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Reinstate Constitution Day as public holiday

Posted July. 11, 2023 07:57,   

Updated July. 11, 2023 07:57


I recently reiterated the calls from many people for the conferment of decorations upon Juksan Cho Bong-am (1898-1959) and Dongnong Kim Ga-jin (1846-1922) in this paper. And earlier this month, the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs announced its plan to confer decorations on them, which is indeed welcoming news. This recognition will enhance the deep-rooted heritage of Korea, akin to a towering tree.

To solidify our national identity, there is another important step the government should take: properly honoring Constitution Day, which has often been neglected.

Seventy-five years ago, on July 12, 1948, the Constitutional Assembly—the first democratically elected body since the foundation of Gojoseon by Dangun—passed the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This historic document, comprised of a preamble, 10 chapters, and 103 articles, was officially promulgated on July 17. Although it took another month to formally establish the government, the presence of the constitution marked the first time that South Koreans were living in a democratic republic. Today, every aspect of Korea's politics, economy, and society finds its origins in the Constitution. Dr. Widang Chŏng In-bo (1893-1950), a prominent scholar of his time and the first chairman of the National Audit Committee, fittingly described this day as the foundation of Korea's countless years while composing a song to commemorate Constitution Day.

However, Constitution Day is the only one among the five national holidays that is not observed as a public holiday. This change occurred in 2008 when it was excluded from the list. The decision was made during the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration in 2005. The exclusion was motivated by concerns over the reduction of working hours resulting from the implementation of the five-day workweek. However, it was also interpreted as a disregard for the Constitution by then-president Roh.

Fifteen years later, it is safe to say that Constitution Day has become almost forgotten. For those required to go to work or school, the government and parliamentary celebrations of this day feel irrelevant. Even in the past, many young people were unaware of the significance of Constitution Day. However, after fifteen years, one would expect such students to have increased rather than decreased.

The decline in the significance of Constitution Day has created another problem. South Korea has five national holidays, but it is unclear which one commemorates the birth of the Republic of Korea. August 15, Liberation Day, is meant to celebrate both the liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945 and the establishment of the government in 1948. However, for many Koreans, Liberation Day primarily symbolizes liberation itself. In the past, some have suggested celebrating Liberation Day as the national foundation day, but this idea has sparked unnecessary controversy. March 1 is dedicated to commemorating the monumental independence movement, while National Foundation Day of Korea and Hangul Proclamation Day may feel distant or unrelated to the birth of the nation. Thus, Constitution Day remains the only day perceived to be solely associated with the birth of the Republic of Korea.

Concerns regarding declining work hours also provide a weak rationale for removing Constitution Day as a public holiday. As of 2021, South Korean workers have an average annual work time of 1,915 hours, which ranks fifth among the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Despite a rapid decline in work hours in recent years, even if Koreans worked eight hours less with a designated day off, Korea would still maintain its fifth position in terms of work hours.

We need to reinstate Constitution Day as a public holiday. Designating this day as a day off is crucial to recognize its significance. It provides an opportunity to celebrate, rest, and reflect on the meaning behind this day. I eagerly look forward to the day when Koreans can enjoy the holiday and commemorate the birth of the democratic republic through firework festivals held in Yeouido, Seoul, and other locations every year on Constitution Day.