Opposition party lawmaker Thae Yong-ho was harshly criticized by ruling party members for saying in unification minister nominee Lee In-young's confirmation hearing on Thursday that four-term lawmaker Lee still seems to be a firm believer in North Korea's Juche Ideology and questioning about his ideological conversion. Ruling party lawmaker Park Kwang-on reacted in resentment calling Thae's remarks on a public declaration of ideological conversion the reckless insanity that used to prevail during the past's kangaroo court. Seol Hoon, a member of the ruling Democratic Party Supreme Council, added to criticism by demanding the North Korea-born lawmaker's apology for his "unconstitutional” remarks to South Korean citizens.
Ruling party lawmaker Moon Jeong-bok, former executive official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, shared a raw critical view of Thae’s comment on her social media account, writing, “It (Thae’s remarks) is never something we may be able to expect from someone who enjoyed special treatment and fled the North. It was a mere pitiful cry by a betrayer,” which she later deleted. It is the most senseless and irrational comment that a lawmaker might make to disparage lawmaker Thae, who risked his life fleeing the North’s dictatorship and coming in the arms of the South, as a betrayer.
There should be no mercy for ruling party members who ostracize and derogate North Korean defectors while sarcastically saying that Thae has a long way to go to learn what democracy is like. It is an obvious insult to the high level of democracy that embraces differences and diversity to help more than 30,000 North Korean defectors settle in and one of them turn into a representative of South Korean citizens.
Doubts in the mind of Thae, who experienced the North’s totalitarian regime against humanity at first hand, must have started with the fact that nominee Lee was arrested for engaging in pro-Pyongyang activities as an inaugural leader of the National Council of Student Representatives, a group mainly led by the National Liberation Front. In this context, it may be understandable that lawmaker Thae questioned Lee’s qualifications as unification minister who has to deal with the North Korean regime. Nevertheless, Thae’s rather aggressive remarks using “ideological conversion” were not appropriate. Adequate and sharp questions may have a role to play to see how the nominee viewed the North Korean system and situations on the Korean Peninsula in the past and what has changed from then. By contrast, the ideological dichotomy that characterized totalitarianism of the past time only intensifies ideological stereotypes and stigmas, which, thus, should be rooted out in the political arena. A system to force ideological conversion was abolished in 1998 under then-President Kim Dae-jung, despite some long-time controversy, on the grounds that ideological conversion was misused as a vicious tool to suppress democratization protests under dictatorship and violated the ideological freedom enshrined in the Constitutions.
If there is common agreement on constitutional values and spirits under free democracy among Thae, the first North Korean defector who was elected a South Korean lawmaker, and nominee Lee, likely in charge of North Korea policy, and ruling party members, any of them should never make a political issue out of the current controversy just to push the other into trouble. It is time to admit and narrow differences within the country, rather than driving it into internal conflict and confusion, which the North is dying to see happen.