“Political Annals of Hell Joseon” tracks politicians’ waffling words

Posted on : 2016-03-05 08:57 KST Modified on : 2016-03-05 08:57 KST
Ahead of April elections, two students compiling online database of politicians’ shifting positions
Kim Geun-woo and Moon Sang-deok
Kim Geun-woo and Moon Sang-deok

Could there be some way to hold politicians accountable for the things that they say?

This was the question that two students at Sogang University were wrestling with this past January. Kim Geun-woo, 24, a business major, and Moon Sang-deok, 25, who studies sociology, were tired of seeing politicians misrepresenting social reality and changing their tune so often depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Frustrated with seeing major promises and remarks by politicians being forgotten before they could be noticed and lost in the shuffle as the ranking of popular search terms changes every second, Kim and Moon decided to take action, dubbing themselves modern-day “court historians.”

The two students decided to create the Political Annals of Hell Joseon, taking remarks made by major politicians - from the president down to lawmakers in the National Assembly and government ministers - and arranging them chronologically to create a neatly organized timeline of verbal flip-flopping. Their hope is that the annals will become a means of testing politicians’ consistency and holding them accountable for what they say.

“Most people like me who don’t know much about politics judge politicians based on what they say. We wanted to help people choose politicians that speak for them by giving them a timeline of politicians’ remarks so that people can deduce their convictions and attitudes,” Kim said in explanation of why he and Moon had made the Political Annals of Hell Joseon.

Hell Joseon is a satirical term that reflects the difficulties currently faced by young people in South Korea.

The first politician whose comments Kim and Moon chose to collect was President Park Geun-hye.

The two combed through cabinet meeting minutes, senior secretary meeting minutes, video recordings of Blue House TV and newspaper articles posted on news libraries hosted by search engines to compile remarks made by Park from the time she became the acting first lady after the death of her mother in 1975 through the New Year’s press conference she held this past January.

“If you look at the remarks that Park made about the National Security Law when she was leader of the Grand National Party [precursor to today’s Saenuri Party] back when it was the opposition party, you can see that she left open the possibility of negotiating with the other side about the act,” Moon said. “But now that she’s president, she is pushing ahead with the anti-terror bill and refusing to talk about it, let alone hold negotiations about it, even though lawmakers who are opposed to the bill have resorted to a filibuster. The fact that her actions are different according to the circumstances in which she finds herself struck me as contradictory.”

President Park is not the only one with inconsistent positions. During an interview with a local newspaper in San Francisco in 2014, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said that he hoped South Korea would be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, but when he met with leaders of the Presbyterian church at the end of the same year, he had a different story to tell, saying that, as mayor of Seoul, he could not support homosexuality.

“Seeing politicians changing their positions according to their circumstances made me think that conviction has disappeared from Korean politics,” Kim said. But that has only fueled his belief that the annals might be used to pressure politicians not to go back on what they have said.

Kim and Moon are planning to go live with the Political Annals of Hell Joseon website at the end of March, just before the parliamentary elections on Apr. 13, and they plan to keep compiling remarks through the presidential election next year. They want the annals to serve as a warning for politicians and as a source of information for voters.

While compiling the annals would seem to require little more than bringing together widely available information, it is harder work than you might expect. Kim and Moon are planning to create a form for user submissions on the website they are building. They want anyone to be able to participate in keeping a record of problematic remarks made by politicians.

“It would be great if other people like me who know nothing about politics use the website to compile the annals with us,” Kim said.

By Ko Han-sol, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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