2013 Now in Korea: Appeal to the People

Südkorea, 2013
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Appeal to the People:
Please stop the destruction of democracy and the resurrection of the Yushin dictatorship

Speech by the Non-Negotiation Group representative at the 320th regular session of the National Assembly (November 19, 2013)

Oh Byung-yoon
Floor leader of the Unified Progressive Party


My beloved and honorable citizens,
Lee Byung-seok, the Vice Speaker of the National Assembly, and fellow National Assembly members,
My name is Oh Byung-yoon, and I am the floor leader of the Unified Progressive Party.

There is a possibility that I will no longer be able to stand here as I am today, because members of the State Ministry, including Prime Minster Chung Hong-won who is present here, have asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve the Unified Progressive Party. They have accused the Party of being unconstitutional and have asked for its dissolution on those grounds. Those involved even went so far as to apply for a preliminary injunction suspending all parliamentary activities of the UPP’s six National Assembly members before a decision is reached, which they asked to be rendered by November 15.

The Unified Progressive Party has come a long way while endeavoring to represent the most underprivileged and alienated members of our society, including workers and farmers.
"Free school lunches, free healthcare, and free education."
These are what we called for on behalf of the people when the Democratic Labor Party, the predecessor of the Unified Progressive Party, was founded in 2000.

At that time, people said, "These may be legitimate demands, but are they feasible?" or "This sounds like something a commie would demand."
Would these demands meet with the same kind of response today? Wouldn’t you agree that they are the only way forward in this highly polarized society?

President Park Geun-hye has decided that she cannot coexist with this political party in the Republic of Korea. Ms. Park petitioned for a Constitutional Court hearing to disband the Unified Progressive Party, claiming that the UPP’s presence undermines the basic democratic order.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
Never before in the history of the constitutional government of Korea has the government ever asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve a political party. The Rhee Syng-man regime forcefully disbanded the Progressive Party of Cho Bong-ahm by an executive order of the Ministry of Public Information. Afterwards, a provision was inserted into the Constitution of the Second Republic prohibiting the Executive from arbitrarily dissolving a political party. While Germany introduced such a provision to prevent extreme rightist Nazis from rising again, Korea introduced such a measure specifically to protect political parties from executive whims.

In spite of this provision, President Park approved the petition while in London during her tour to Europe, which showedher endorsement of criminalizing groups with different points of view. I see no logic or even basic understanding of democracy in such an action.

I reviewed the 600-page petition that the Ministry of Justice submitted to the Constitutional Court on November 5.

The document states that the clause, "a society owned by the workers," which is the platform of the Unified Progressive Party, violates the sovereignty of the people. "The UPP argues for a 'world owned by the workers'." Indeed, it does. This is the dream and hope of the Unified Progressive Party. The Unified Progressive Party is a political party founded by the underprivileged, such as workers, farmers, fishermen, and self-employed small business owners.

If this phrase were really a problem, I wonder what would happen to President Park for having vowed in her presidential campaign last November to "make the nation where workers are happy," and to the Democratic Party which held a debate this past June entitled, "How to be reborn as a political party of workers."

The Unified Progressive Party strongly rejects those political parties that represent the interests of the privileged few while claiming to serve all the people.

We don't work for those who demand a reduction in the Comprehensive Real Estate Holding Tax while holding billions of won worth of real estate, as Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee and Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo have done.

Dismantling such unfair advantages and building a world where everyone can get an honest wage for honest work is the dream of the Unified Progressive Party. "A society owned by the workers" is the key element in constructing "sovereignty of the people," which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The petition also alleges that the platform of 'progressive democracy' is tantamount to following the lines of North Korea. In other words, the allegation that the UPP is following the lines of North Korea denotes that the platform is the same as the lines of North Korea. What are the lines of North Korea? The national security agency may know for sure. But, how could workers and farmers working to a sweat, who comprise the UPP, ever know the position of North Korea?"

The Ministry of Justice contends that the UPP follows Pyeongyang because the phrase 'progressive democracy' is used in the North.

