Although it has been 60 years since the end of the Korean War and more than two decades since the Berlin Wall fell, many elements of Korean politics and society still reflect the Cold War period.
Korea’s Berlin Wall, the DMZ, is still there, and left wing politicians (and others) still get lampooned (and worse) as commies and, more recently, as jongpuk – pro-North Koreans. It isn’t the 1970s anymore, yet the way many left wingers are branded is eerily reminiscent of both McCarthyism (a term that is directly translated and well understood in South Korea) and a Cold War political environment forgotten almost everywhere else.
The political and physical attacks levelled at civic activist-cum-Seoul City mayor Park Won-soon, who in 2011 was ushered to victory over affluent Park Geun-hye-backed assemblywoman Na Kyung-won, are indicative of the nature of both contemporary South Korean domestic politics and the difficulty of confronting politically sensitive issues in the country. This article, which ran last month in the left-leaning Hankyoreh, is a good example. It reported on accusations against Park, via Twitter, by a conservative figure who called him both a commie and a jongpuk.
Park’s role in founding the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a civil society organisation that, along with a number of laudable social programs, famously questioned the results of an international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean frigate the Cheonan, his support for the abolition of the controversial National Security Law, and his vocal opposition to the policies of the outgoing administration of President Lee Myung-bak have made him a prime target for conservatives, many of whom have precious little patience for the politics of the left.