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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Sept.2)

All News 07:00 September 02, 2016

Founding day row
Assembly should not waste energy on history war

The political world is sharply divided on an old historical issue after President Park Geun-hye's Liberation Day speech that underlined her view that the nation was founded on Aug. 15, 1948, three years after independence from Japanese colonial rule. It was inappropriate for the President to reignite a historical row on a special occasion like Liberation Day, when a leader should speak in a manner that brings the nation together rather than divide it.

Since the speech, the ruling Saenuri Party has been promoting the view held by Park and conservative politicians and scholars that the nation was founded in 1948 with Syngman Rhee as the president.

Some ruling party lawmakers are even preparing a bill to legalize this view. The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK) is vowing to block this move. The MPK believes that Park's view is unconstitutional because it denies the legitimacy of the provisional government established in 1919. New MPK Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae criticized the President during her first Supreme Council meeting, Aug. 29, saying Park's view contradicts the nation's history and the Constitution.

The huge discrepancy between the rival parties signals another round of the history war at the National Assembly, following one last year on Park's push for state-authored history textbooks to be used in secondary schools.

The founding day row should not cause Assembly deadlock during the ongoing regular session that needs to process a host of bills related to reviving the economy and improving the people's livelihood. A historical issue like the founding day row is by no means urgent from the perspective of average Koreans whose primary concerns are jobs and taxes. Engaging in a historical debate during these hard times will give the public the impression that the Assembly is being idle once again.

History cannot be perceived from one single angle. That is why the Saenuri Party's move to seek an enactment on the day of the nation's founding is wrong and must be stopped. The ruling party pursued the enactment of a similar bill in the 18th and 19th Assemblies when it held a parliamentary majority ― they were not realized. Such a bill is a waste of the Assembly's time and energy.

The truly worrisome aspect about the founding day row is that it is another case of Park and her party's attempt to impose a single view of history as they did by choosing to adopt uniform history education in public schools. The state monopoly of history textbooks that is reminiscent of a similar policy during the 1970s authoritarian rule has seen much criticism from the foreign press and roused concerns about Korea's backtracking in its democracy.

It is futile for parties to engage in a never-ending controversy about the role and legacy of the provisional government which functioned during the Japanese colonial rule in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Chongqing. This is a kind of debate that belongs to historians.

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