It is the season of politics. No doubt, much has been said surrounding the 2016 US presidential elections, further raising questions about leadership. Let’s take a needed detour from the US election and examine the case of the president of South Korea and the firestorm brewing around her leadership.
When I first brought this topic up in my AP Lang class, noting the news claims of a shamanistic woman acting as a secret governmental influencer for Korea, a classmate asked:“Wait… North Korea?” No, it is South Korea but, yes, it is true about the presence of the woman apparently taking a behind-the-scenes part in government affairs.
The story goes like this: Imagine that the leader of your country has been a puppet all along- that we actually had another “president” who has been controlling everything, and that the government had been giving public funds to this unelected “president.” Imagine that corporations had been using company funds to buy horses for the entertainment of the secret president’s daughter, and that your president was missing for seven hours while the Sewol ferry was sinking with students in it. This is Korea now. The bigger problem, however, is that we don’t know the extent to which this person has affected domestic and foreign affairs.
President Park Geun-Hye had been acquainted with Choi Soon Sil, the accused conspirator, for a long time. Ever since her election, President Park had been executing state affairs under the orders and control of Choi Soon Sil. Together, they are the Bonnie and Clyde of today’s world as they take on their journey of illegal acts and conspiracy — until they got caught.
Through a whistleblower, the Korean people have become aware of this issue and have come together to fight for the truth and to push President Park out of her position. On October 29, November 5, November 12 and November 19, Koreans came out to the streets, armed with a single brightly lit candle in their hands and marching to the Blue House (White House of Korea). The number of people at this protest steadily increased from 200,000 to 600,000 to 1,000,000 to 2,000,000. The protest, however, represented the most peaceful and festive in Korean history, with people dressed up as Choi Soon Sil to mock her and street performers energizing the community throughout the evening of the “protest.”
I sit in my room watching this candle protest far away in Singapore through television, and I promise to myself to remember this moment and stay on top of the news. When people in the US hadn’t voted but were unhappy with the election results, these generally regretted their choice to abstain from the vote. We can’t complain about our country if we don’t actively participate in the issue. If the leaders of the country are slaughtering our economy and politics, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore them. The decision to be aware and awake to the news and protests in my home country is valuable at this point, especially as an international student watching from afar.
Most of the responses from the Korean students in our school have been similar, showing uncertainty regarding this Korean issue. Senior Angela Lee said that she feels uniformed because “I haven’t been to Korea for so long” and Jay You suggested relative indifference: “Why does it matter?” Some students, however, revealed more decided thoughts on the issue based on their own investigations: Senior Seoyeon Kim, admitting that she predominantly knows about this issue from what she’s heard from her parents, and she feels as if “the problem is never going to be solved… The roots of Korean government are so corrupt from the beginning” and that any true resolution “seems hopeless.” Senior Jenny Kim also showed shock to what has been happening: “It’s so weird how we always focus on Donald Trump but weren’t looking at our own problems. It’s shocking how a really developed country can be controlled by a shaman.”
Regarding what our responsibilities and roles as Korean international students are, senior Justin Choi said “even though we’re international students, we should be aware because we’re Koreans. We can’t turn a blind eye to it.” Senior Jong Hyun Cha also agreed that “it’s important to be informed about this crisis in Korea” given that it’s “our home country… and our families live there.”
This matters. Even as international students, a part of our identity includes being Korean. Instead of spending one more minute on Facebook reading about celebrities and star life, we might better spend the time reading about what’s happening in our country. Being young is not an excuse to be oblivious to this issue, because they are sabotaging our education, society, fairness, and equity. Every Saturday the old and the young, men and women, students and workers are all getting together for the protest in the midst of this cold winter. The least we can do is be alert and awake to this.
President Park may not be able to see the many people who had been trusting her. She may not see each of the thousands of people even in other countries like Singapore who are anticipating her deeds as a leader, but we see her. She is one person who has pledged to genuinely work with the people. As of now, we all wait with the candle in our hands for the truth to be revealed and the paradigm of leadership to find its place back again.
Even with Park Geun-hye’s impeachment confirmed as of December 9, 2016, people are still out there with the candles. It is to express that we want to prevent something like this ever happening again. It is to show the world that we have opened our eyes to politics and hit the streets to demand impeachment. It is to celebrate our first step in building a more fair society, and it is to show that we citizens want a legitimate leader- one who can bear the weight of the crown.