Controversy rising over mourning of Mayor Park, General Paik

Jul 13, 2020, 08:13 am

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Citizens offer their condolences over the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on July 12, 2020./ Photographed by Song Eui-joo

AsiaToday reporter Jeong Geum-min

The political community and the public seem to be split over the formalities of mourning two prominent national figures – Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup. The controversy is mainly because both of the leaders receive conflicting evaluations. The Korean society is divided over how to hold a funeral for the Seoul mayor, who took his own life a day after he was accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary, and where to bury the late general, who has record of service in the Japanese Army during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea.

According to the presidential Cheong Wa Dae website on Sunday, a petition expressing opposition to the five-day mayoral funeral for late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has drawn support from more than 500,000 citizens in just two days. At the same time, some online commentators, believed to be Park’s supporters, have been digging up information on the former secretary of the Seoul mayor that filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. 

Experts stress that the Korean society should be cautious so that the issue of mourning the deaths do not become politicized. 

“The political arena is approaching the issue with dichotomous logic, but the reason for their deaths, their allegations, and assessments should be made after the funeral,” said Choi Young-il, a commentator on political affairs, in a phone interview with AsiaToday on Sunday. 

“The Seoul Metropolitan Government has apparently decided to hold a five-day funeral for the mayor because the mayor’s criminality is unclear. The discussion at this stage has no social benefit,” Choi said. “An objective assessment of what he has done well and what he has done wrong should be done at the same time.”

“In the same way, the general Paik has stirred controversy over his service in the Gando Special Force that was tasked with suppressing those opposed to imperial Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula and the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs decided to have his body buried at Daejeon National Cemetery, evaluation of Paik’s merits and demerits should be left to citizens just like they did to former Presidents Lee Seung-man and Park Chung-hee,” Choi said. 
UFP’s election task force head Kim Jong-in and lawmakers pay their respects to the late Paik Sun-yup, a famous Korean War hero and South Korea’s first four-star general, on July 12, 2020./ Source: Yonhap News

“There is a culture of respect between conservatives and liberals. While President Moon Jae-in attends a ceremony to commemorate the Memorial Day, the conservative bloc attends a ceremony to commemorate the May 18 Democratization Movement. But why are they making general Paik’s historical view controversial? In the case of mayor Park, he should be also excluded from the list for public funeral if he made such choice (over sexual harassment allegations) despite his great achievements,” said political critic Lee Jong-hoon, who served as the director of the National Institute of Management. 

The controversy over Mayor Park’s funeral is intensifying in the political circles led by the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), the minor progressive Justice Party, and the minor opposition People’s Party.  

The UFP leadership has put a plan on hold to pay a condolence call to Park’s family. The Justice Party, led by female lawmaker Ryu Ho-jeong, expressed sympathy for the woman who had allegedly suffered sexual harassment and vowed refusal to pay respects to Park. Ahn Cheol-soo, head of the minor opposition People’s Party, revealed on Saturday that he does not agree with the Seoul city’s five-day funeral for Park. 

On the other hand, there have been supporters of Park who expressed condolences over his death, paying their respects to his accomplishments.

Kim Kyoung-soo, governor of South Gyeongsang Province, visited the funeral home for late mayor Park on Saturday, and said, “We need to listen to the victim’s story whether it is true or not. For the same reason, I think Park’s life-long achievements as a civic activist and human rights activist as well as his engagement for innovation of local governments and expansion of decentralization also worth remembering.”

#Park Won-soon #Paik Sun-yup #mourning #controversy 
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