Even U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt used the phrase 'progressive democracy' during the era of the New Deal. Is anyone seriously going to contend that the U.S. and President Roosevelt ever followed North Korea? There are, in fact, a number of countries today where a progressive democratic party advocates 'progressive democracy,' including France. Do these countries also follow North Korea, then?

Adhering to the old logic of the Cold War era, how far back does the conservative Park Geun-hye government wants our society to go?

Korea has changed, but the mindset of presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon, a former prosecutor, and Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn must have remained in the Yushin era.

Authoritarian regimes and conservative forces without legitimacy have always oppressed dissidents by branding them as communists and pro-North Korean activists in order to disguise their anti-democratic characters.

The Unified Progressive Party shall tell you this.  The time when such deceiving tricks could work has passed. The Park Geun-hye government must realize where the Republic of Korea is today.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
They allege that there is a "Revolutionary Organization (RO)" behind the Unified Progressive Party and that it plotted an insurrection. We have never even heard of or seen the "RO." The government has failed to provide its real name, date of establishment, organizational structure, or anything else. The organization has not even been indicted officially. This whole thing is a fabrication by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Prosecution.

The NIS and the Prosecution acknowledged the mistakes they made in transcribing Assemblyman Lee Seok-ki's lecture, delivered on May 12. They even made 272 modifications and submitted the transcript to the court again. They changed the phrase 'Jeoldusan Martyr's Shrine' in Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, to a 'shrine for military showdown'; the phrase 'promoting publicity' to 'holy war'; and the phrase 'appeal objections to war' to 'preparation for war.'

The NIS claimed that these were just clerical mistakes. But several people reportedly listened to and transcribed of lecture several times. Can all of those people have made the same mistakes? Is that really plausible? I hardly think so!

This is a malicious distortion and fabrication. The government must, therefore, release Assemblyman Lee Seok-ki immediately.

This mysterious "RO" that does not exist and Lawmaker Lee and other members have not been indicted on charges of being members of the “RO”, and a manipulated transcript cannot become the basis for the dissolution of the Unified Progressive Party. It is no surprise that the Constitutional Court ordered the government to present supplementary details even though it submitted 8,000 pages of evidentiary material.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
Elimination of a political structure characterized by privilege and corruption, progressive democracy, a self-sufficient economy that provides for the people, a welfare community of solidarity and participation, a society in which economic equality is achieved, work is respected, and people's right to live is ensured, a world in which genuine gender equality is realized, a sustainable social system in which justice and equality are achieved, a national unification system in which independence and peace are guaranteed on the Korean peninsula—

What do you think of these ideals?
Aren't these the things that our people and our nation dream of?
Shouldn’t we build that kind of country?

These ideals comprise the platform of the Unified Progressive Party, defined at the central committee of the Unified Progressive Party on May 12, 2012.

Which of these ideals is contrary to the Constitution? If this platform is unconstitutional and undermines the basic democratic order, then what kind of world is it that President Park is dreaming of?

A world dominated by only a few people with vested interests, a nation in which large conglomerates, or chaebols, exploit small and medium-sized companies and the working class, a society governed by the law of the jungle and discrimination, a national economy subject to speculative funds, the Korean peninsula always under the threat of war—Is this really the world President Park dreams of?

My beloved and honorable citizens,
Late former President Kim Dae-jung warned during his presidential campaign in 1971 that a generalissimo system would emerge if we failed to prevent Park Chung-hee from staying in office. After this warning, the Yushin dictatorship, the dark age of Korea's modern history, was implemented.

In 2013, the Korean people feel that that this warning from 40 years ago is becoming reality with the election of President Park. And in fact, the public is also now learning about the NIS's interference in the election itself, thus undermining the foundations of democracy.

Many Koreans are increasingly questioning the legitimacy of President Park’s administration. The Korean people are turning their backs on the Park administration because of her failure to honor presidential election promises and because of controversy around government appointments. The government has put forth that this is the era of people's happiness, but low-income people's lives show no sign of improvement.

President Park is facing crises of legitimacy and public sentiment, but she has chosen not to lower herself to communicate with the people and win their hearts. Ms. Park is trying to escape the people's judgment in the local elections next year by breaking up an alliance of opposition parties at the cost of the Unified Progressive Party's very existence. This is also an apparent move to perpetuate the conservatives' rule.

