[Editorial] President should respond sternly to state interference, not priest’s comments

Posted on : 2013-11-26 16:09 KST Modified on : 2013-11-26 16:09 KST

President Park Geun-hye has made it clear that she plans to respond sternly to comments made during a recent special mass calling for her resignation held by the Jeonju diocese of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice (CPAJ). Speaking about “a lot of activities that are stirring up confusion and divisions” during a Nov. 25 meeting of senior Blue House secretaries, Park said that she and the rest of the administration “do not intend to tolerate behavior that hurts the public’s trust and divides people.” Her remarks seems to have been directed at comments by veteran priest Park Chang-shin, who gave a sermon on Nov. 22 at the mass urging Park to resign.

The President’s remarks about “not tolerating” participants in the mass come across as quite belligerent. Indeed, it sounds like she was telling her cabinet to find anything in the law they could to punish the participants. At one point, she asked the secretaries for their “firm commitment not to bow to or in any way tolerate any mistakes for the sake of the public.” This seems to suggest that the authorities may be at work this very moment thinking of ways to punish the mass’s participants. It’s disturbingly reminiscent of the president’s father, Park Chung-hee, ordering “detentions and investigations” during his administration in the 1960s and 1970s. The idea of a president making what comes across as threats to the public over behavior she doesn’t like is an unfortunate legacy from the past. No matter how unpleasant Father Park’s remarks may have been to the president, it is not her place to take action on them.

President Park’s remarks are part of a typical pattern of blaming others. To hear them, you would think she had nothing at all to do with the kinds of divisions and conflicts she’s talking about. In truth, she bears much of the blame for the tumultuous state of the country and politics right now. The reason the divisions have escalated so much is because she did not take action early on when revelations of state interference in last December’s presidential election began to surface. The person she needs to be looking at right now is herself.

It‘s also unsettling to see figures who have responsibility in the administration and the Saenuri Party (NFP) scurrying to take advantage of her remarks. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Father Park should be “held accountable” for his remarks, which he called “destructive to the country and supportive of the enemy.” Apparently, the idea is that the priest should be punished as “pro-North Korean.”

Saenuri Party leader Hwang Woo-yea chimed in by saying that popular calls to throw out the election results “really picked up after North Korea recently issued orders for an anti-government campaign in the South.” This is a gross slander against Father Park, someone who dedicated his life to religious practice, and the CPAJ, a group that has endured years of persecution to fight for democracy in this country.

Democracy is a process that matures as issues are discussed and debated in the public sphere. It is utterly undemocratic to clamp down on someone’s speech, or tar it with the taint of ideology, simply because you do not like the message. Whether Father Park was right or wrong to say what he did is a matter for the public to decide through its own heated debate. But if the idea is to beat him down while ignoring the substance of his remarks, that is not democracy.


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