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[Opinion] Emergency Declarations

Posted April. 11, 2006 02:59,   


On April 25, 1960, the peak of Korean student demonstrations against the rigged election of March 15 that same year, 258 professors from across the country gathered and released a statement containing 14 clauses criticizing the nation’s president at the faculty building of Seoul National University. The announcement was the professors’ “declaration of conscience” supporting demonstrating students. They said their demonstration was a protest against injustice and corruption.

Their announcement received support from both students and citizens, and eventually led then-President Lee Seung-man to hold a special press conference to say, “I will resign from the presidency if the public wants,” the very next day.

Universities and religious groups played an important role in the process of Korea’s democratization. They denounced the military regime by making public statements criticizing the political situation and sought fundamental alternatives to tyranny. They gave a glimmer of hope to a public yearning for democracy, and attracted the attention of the press abroad.

In other words, the announcements of professors and religious leaders played a significant part in making the public’s voice heard.

Among the statements, the March 1 Declaration to Save the Nation in 1976 and the protests in June 1987 and declarations by professors are regarded as turning points in Korean history.

In the past, announcements or statements about the country’s difficult situation were a way of protesting against the authorities. They were powerful because they fully reflected the public’s voice, not an individual’s or a certain group’s.

Some people, however, make hypocritical declarations these days. Theirs are “declarations out of conscience,” rather than from conscience. They seem to take advantage of the power of declarations as a historical way of expressing the public voice. These include: the Statement to Prevent a Korea-U.S. FTA, the Declaration to Protect the Screen Quota System, and the Statement for Life and Peace. All of them gloss over their opinions for their own interests with words like declaration or statement.

The Supreme Court recently ruled the declaration made by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU). The Court said that the KTU publicly supported the Democratic Labor Party in its declaration back in 2004, ahead of the 17th general election, and that is against the election law on public officials. The KTU’s declaration can be even considered as a fraud, as the group used the word ‘declaration’ for campaigning. No one knows how many hypocritical emergency declarations about the current situation will flow in this time, ahead of local elections.

Song Dae-keun, Editorial Writer, dksong@donga.com