it. By adding fuel to the current ideological debate, he could have attempted to take popular attention away from the progressive party’s in-house vote rigging and prosecutors’ investigations into his company’s dubious business practices, and even take the upper hand in the ongoing power struggle within the UPP between sympathizers of North Korea and labor activists.
If the latter case is true, Lee has reaffirmed the popular suspicion that not only people on the right-wing of the political spectrum, but also those on the left are exploiting ideology for political purposes.
True, there were totalitarian elements during the dictatorial days in South Korea, and nationalism is still strong here. But the single-minded followers of North Korea should be the last ones to criticize that, as long as they remain silent about one of the world’s most ― if not the most ― totalitarian states in the northern half of this divided peninsula. Hatred of what they see as the world’s most imperialistic superpower cannot justify everything.
Whoever said sound conservatives make sound progressives are right. These days, however, the opposite appears to be no less urgent.