Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lectures

I'm tired of lecturing against Northeast Asian agent provocateurs. Sorry about my ranting streak, but hatemongers from all horizons had their festival this month: xenophobia!, revisionism!, creationism!, from Korea!, from Japan!, from China!...

I really long for more positive vibes. And today, I'll attend an Asia Institute seminar* about the Great Green Wall of China and the fight against desertification. A spectacular initiative, much less controversial that the utterly pinocchioesque Greater Wall of China.** It will be interesting to listen to a Korean point of view, maybe a parallel with Korea's massive reforestation under Park Chung-hee. Anyway the timing of the seminar is perfect: following a record breaking drought, Korea is about to enter its rainy season (which could be nasty - soils are so dry they could be washed away).


To fully relax, I'll listen to this lecture recently given at The Korea Society: Professor of Korean Studies at Brigham Young University, Dr. Mark Peterson talks about the representation of filial piety in the literature and in the paintings of the Joseon Dynasty.



Honor Thy Parents: Filial Piety in Chosŏn Literature from The Korea Society on Vimeo.

Environment, culture, respect... let's hope we're starting a more positive streak.
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* 6:30PM at GCS HQs - featuring Ambassador Byong Hyon Kwon, President of Future Forest and former Korean Ambassador to China, and Dr. Kwak Sang Soo, Senior researcher, Korea Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology - moderated by Emanuel Pastreich, Director of the Asia Institute.
http://www.facebook.com/events/249775761803112/
** see "Still no apology from MBC, and more provocations on the Chinese front"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

CHOI Min-shik's Children




Born a poor kid in rural Southeast Korea, the Master of Busan never forgot where he came from: when CHOI Min-shik* talks about himself, he often uses the words "this peasant".

Now 84, CHOI has spent decades learning from humans he met and photographed, recording a universal message of love and peace, exposing life in its blooming beauty as well as in its cruel sadness.

In the vein of his series "Humans" or "Women", "소년시대" echoes his days as a kid, through pictures of children who face a tough world, but sometimes manage to smile and to meet fellow humans who care.

CHOI Min-shik photo exhibition "Children" / 최민식 사진전 "소년시대"
20120613-0708
Lotte Gallery (12F, Lotte Dept Store Main Branch in Jung-gu)
Tel +82.2.726.4428

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* not to be confused with CHOI Min-sik, the actor born in Seoul 50 years ago.

Monday, June 18, 2012

25 years later

On December 19, 2012, South Korea will elect the 6th president of its 6th republic in a one-round vote that usually gathers a dozen candidates, many of whom seem apparently artificially cast just to divide the ballots among opponents.


The recently* rebranded conservative and liberal parties (respectively Saenuri and DUP) will pick their champions by the end of september. But if PARK Geun-hye remains the favorite for the Saenuri (even if CHUNG Mong-joon or Gyeonggi-do governor KIM Moon-soo may give it a shot), HAN Myeong-sook seems to have lost her chances as the DUP candidate following the April 11 debacle, when Saenuri secured a comfortable legislative majority (confirming the lack of consistency of an opposition at this stage unfit to govern). MOON Jae-in, the actual ROH Moo-hyun political heir, jumped in with genuine chances of changing the game. AHN Cheol-Soo? The maverick is still weighing the pros and cons of a dive in the shark pool of Korean politics.

I've already mentioned the unsound balance of powers in Korea, where the president may have less influence than the head of a major chaebol because he becomes a lame duck as soon as he is elected: ROH Tae-woo, KIM Young-sam, KIM Dae-jung, ROH Moo-hyun, and LEE Myung-bak served only one term each, a limit meant to prevent the country from falling back into dictatorship. In this unicameral system, the assembly has the reputation of a UFC ring, and the political debate is at best non-existent, at worst a sick revival of the 1950s between hardcore conservatives and pro-NK activists. And if he independence of justice and media is often challenged, netizens are much more powerful and influential than in most countries. Thus a recurring temptation for the government to tame online media, a universe where, as a matter of fact, hoaxes can be more easily found than truths.


Note that South Korea ranks 44th in the 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index (Reporters Sans Frontieres), between Botswana and Comoros. Better than North Korea, of course (178th), but also better than the USA (47th). Yet the situation worsened since 2006 (31st), with a peak in 2009 (69th), the year that followed the candlelight vigil demonstrations.


So where does South Korea stand as a democracy? Here's the verdict according to Amnesty International's 2011 report: "The government increasingly used vaguely worded national security, defamation and other laws to harass and suppress its critics. In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty did not violate the Constitution. In October and November, the Court conducted hearings on whether restrictions on migrant workers’ labour mobility, and military conscription without options for conscientious objection, constituted violations of fundamental rights."


