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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 14)

All News 07:10 July 14, 2020

Rift over two deaths
Narrow social differences, promote integration

The deaths of two public figures, leaders in their time and of our time, have opened a gaping divide in Korean society. A schism along fault lines has surfaced over the deaths of former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup, forcing us into soul searching.

Park's official funeral was held by the city government Monday after a five-day mourning period. But it has touched off a controversy over whether Park deserved the municipal funeral because he did not die in the line of duty. His death has also raised concerns about secondary harm to an alleged victim of Park's suspected sexual harassment.

A press conference was held on behalf of the victim, Park's former secretary, detailing how she suffered sexual harassment over "four years" and calling for a "proper investigation." Her lawyer said that they filed a complaint against people causing "secondary harm" to her.

Paik Sun-yup died Saturday, aged 99. Paik, who served a pivotal role during the 1950-53 Korean War, was also an army officer under a puppet state set up by Japan in Manchuria during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea. Views on whether he should be buried at the national cemetery sharply diverged along the political spectrum.

Foremost in this are the political parties that are squabbling with each other. Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Lee Hae-chan is being criticized for his derogatory comments to a reporter who asked about the allegations of sexual harassment by Park. The United Future Party (UFP) leadership did not pay respects at Park's memorial altar while minor Justice Party members were split. Residents of the capital were also at odds. More than 550,000 people have signed a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website opposing the five-day municipal funeral for the former mayor.

Over Paik's burial site, the main conservative opposition UFP called for him to be buried at the Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong, while the minor Justice Party said he should not be buried in any national cemetery. A ruling party lawmaker has proposed a law about excavating the graves of alleged pro-Japanese Koreans buried in national cemeteries.

The situation illustrates the immaturity of a society unable to tolerate societal differences. It remains regrettable that the differences in our society become too easily and too swiftly polarized and politicized.

There should be sufficient social space and time for us to mourn the deceased, while debating both the merits and demerits of their lives. The former mayor's traction on urban revitalization and welfare will be hard to deny. Paik's family has accepted his burial at the Daejeon National Cemetery, over Dongjak-dong in Seoul, because it is also "The Republic of Korea."

With Korea facing a myriad of issues and challenges, the country needs a leadership that can promote integration while acknowledging and addressing divergence.

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