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SOUTH KOREA = CORRUPTION AND EMBARRASSMENT
Part #1
Written by Elaine Sue

 

IF YOU HAVE CNN IN YOUR HOUSE, then you probably saw the events that took place, only briefly on March 12, 2004. It probably looked something like this: Asian guys in a government meeting trying to get to the microphone at the same time, throwing furniture around, and crying their eyes out.

WELL, THERE IS A REASON for all the chaos. It was the day the impeachment rule of the newly elected president Roh, Moon Hyun was given.

 
Reaction in Korea
 

WHEN THE NEWS BROKE OUT, I was stunned, but not really that surprised. From my own experiences living in South Korea, I can honestly say that corruption runs rampant in the hearts of many: the music industry, the language school you happen to work with, as well as the everyday taxi driver (to name a few).

PART OF THIS STEMS from what one editorial a recent Korean Times by Cho Se-hyon stated as a kind of moral corruption from years of schooling. In Korea, one is not given moral education and application of skills but how to memorize and master mostly mathematics and science to study for an exam, get a good job, and make a lot of money, and a deprivation of childhood. This writer seemed to hint to the fact that perhaps what was observed on March 12th, has been the result of all those years of schooling that finally caught up, but in a bad way.

SO WHY DID THIS IMPEACHMENT happen in the first place?

TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION, it could take a whole book to write about concerning the ins and outs and who did what. However, if you read articles concerning this story on the Korean Herald and Korean Times websites, it’s not hard grasping the idea or the situation of what lead up to this event:

ROH WAS VOTED BY THE PEOPLE last year, which was one of the closest presidential races in the history of the republic. Being there myself, it was unbelievable seeing how the country was split in half east/west supporting different candidates. Honestly, as much as some of the country wanted him to be president, they didn’t really expect him to be one. He won the vote based on his “anti-American” stance and at the height of a U.S. military controversy concerning two school-aged girls who got run over by a tank near one of the army bases. The two soldiers charged were eventually acquitted for the “accident” and ignited a lot of anger around the country.

SINCE ROH also was younger than his opponent, he didn’t have a lot of power in the party he was running in. He came from a party translated into English as the Government Party. However, inside this camp, some older members didn’t really want him to be the representative nor win the presidency for it either.

AFTER HE WON, the party broke ties. Soon after, another political party was created, called the Uri party. This party consists of younger members who were a part of the party full of the elders that didn’t like Roh. At a press conference almost a week before the impeachment, he unofficially made a show of support of the newly formed Uris.

WHEN OTHERS FROM THE OPPOSING PARTIES, heard of this, they were not exactly thrilled with what he had said. They insisted that it was a kind of illegal campaign for the upcoming April 15 elections. Before this time, as a rule, a president has to keep his neutrality until this general election is over with. The purpose of the April 15th elections is to help each political party gain membership and support within and surrounding the National Assembly.

WHAT ADDS A KIND "FUEL TO THE FIRE" is that during the election process for president last year, some very crafty politicians in Roh’s party were able to get money “under the table” to help support him. This and the fact that he is part of a progressive minority party does not sit well with the other older and more conservative members of the National Assembly.

WHEN YOU ARE AWAY from all that chaos and hear news like this, it’s easier to look at things from an objective point of view. But when you are in the thick of it, whether you are a Korean or an average foreigner trying to make ends meet via teaching English or working as a migrant worker, you tend to have a different opinion about things.

FOR THE AVERAGE KOREAN, it’s not only a humiliating spectacle for the world to see, it’s also incomprehensible. What angers most people in Korea is how it all played out, especially the “bar room brawl” in the chambers while the National Assembly was in session. From talking to friends via email and MSN messenger to reading articles and watching the news, everyone was giving the same sentiment over and over.

THIS E-MAIL THAT I RECEIVED from my friend Ki Young, the day after elections gives you a good basic idea as to how Koreans felt about the impeachment ruling:

I WAS VERY SHOCKED at the news of the impeachment. The outcome of the impeachment vote had been in doubt since the motion was introduced, and it really shocked me after the National Assembly actually impeached President Roh Moo-hyun. I thought it would not be passed at all.

I AM SO DISSPOINTED by the politicians. I am too frustrated to say anything else. The lawmakers behavior is mean and childish. If someone has to be impeached for small thinks like President Roh was, all politicians in Korea must be impeached He did not do anything bad enough to be impeached, I think.

THE ATMOSPHERE HERE is that most people are angry and some are afraid. Many people go out and protest against the stupid result. Some people even committed suicide by pouring gas on their body. It’s like chaos here.