In this context, a minority of ultra-conservatives may see an opportunity to copy the Japanese model, where the whole political system is crippled by revisionists, and where in spite of an overwhelmingly peaceful population, a handful of hatemongers has the power to take down governments at will. Emboldened by the recent scandals about pro-NK representatives within opposition members, they keep launching provocative trial balloons**.


So a quarter of a century after the 1987 revision of the constitution, South Korea seems to be at a major political crossroads. The voice of moderates is almost inaudible, and this is the most crucial moment when key values must be protected.


Which values? Well, they are at the preamble of the constitution, a document that can be downloaded in English on the Constitutional Court's website***:


"We, the people of Korea, proud of a resplendent history and traditions dating from time immemorial, upholding the cause of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government born of the March First Independence Movement of 1919 and the democratic ideals of the April Nineteenth Uprising of 1960 against injustice, having assumed the mission of democratic reform and peaceful unification of our homeland and having determined to consolidate national unity with justice, humanitarianism and brotherly love, and
To destroy all social vices and injustice, and
To afford equal opportunities to every person and provide for the fullest development of individual capabilities in all fields, including political, economic, social and cultural life by further strengthening the basic free and democratic order conducive to private initiative and public harmony, and
To help each person discharge those duties and responsibilities concomitant to freedoms and rights, and
To elevate the quality of life for all citizens and contribute to lasting world peace and the common prosperity of mankind and thereby to ensure security, liberty and happiness for ourselves and our posterity forever,
Do hereby amend, through national referendum following a resolution by the National Assembly, the Constitution, ordained and established on the Twelfth Day of July anno Domini Nineteen hundred and forty-eight, and amended eight times subsequently.
Oct.29, 1987"

So look for candidates who seek "democratic reform and peaceful unification", candidates who want to "consolidate national unity with justice, humanitarianism and brotherly love", "to contribute to lasting world peace and the common prosperity of mankind", respecting not only "private initiative" but also "public harmony".

Find out how candidates interpret "to destroy all social vices" or "the basic free and democratic order", expose the impostures, see who really wants to protect the constitution, and see who really contributes to a clearer, sounder, more responsible and more respectful national debate.

Way to go.

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* see "Saenuri, a brand "new" wor(l)d"
** see "State-condoned creationism in Korea? A cold-blooded murder against King Sejong", "Still no apology from MBC, and more provocations on the Chinese front"...
*** http://english.ccourt.go.kr/home/att_file/download/Constitution_of_the_Republic_of_Korea.pdf (in Korean: http://www.ccourt.go.kr/home/information/low02_list.jsp?gubun=21 )

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

State-condoned creationism in Korea? A cold-blooded murder against King Sejong

After the shameful termination of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Korea, and after the flabbergasting removal of history from school curriculum, yet another outrageous victory for revisionists in Korea: the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology gave in to a creationist lobby, and made possible the publication of high school texbooks where examples of evolution have been removed.

This incredible story, "South Korea surrenders to creationist demands", was published earlier this month in Nature:



A special purpose vehicle of the Korea Association for Creation Research* (kacr.or.kr), the revisionist lobby which pulled the strings didn't try to masquerade behind an Intelligent-Design-like smokescreen: it's even named the Society for Textbook Revise! Note how STR's website (str.or.kr) apes its US creationist counterparts:



Letting creationism, the very negation of science and education and one of the worst enemies of democracy, dictate the contents of textbooks is undoubtedly the most profound disgrace imaginable for any Ministry of Education.

But here in Korea, that's the ultimate abomination.

This is Korea, the country of King Sejong, a wise statesmen who advocated education and science.

This is Korea, a country victim of revisionist texbooks in Japan, where the extreme right, though very small in members, has considerable power over national politics and manages to keep the whole population in the dark regarding the country's troubled past.

Once again**, it seems that Korea is under attack from its worst enemies, the ones from within. A minority of extremists who dream of copying the Japanese "model" and to rule over the past and the future of the country.

And once again, these impostors are not nationalists: they want the destruction of Korea as a republic and as a democracy, and they are the best allies of the impostors who, in Japan or in China, multiply the same kind of provocations to fuel mutual hatred and extremism across the region.

Across the aisle, true Korean nationalists, true partisans of democracy and of the republic must defend the nation against the impostors who try to destroy it: expose and condemn their impostures, prevent revisionist textbooks from being published, and restore the values that make Korea a great country.

