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경향신문

Still Living with Park Chung-hee 50 Years After May 16 Coup

입력 2011. 05. 16. 15:11 수정 2011. 05. 16. 15:11

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50 years ago today, at 3pm on May 16, 1961, a group of armed mutineers led by Major General Park Chung-hee crossed the Hangang River. This was one year and one month after the Second Republic was founded following the collapse of the Rhee Syngman dictatorship due to the April 19 Revolution.Soldiers, who should protect the lives and security of the citizens and protect the government, pointed their guns at the government and took state power. The power seized by force-of-arms by Park, who led this military revolt, continued for 18 years, until he was shot dead by one of his underlings at a drinking party in Gungjeong-dong where two women were serving liquor.In fact, when we consider Gen. Chun Doo-hwan's coup of Dec 12, 1979 and Gen. Roh Tae-woo's extension of the regime, we can say the period of military rule continued for 32 years. In this way, we were met with a dark age of military dictatorship at the most important period in Korea's modern history. This is why the May 16 coup will not end with reminiscences just because it took place 50 years ago.After the coup, the Park administration expanded coercive bodies and took away civil rights, controlled labor and engaged in repression contrary to human rights. As a result, Park created a nation with the world's lowest wages, longest work hours and biggest industrial disasters. In short, he created windfall profits by squeezing laborers through violence, and with these he fattened up the powerful and the jaebeol.We are not yet free from this legacy. The jaebeol still own Korean society, and the rights of laborers are being violated as always while there is no improvement in the phenomenon of the rich growing richer and the poor poorer.Anti-communism and the politics of conservative dominance continue. In Korea's industrialization, brought about in this way with the blood, sweat and tears of laborers and the people, lingers the smell of blood.Yet the strange logic that the May 16 coup brought Koreans prosperity and happiness is spreading like an epidemic. The movement to revere as idols of this era the Rhee Syngman administration, which ruined Korea's fresh start, and the Park Chung-hee dictatorship, which constituted massive violence itself, is growing.In this regard, it could be said we are still living in the "post-Park Chung-hee" era, unable to free ourselves of Park's legacy. That the CEO who grew a construction company during the Park era, when collusion between the government and business was commonplace, became president and is hanging the fate of his administration on the Four Rivers civil engineering project is clear evidence of the "post-Park Chung-hee era."Another reality is that the daughter of the man who played the key role in the coup is being discussed as a strong contender to become the next president not through reflection on her father's era but by assuming the title of her father's successor. In this way, we face a historic betrayal.We cannot blame only the forces of vested interests for the fact that Korea today remains in the post-Park Chung-hee era, however. This is because the forces opposing vested interests, too, are no different in that they cannot move past Park.We cannot escape the legacy of Park Chung-hee while reform and progressive forces fail to move beyond criticizing Park to present alternative models. In order to wake those with an anachronistic nostalgia for the Park era and advance us towards a mature and healthy society, they must present a vision through alternatives that can be realized.A welfare state that respects the value of labor may become a good alternative. We hope that Park will no longer be called from the grave in the future. (Editorial, The Kyunghyang Daily News. May 16, 2011)

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