By Song Ho-jin, staff reporter
The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA) held “security education sessions” for conservative opinion leaders before last year’s presidential election, in which former President Park Chung-hee’s presidency was painted in positive terms and progressives and democracy advocates were portrayed as “leftists” and North Korea sympathizers.
Now observers are contending that officials at the ministry, which is headed by minister Park Sung-choon, violated their obligation to remain politically neutral by interfering in an election with the aim of supporting then Saenuri Party (NFP) candidate Park Geun-hye. The sessions, which were held between May and November 2012, were purportedly aimed at “spreading the word.”
On Oct. 13, the Hankyoreh was given access by Democratic Party lawmaker Kang Gi-jung to parliamentary audit data submitted by the MPVA. The materials referred to seven total sessions of “opinion leader courses” held in Seoul, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon, and Busan between May and November 2012.
While the ministry insists that it was just carrying out security training, an examination of the material used in the courses reveals an extreme conservative bent.
The curriculum used in the course in Daejeon and the first training course in Seoul states that “the Korean progressives will not push for reunification of the country if they come to power,” quoting a report by the Institute for National Security Studies, which is affiliated with the US National Defense University.
During a lecture in Daegu, the speaker said, “the left wing, which is North Korea’s vanguard, is making inroads in the National Assembly.” This lecture portrayed South Korea’s progressives as North Korea’s vanguard and criticized their preference for redistribution over growth and their push for standardized education.
The training program also whitewashed the faults of former president Park Chung-hee, saying that “his achievements will be forever recorded in the annals of history,” and lauded the military government that came to power through a coup d’etat.
“Economic development during the authoritarian military governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan was the structural condition necessary for sustainable democracy,” the program said.
The program in Busan included a video titled “The Truth of the Pro-North Korea Faction.” The video claimed that the democratization movement against the dictatorship during the Park Chung-hee Yushin regime had been carried out on the orders of North Korea.
On Apr. 12, 2012, the ministry notified five of its regional offices to carry out the training program.
According to the official documents sent by the ministry, the program was designed to establish the proper attitudes toward history and the state by designating “opinion leaders” who could propagate their love of their country in their regions and areas of work.
In line with these instructions, the VHS Education and Research Institute, which is part of the ministry, took charge of the training program. It provided courses to a total of 667 people in Daegu (May), Gwangju and Daejeon (June), Busan (July), and Seoul (June, October, and November).
Participants in the program included leaders of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, Korean Freedom League, Saemaeul Women’s Association, and Lions Club International, along with principals and vice principals at elementary, middle, and high schools in the region.
Legal experts argued that the ministry‘s actions could be construed as a violation of Article 65 of the State Public Officials Act, which forbids public officials from participating in political activities.
“Criticizing the policies of the opposition party and suggesting that they sympathize with North Korea amounts to telling people not to vote for the opposition party,” said Park Ju-min, a lawyer. “This could be seen as a violation of Article 65, Clause 1, of the State Public Officials Act, which forbids urging people to vote or not to vote.”
“This is another act of political interference, just like the National Intelligence Service,” said Rep. Kang Gi-jeong. “Minister Park Sung-choon should resign, and the prosecutors should carry out an investigation into the ministry’s violation of the principle of political neutrality.”
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