I HADN'T CARED THAT MUCH about what’s going on in the world of Korean politics, but this time I am sure this isn’t right. I am so sad.”

AT LEAST 80 PERCENT OF KOREANS FEEL this same way as my friend who wrote me this email. The rest, who are mostly the conservatives in the crowd, think that the move was the best thing, citing that Roh didn’t seem to have the qualifications fit for a president as they thought he would.

THE EXPARTIATES LIVING AND WORKING in the country seem to take a different approach. They almost see it as a “been there done that” mentality. After all, in our own American history, impeachment practices have occurred as well, with Andrew Johnson our 17th United States President.

IT WAS IN THE MIDST of the Reconstruction, about 1867 or so. Congress was then ruled by the radical wing of the Republicans which was bent on punishing the South and the Democrats as well, in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Andrew Johnson was the Democratic Vice President who was under a Republican president, Lincoln. Oddly enough, at that time it was the Democrats who were conservative, pro-slavery, and pro-South unlike today.

THE EXCUSE for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was because of a battle over a bill passed by Congress called the Tenure Office Act. This basically said that the president couldn’t fire anybody save on Congress’ say-so. President Johnson saw this as unconstitutional, and decided to pick a fight by firing Secretary of War Stanton. Stanton in turn, barricaded himself in his office, and thus Johnson was promptly impeached, and missed being tossed out of office by a mere one vote that was to be a 2/3 majority vote.

IT'S A SUMMARY nonetheless, but it kind of highlights how the political mind works. Most of the time, it’s not logical, only selfish.

OTHER EXPATRIATES see this situation as a media circus and one to be mocked at, especially when it comes to reactions from the Koreans themselves. Yet, at the same time they also feel a sense of shame for the Koreans.

 
 
INFO ON THE WRITER
 

As a graduate of Madonna University in Japanese Studies, Sue took the chance and went to Seoul, South Korea to teach English for Berlitz language schools. She lived there for almost three years gaining lifelong friendships and joining with International Friendship Society.

She has been inspired to not only write about her experiences in various formats found on the Internet and elsewhere about the East Asian region, but to also pursue more higher education (hopefully Master’s Degree and possible Ph.D) concerning the area especially that of the Korean peninsula.

 
Korean Memories
 

She feels it is her calling because the people she knows from Korea, Taiwan, an Japan have personally touched and inspired her to speak about it and teach people to look at the unique human, not racial qualities of the Asian people.

IT'S KIND OF IRONIC for this to happen. Around this time or later, Korea was in full-throttle celebration, during the Japan-Korea World Cup of 2002. The country was at its best behavior celebrating in the streets, and partying like it was New Year’s Eve. Even when the team didn’t make the cut or win the friendship match against Turkey for 3rd place, they still celebrated. No one was angry at all because no one expected the team to advance as far as they did. Koreans knew to show their best and the whole world acknowledged this fact, as well as join in the intoxicating festivities of smiles, hugs, and support.

WITH THE IMPEACHMENT CRISIS, Korea is now at its worst. There are no smiles anymore. There are only tears, frustration, and a sense of disbelief. The once happy celebrations have turned into violent protests. Koreans are left wondering how a government they voted on can be trusted. They also wonder why a president that the “citizen” voted for is not being allowed to fulfill his duties as their Commander-in-Chief.

IF PEOPLE ARE KILLING THEMSELVES over a situation like this because of shame, and trying to run a car into the National Assembly, it’s serious business. One tends to forget that Koreans have a lot of pride, just like Americans do, but maybe 10 percent more. If I was that proud for my country, I’d probably do the same thing, especially if the guy I was supporting with all my heart was put to shame himself.

POLITICIANS HAVE NOW BECOME one of the most hated individuals in a country that had everything from a dictator who wouldn’t let you say one bad thing about the government or else, to one that lets you have your freedoms and do what you want. It’s like going from a strict high school to the lenient college, you don’t quite know what kind of rules you should follow or not.

THE OTHER THING that must be kept in mind before one judges too harshly are the years of invasions from Japan, China, and others, telling South Koreans what to do, how to act, and how to behave, to now having their own freedoms, and a feeling of helplessness at the same time. Think of growing up with a strict family as a child to becoming an adult and doing what you want.

IT'S GOING TO TAKE A FEW WEEKS up to a few months or so for a grand jury of 9 judges to look at the evidence and to see if the impeachment was just or not. If 6 out of the 9 votes that it was, then the impeachment, the first in Korean history, will be official. If not, it could leave the National Assembly into a National Embarrassment.


 

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