We certainly remember the days when the regime that seized power through a bloody military coup put an opposition politician under house arrest and the intelligence agency even kidnapped and almost buried him at sea. We still remember that the insurrection and spy cases manipulated by the then authoritarian regimes were thrown out with verdicts of not guilty in retrials decades later.

The things that we thought were just part of our dark history and that could never happen again are unfolding again before our eyes. Many people are concerned about whether Korea in 2013 is moving toward right-wing totalitarianism that quashes all political dissent.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
Agreeing to differ and coexisting are the essence of democracy. The presence of different voices is important evidence of a thriving democracy, not of chaos. Silencing dissenting voices is tantamount to destroying democracy.

The fact that different voices compete with each other and coexist is proof of a dynamic society, which has been the driving force of Korea today.

The Saenuri Party is a conservative political party. I am against its conservative platform, but I don't deny the existence of the party. I just work harder in hopes of one day overcoming the Saenuri Party, because democracy leaves open the opportunity for the majority to become the minority, and vice versa.

However, the Park Geun-hye government does not even allow this. With the Park Geun-hye administration calling for the dissolution of the Unified Progressive Party based on the national security logic of the Cold War era, the essential features of democracy such as diversity, tolerance, respect, and coexistence no longer exist.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
There were times when we wished we could have even just one lawmaker representing the workers. Although we achieved democracy by the power of the people, there was for a time no one representing workers and farmers.
 
We said to ourselves, "Let's establish a political party by ourselves." "Let's not rely on others." This is how the Democratic Labor Party was born in 2000.
 
We believed that those working in the factories and in the fields, as well as educated people and the wealthy classes, can participate in politics. In addition, we were convinced that workers, farmers, and the working class had to become an effective leading force in politics.

The Democratic Labor Party, now the Unified Progressive Party, is run by membership fees, not by the black money of chaebols. Party members who pay dues, instead of party leaders, nominate candidates for the National Assembly, a presidential candidate, and a party chairperson. The Unified Progressive Party is, therefore, a truly member-driven party.

The Unified Progressive Party was created by the working class, so no one can disband the party as long as workers and farmers live in Korea. Dissolving the Unified Progressive Party is tantamount to eliminating workers and farmers from the country.

I call on President Park to immediately withdraw the petition to dissolve the Unified Progressive Party, the party of workers, farmers, and low-income people, if she is truly concerned about working to improve the people's happiness.
 
I demand that you uphold democracy and fulfill your responsibility as the President by upholding the constitution and defending the people. I encourage you to ease the pain and sufferings of the hard-working people. I urge you to take the lead in moving the Korean peninsula toward reconciliation, peace, and unification.
 
I truly believe that this is the way forward toward an era of people's happiness.

My beloved and honorable citizens,
History teaches us that any government that disregards the will of the people cannot long exist. In spite of the oppression of the Yushin era and military dictatorship, and the guns and swords of the airborne troops during the Gwangju democracy movement in May 1980, the Korean people's yearning for democracy was never suppressed. The authoritarian regimes ultimately faced the stern judgment of the people and at last the people achieved democracy on their own.

I appeal to the public.
Please join us. You do not need to support the Unified Progressive Party. If you believe that the modern history of Korea, scarred by the Yushin dictatorship and iron-fisted rules, should never be repeated, you may be able tosit back and watch the destruction and regression of democracy, which will lead inevitably to the destruction of our society.

Late former President Kim Dae-Jung used the expression, 'conscience in action,' and late former President Rho Moo-hyun called for “awakened citizens.”I plead with you, the people of Korea, to put an end to the destruction of democracy.

We need to gather the strength of all democratic forces against the resurrection of the Yushin era by the Park Geun-hye administration. I say, should we not leave our descendants a just, democratic, and prosperous Korea?

As always, the Unified Progressive Party will undertake the difficult part and endure the bitter cold wind of winter.

Let's stand united against it.
Let's work together to build democracy for the future.
I hereby ask the Speaker and fellow lawmakers to forgive my understanding why I have a shaved head and a long, unshaven beard today.
Thank you very much for listening.






 

Video: F. Enns

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