Wake up Korea!
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* Of course, "creation" and "research" are antinomic, but precisely, the whole concept of creationism is an insult to science and education. If believing in a creator is perfectly respectable, "Creationism" is pure forgery, an imposture that has nothing to do with science, and even nothing to do with religion: the agenda is political and ultimately, it's about replacing democracy with theocracy, and about replacing religion with fundamentalism.
**
They seem to grow bolder by the day, and the multiplication of such provocations (see recently MBC's xenophobic video - "Still no apology from MBC, and more provocations on the Chinese front") is probably not a coincidence in this election year.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Still no apology from MBC, and more provocations on the Chinese front

A quick update regarding the xenophobic video recently aired by MBC (see "Foreigners"):
- MBC didn't budge: still no apology at this stage
- the deafening silence from other mainstream media and from national authorities continues
- outraged citizens remain vocal: the Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/groups/actionagainstmbc/) passed the 8,000 members mark
- a petition demanding an apology from MBC has been initiated, and over 1,800 people have already signed it (http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/An_apology_from_MBC_Korea_for_portraying_male_foreigners_as_predators_and_Korean_females_as_victims_ors/)

My opinion remains unchanged:
- Is there a minority of foreigners behaving badly in Korea? of course, just like there is a minority of Koreans behaving badly.
- A journalistic investigation on the issue is respectable, but this MBC video is not a journalistic investigation.
- I'm afraid this is not even bad journalism, but pure propaganda. Too disturbingly similar to a texbook guerilla operation (trial balloon, wedge strategy, fake debate...) in an asymmetric war. Deliberate hatemongering from a minority who, beyond foreigners (who are not the actual target), intend to undermine Korea's democracy and Korean core values.
- This imposture should be exposed and denounced. Even if this provocation is an infinitesimal occurence in a sea of love, and even if over-reactions can feed the negative dynamics searched by the provocators. That's a classic: exposing the imposture requires some kind of spotlight, and in asymetric wars against democracies, provocations are cheap ad campaigns.
- In order to protect the nation, it is essential that, beyond the international community, local mainstream media do their job as well, and that they use their own spots to expose this fake debate, this 'us vs them' imposture.


Actually, when I first saw that video, it reminded me of a similar low cost propaganda operation carried a few months ago, when a Korean cable broadcaster aired a short revisionist program where Koreans claimed Confucius was Korean. An heresy for anyone who knows Korea and the way Koreans are educated. Ask any Korean and he'd feel insulted to learn about such a program. The actual targets were Chinese: the aim of the game was to fuel hatred, and judging by the reactions in online fora, it seems to have worked.

Speaking of China and provocations. After mentioning that other video yesterday in a discussion, I delivered my usual pitch on the sick ping-pong game between ultra-nationalists in the region (Korea, Japan, China), very similar to the ping-pong game between fundamentalists* (same imposture: these "best enemies" need each other, and the louder they scream at each other, the less audible the moderate majority, thus the need for mainstream media to speak up and to expose the imposture).

Then I mentioned China's very controversial Northeastern Project, and the revisionist attempts to rewrite history by distorting facts, destroying evidences, or forging others (eg Koguryo revisited). People were surprised to learn how the Great Wall of China itself was being distorted (about this "Hanschluss" attempt, see "Great Wall of China - Anschlussing Korea (continued)" - April 2009).

Coincidence, the second round of "conclusions" by Chinese revisionists has just been released**, confirming my fears from three years ago: the history of Korea and Tibet has just been redrawn.

Back in 2000, the Great Wall used to be 6,000 km long. It grew to 8,851 km in 2009, and now "officially" measures 20,000 km - half the Earth circumference!

By 2015, I bet Northeastern Project "Historians" will find underwater stones from the Great Wall circling around Dokdo.

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* I wrote a "Universal  Declaration of Independence From Fundamentalism" about that one
** on the cover of today's Chosun Ilbo (Korean edition): http://inside.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2012/06/07/2012060700660.html

---
ADDENDUM (MBC)
20120608: at long last, a mainstream Korean media reacted to the MBC video (article in JoongAng Ilbo today: "임신·에이즈 문제 외국인이 일으킨다? 한국인은 괜찮고?). Big media are also mentioning the scandal in the US (WSJ) or France (Le Point)
---
ADDENDUM (Greater Wall of China)
I was later interviewed about the "Hanschluss" by Barbara Demick for her article "China says Great Wall is longer than previously thought" (LA Times, July 17, 2012), and subsequently quoted in ABC News ("Great Wall of China allegedly longer than previously reported", July 18, 2012)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Foreigners

Hi, I'm Stephane. I live in Seoul and I'm from Africa, just like any other Seoulite, just like any other human being.

