Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Owl Flies Free, For Now

Park Dae-sung, the Korean blogger known as "Minerva", was acquitted of charges of maliciously spreading false information on the Internet, and released from jail on Monday. I hadn't been following the Korean English-language news sites, so it was by chance that I saw a notice of Park's release in today's New York Times. (It was covered in the Los Angeles Times too, I see.) That's a blow to Korean President Lee Myung-bak's efforts to stifle dissent; his prosecutors say that they will appeal the acquittal, still hoping to keep Park behind bars. It's a nice bit of good news; the LA Times quotes Park's lawyer to the effect that he was surprised to find that Korean courts can still stand up to the government. I hope it's a good omen, not just in Korea but elsewhere.

Two other tidbits from South Korea. One: according to the Korea Times, Lee Myung-bak's approval ratings have climbed to 40 percent, up from 21.6 percent last June, at the peak of the anti-Lee protests over US beef imports. However, 51.7 percent of Koreans still disapprove of Lee, down from 54.4 percent in January.

Two, also from the Korea Times: conservative legislator Song Young-chun attacked pop singer Shin Hae-chul for defending North Korea's recent missile launch.
In a radio program Tuesday morning, Song criticized the singer. She said Shin should "be sent to the North and live under the Kim Jong-il regime.'' She said his recent praise of the launch was indiscrete [sic] and thoughtless. Shin immediately hit back at the lawmaker for "working for the Japanese emperor.''
Shin replied on his website.
"What I said was I would like to visit the North. I support North Korea, but I don't back the dictatorial Kim Jong-il regime and I've never praised it. Praising North Korea is a separate issue from supporting the government."

Shin said Song should work for the Japanese Emperor, in an apparent reference to her attendance of an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Japanese Self Defense Force in 2004.

The singer said, "While you were laughing and clapping before the Japanese force, my grandfather, who led the pro-independent movement in Osan, Gyeonggi Province during the Japanese colonial period and his fellows, cried out of shame in their tombs."
I found this exchange interesting because of the forthright way that Shin reacted to Song's Red-baiting; instead of merely covering his own ass, he went after Song's vulnerable spot. For those who don't know, Japan occupied and colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, enacting draconian measures in an effort to wipe out Korean culture. There's still a lot of bad blood toward Japan among older Koreans especially, though much of it was diverted to anti-Communism and hostility to North Korea. After Liberation at the end of World War II, the US found its best supporters among Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese -- but they were anti-Communist, unlike many of those who had resisted the Japanese. This American intervention soon brought about the division of Korea at the 38th parallel and fostered conflicts that ultimately led to the Korean Civil War in 1950.

Here's a 1996 music video by Shin Hae-chul; the image of Park Dae-sung's reunion with his family, above, is from the Hankyoreh. (I've heard before about a tradition of bringing tofu to prisoners on their release; it's depicted in Park Chan-wook's film Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, for example. That looks like tofu in Park's hand in the photo, and you can see his mother getting ready to hand it to him in the LA Times picture.)