Thursday, February 23, 2012

Progressive When It Suits Them

A commentary piece I rendered this morning from a rather briefer and less forceful Korean-language news piece by Daily NK reporter Mok Yong Jae;
Despite a growing chorus of criticism from both South Korea and the wider international community, the newly formed United Progressive Party (UPP) has been depressingly silent on the issue of North Korean defectors being forcibly repatriated by the Chinese security forces. Alas, this is not a surprise, marking as it does a disappointing continuation of the policy of one of the party’s founding partners, the former Democratic Labor Party, which has also failed to comment on the absurd and anti-democratic 3rd generation hereditary succession. 
The UPP leadership, made up of former president of the Democratic Labor Party Lee Jung Hee, Shim Sang Jung of the former New Progressive Party, and the Roh Moo Hyun-era former Minister of Health and Welfare Yoo Shi Min, has made absolutely no public reference to forced repatriations to date. Indeed, party spokesperson Woo Wi Yeong remarked to Daily NK on February 22nd, “The issue of forced repatriations has never been discussed within the party.” 
The chances are that the UPP will continue to say nothing, citing in justification, if justify it they do, the imperative not to incite North Korea. Yet this stance cannot possibly be reconciled with the party’s claim that it works in support of the rights of minorities. 
It also cannot be reconciled with the attitude of some of the party’s prospective voters. For while the UPP sidesteps, domestic and international opposition is growing to the Chinese government policy, with not only conservative politicians and voters but also the Democratic United Party and social progressive writers, actors and comics literally lining up to support the rights of defectors not to face life in a North Korean prison camp or possibly death. 
One, Gong Ji Young, a progressive veteran of the 1980s and 90s student movement, author of the 2009 book which became the 2011 film ‘The Crucible’ and someone with more than 38,000 followers on Twitter, tweeted on February 21st, “I oppose the forced repatriation of defectors. Everybody has the right to live where they want to live. We cannot allow these people to be repatriated when we know what is going to happen to them after they return.” 
Elsewhere, comedienne and broadcaster Kim Mi Hwa reprimanded the government’s inactivity via Twitter on Monday, writing, “If the government only had the will, could they not prevent forced repatriations and bring the defectors here?” Popular novelist Lee Oisoo also encouraged his 120,000-plus Twitter followers to sign a petition against forced repatriation which has gone viral in the social networking world, attracting more than 30,000 signatures as of yesterday afternoon. 
The conservative ruling Saenuri Party and minority Liberty Forward Party have been quick to express their concern for defectors arrested in China, too, calling for humanitarian concerns to be addressed, and even the opposition Democratic United Party released a commentary on the 21st “expressing regret that North Korean civilians cannot get human rights protection in a third country and are even suffering forced repatriation.” 
It is clear from all this that support for the rights of defectors is a civilized constant, regardless of personal political leanings. Not, however, at the offices of the United Progressive Party.
I would like to say at this point that in spite of the above, I actually quite like Rhyu Si Min. His recent career has been, as knowledgeable commentator Andy Jackson put it, "less than stellar", and he is now in grave danger of falling beneath the softly spoken Moon Jae In juggernaut in the race to become the progressive candidate for president this year, but '유시민의 따뜻한 라디오 ' was a genuinely entertaining podcast and he seems to be a decent man.

However, there appears to be little doubt that Democratic Labor Party leader Lee Jung Hee is a pro-North Korea extremist, and that her presence should by rights not help Rhyu or anyone else associated with this ill-advised union. Similarly unhelpful, it should be hoped, is the fact that this party, one which nominally supports the rights of minority groups in South Korea, cannot even summon the unity of purpose to criticize the forced repatriation of overwhelmingly innocent people who now face imprisonment and/or death simply because they are traitorous enough to desire a better life.

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