Democracy under threat in South Korea

korea the interview

The Interview: when Sony declared that the film’s theatrical release would go ahead, a White House spokesperson was quick to tell newspapers, “the president applauds Sony’s decision”.

by Connor Beaton The Interview’s odyssey from production to release dominated the international news circuit in the run-up to Christmas 2014. This would-be blockbuster’s 25 December launch was almost completely scuppered by the major, unexpected compromise of Sony’s computer systems, a bizarre attack that quickly escalated into threats of cyber-warfare between the United States and North Korea.

How did this all begin? At time of writing, it’s not clear. The politics at play obfuscate the situation; accusations and counter-accusations are thrown between states through newspapers and TV stations.

Mainstream discussion about North Korea is rarely rational, well-considered analysis—more often, coverage is distorted by a latent chauvinism and an overt fear or distrust.

One example of the sensationalist approach of the British media is the BBC’s 2013 report that North Korean men are forced to adopt Kim Jong-un’s haircut, citing a bulletin by Radio Free Asia—a non-profit established and funded by the US government.

Less than a day later, the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor struggled to find a single expert on North Korea that considered the reports credible.

Reporting on North Korea is a challenging endeavour when Western journalists have little access to the country, but there exists a clear and consistent trend: stories which fit a convenient narrative of the country as an amusing basket-case are taken up without hesitation.

It is taken for granted that the North is in a state of near-collapse—indeed, a US government-funded think tank published a lengthy report in September 2013 that claimed an insurrection was imminent.

It remains to be seen whether the report winds up as credible as that of the CIA panel that claimed, in 1997, that North Korea would collapse by 2002.

It is easy to imagine the British press in hysteria in the hypothetical scenario that Kim Jong-un endorsed a film about the assassination of a high-profile Western leader.

The Interview was a highly political project from the outset: an unprecedented targeted insult to a living head of state—admittedly intended to amuse Americans through its chutzpah, rather than serve as a genuine diplomatic slight.

Yet, when Sony declared that the film’s theatrical release would go ahead, a White House spokesperson was quick to tell newspapers: “the president applauds Sony’s decision”.

The developing dispute is now a major diplomatic incident between two nations that have been at loggerheads for decades.

While moving towards rapprochement with socialist Cuba, the US is considering returning North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism—and, notably, accusing its opponent of technological warfare while remaining remarkably coy over whether it engineered the complete Internet blackout in North Korea as retaliation.

In comparison to the frenzy over The Interview, British media outlets barely reported on the court-ordered dissolution of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) in South Korea. This coalition of leftist forces collected over two million votes in the 2012 elections, winning thirteen seats and becoming the third-largest political bloc in the South’s parliament.

Built with the support of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a radical trade union congress legalised after four years of struggle against stifling labour laws, the initial success of the UPP represented progress for Korea’s populist left. Its largest founding group, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), was originally established to provide political representation for the KCTU.

The UPP’s dissolution in an 8-1 ruling by the South’s Constitutional Court on the basis that its politics were too pro-North should alarm all promoting peace and democracy on the Korean peninsula.

It is even more shocking that those concerns were originally brought to the court by the cabinet of South Korea’s ruling right-wing Saenuri party, which argued that parties opposed to capitalism and partition in Korea should be excluded from notions of political freedom.

This suppression of a significant political force, only quietly protested by liberal parties in South Korea, contradicts popular belief that the country is a bastion of democracy—rather than, like Israel, a colonial outpost of US foreign and military policy. UPP parliamentarians are being deprived of their seats while the party tries desperately to co-ordinate legal action against the court decision.

Which incident is of greater concern to the worldwide working class? The endangered release of a Hollywood comedy, or the end of parliamentary representation for the South Korean left?

That these two events took place in rapid succession, yet achieved considerably different exposure in countries like Scotland, speaks to the manipulative nature of our private media and the distorted version of international events fed to workers through tabloid headlines.

Rather than obsess over movie releases, all left-wing and peace activists across the Western world who support a united socialist Korea should be co-ordinating immediate solidarity action with Korean socialists against these increasingly audacious efforts at political suppression and fighting the counterproductive, media-driven demonisation of the North.

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  1. Another look at South Korean democracy | Connor Beaton's Blog

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