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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on May 19)

All News 07:01 May 19, 2023

Shame on our politicians 43 years after the uprising

On Thursday, many politicians gathered in Gwangju to commemorate the 43rd year of the massive uprising for democracy. President Yoon Suk Yeol and his aides, People Power Party (PPP) leader Kim gi-hyeon, and more than 90 lawmakers from the governing party attended the ceremony held at the cemetery. From the majority Democratic Party (DP), over 100 lawmakers joined the ceremony. In a speech, President Yoon defined the democracy movement as the epitome of our Constitutional spirit, an asset we must inherit and an emblem uniting the people. He highlighted the need to fight against all evil forces and uphold the proud spirit of the democracy movement.

PPP Chair Kim underscored our responsibility to succeed the spirit of May 18 for the country's future. DP leader Lee Jae-myung wrote on Facebook that the May 18 spirit has grown into one for forgiveness and reconciliation after putting the scars of national violence behind. Politicians, left or right, all extolled the spirit of May for its mission to develop democracy and freedom, as well as integration and reconciliation. They all joined the chorus of unification, not division, of our society.

But the details were different. After the DP leader proposed to put to a vote a Constitutional amendment aimed at including the spirit of May in the preface in a referendum alongside the parliamentary elections next April, the presidential office criticized Lee for trying to divert public attention from corruptions of DP lawmakers. In reaction, the DP denounced Yoon and his presidential office for shaming the May 18 spirit.

The DP leader may have attempted to turn the tide after the party was embroiled in controversies over the dubious cash handouts before the national convention and the suspicious cryptocurrency investment by Rep. Kim Nam-kuk, who left the DP earlier this week. But the presidential office's immediate accusation also was coarse and aggressive, as the president himself promised to insert the May 18 spirit into the Constitution during the campaign if elected.

But the DP is not free from the criticism that it exploited a senior PPP lawmaker's remarks depreciative of the May spirit for its own political gains. The DP leader even condemned the conservative government for failing to overcome its habitual negation of the May 18 spirit as if it is the descendent of dictatorship.

It all points to a critical lack of mutual respect even four decades after the massacre. Demonization of counterparts is deeply rooted in our political culture. Addressing conflicts through dialogue has disappeared long ago. Is Korea really a united country now?

The time has come for our politicians to answer the question.

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