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Stepping on national integrity?

Posted May. 31, 2011 03:12,   


Controversy has flared up over “defamation of the national flag” by former Prime Minister Han Myung-sook. A photo of her standing on the South Korean national flag at a memorial altar for the second anniversary of the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun has gone viral on the Internet.

Han laid a chrysanthemum before Roh’s memorial altar installed at the center of a giant national flag (Taegeukgi) placed before Daehan Gate at Seoul`s Deoksu Palace after crossing the large flag blanketed in front of the memorial altar. Some say she must be punished for “defaming the national flag or symbol” by citing Article 105 of the Criminal Act, while others blame the organizers for the gaffe.

Above all, the organizers’ intent should be reviewed to check why they arranged the memorial site in such a way rendering it impossible to lay flowers without stepping on the national flag. This arrangement is not seen as merely a performance to promote Roh’s patriotism. Was the move a reflection of intent to deny the Republic of Korea, which is symbolized by Taegeukgi? Defaming the national flag at his memorial altar can be seen in the context of a “populist ceremony,” which is often conducted by certain left-leaning activists. Those people sing the activists’ song “March in Honor of Fighters” and make a “silent prayer for democracy fighters” in lieu of singing of the national anthem, pledge allegiance, and make a silent prayer for patriots and fallen national heroes. The government once sent the Korea Government Employees Union to halt populist ceremonies but in vain.

Making its debut in the late 19th century, Taegeukgi was the symbol of the Korean spirit of independence under Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, when Koreans lost their sovereignty, and saw its fate on shaky ground. On March 1, 1919, people from all walks of life took to the streets with the flag in their hands urging Korean independence. When Japan surrendered in World War II and Korea regained its independence, people volunteered to pick up the flags and rushed onto the streets en masse. The only place on the peninsula that denies Taegeukgi is North Korea, which uses its own national flag with red star patterns.

The National Flag Act of the Republic of Korea obliges the public to preserve the dignity of the national flag and prevent damage to its dignity in Articles 1, 5 and 10. The purpose of these articles is to assure the nation`s existence, maintenance of its identity, and elevation of the country`s stature. At the state funeral of former President Kim Dae-jung in 2009, organizers buried Taegeukgi covering his coffin at the request of his bereaved family, only to dig open the tomb again to retrieve the flag later on. This was due to the National Flag Act, which bans burial of the national flag along with a coffin.

The organizers themselves cannot be solely blamed for a former prime minister stepping on the national flag barefooted. Did Han, a former prime minister, Cabinet minister and legislator, have a basic understanding and recognition about the country and the national flag?