My passport says that I'm French, and that's also true. If I were an American citizen, I guess my blue eyes and my facial features would have census officers tick the "Caucasian" box, but in France like in Germany, keeping any kind of race-related record has been illegal ever since the Nazi Occupation. I can't think of any nation that ever succeeded in completely eradicating discriminations and racism (certainly not France), but in most democracies, incitement to ethnic or racial hatred is a crime.

Over the past few days, Seoul's international community has been taken aback by "The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners" a sensationalistic program recently aired by MBC, one of Korea's top broadcasters. Radiating xenophobia, this short video uses classic propaganda techniques to depict all Foreigners as sexual predators abusing Korean women:



In spite of a legitimate uproar (but without much pressure from fellow mainstream Korean media), MBC executives refused to apologize, claiming this program had been outsourced. So to a major injury to journalistic ethics, they added an insult to editorial ethics.

Note that MBC has already been on damage control mode for years: PD Diary controversies, nomination of a(n also) controversial president (KIM Jae-chul), months of strike... such is the shocking reality about Korean politics. Somehow, the absence of political debate and the inaudibility of moderates from all sides paves the way for pervasive disinformation and corruption.

Let's be very clear:

- This caricature of a program is by no means Korea. It's an insult to Korean values even more than to media ethics, not to mention, of course, to Koreans and to 'foreigners'. Hopefully, moderates are speaking up online* where, in contrast with MBC's negative video, hundreds of positive messages keep piling up, exposing the shocking reality: mixed families living happily in a welcoming nation.

- Yes, this is not the first incident in that vein, but Korean authorities are already investing in public awareness and pedagogy (tolerance, mutual understanding and mutual respect in a multicultural society), in order to prepare the former Hermit Kingdom and new global player for the major demographic challenges ahead**. MBC's video will certainly be a hot topic at the special 2012 Seoul Town Meeting held on Saturday 9.

- If MBC deserves blame and should apologize, we should at the same time praise Korean media when they do the right thing. I have in mind a front page article by the Chosun Ilbo, a couple of weeks ago, denouncing the contradictions of Korean media when they, at the same time if not in the same breath, boasted about the nomination of a Korean-American as the head of the World Bank (Jim Yong KIM), and lambasted the first 'foreign' members of the parliament (Jasmine LEE)***. Over the past months, the Chosun Ilbo has taken a stand for other just causes through long and well searched campaigns, for instance against bullying at school, or more recently against the culture of permissivity for drunkenness (considered an extenuating circumstance even in the most odious crimes). Promoting fairness in the media and praising fair campaigns is another way of exposing all wrongdoings, and it shows the right direction.

- Such regrettable incidents are not specific to Korea. Yes, even here, we might be witnessing a classic "us vs them" imposture: some pseudo-nationalist hatemongers could try to feed their war on Korean democracy by creating a fake "Foreigners vs Koreans" debate. We've already seen them play ping pong with fellow hatemongers in Japan****, and nationalism sells well in times of crisis... I wouldn't be surprised if they slammed as "un-Korean" any Korean media denouncing their imposture...

Here are the actual 'foreigners': an infinitesimal clique of impostors who, from the inside, are trying to estrange Koreans from themselves, spreading confusion, ignorance, and misunderstanding, fueling hatred, in the opposite direction to the nation's Confucian values and peaceful traditions.

To expose these impostors, Korea keeps repeating, every day, the same evidence: love is the answer.

From and to Korea, with love,

Stephane

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* most notably in the fast growing Facebook group "Action against MBC Korea and their racist, biased "reporting.""
** see for instance: "In 2050, almost 10% of Korea's population will not be Korean"
*** "Korean Xenophobia Betrays Double Standards"
**** I won't list again all the posts, but quote myself nonetheless (that was about the 1000th demonstration of Korean victims of sexual slavery, where I sent back to back ultranationalists from both countries): "This is not about nationalism, and this is certainly not about Korea vs Japan, but about Japan vs Justice, and about Japan vs its own future. Crimes were committed and victims simply expect justice. Japan must face history in order to face the future, and its leaders cannot hide the truth to Japanese citizens any longer. I've said the same thing about other issues: this is also about saving Japan. And if I joined the protesters, it's also because I love Japan and because I can't accept to see a minority of die hard ultra-conservatives setting a corrupt agenda and betraying the Japanese people. And to Korean ultra-nationalists who try to hijack this case for their own corrupt agenda, I say: clean your own mess first, and restore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission". Now this is about Korea vs its own future. To be future-proof, Korea must face its own past, and denounce those who try to conceal it (see "Truth and Reconciliation - Justice at last"). Education is as always key for the future, and I'm very distressed to see History losing ground in Korean schools ("History Loses Place in School Curriculum").

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