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On the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice: Democracy’s Retreat in South Korea

Former Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich calling for Peace in Korea

Former Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich calling for Peace in Korea

Dennis J. Kucinich | August 9, 2014 Originally published in Kyunghyang Shinmun

On July 27, 2014, the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, Dennis Kucinich, a former member of the U.S. Congress, published an open letter in the Huffington Post calling South Korean president Park Geun-hye to task for her undemocratic policies, including her “illegal surveillance of civilians, [her] use of Cold War rhetoric to attack those who legitimately question [her] policies, and [her] use of official resources, including state social media resources, to influence the result of elections.”  Widely circulated within South Korean social media, this letter prompted Kyunghyang Shinmun to conduct an interview with Mr. Kucinich on the state of democracy in South Korea.

A former US congressman and two-time presidential candidate recently wrote to President Park that he is concerned about the retreat of democracy in South Korea and urged that she not discredit the sacrifice of American troops in the Korean War.

On July 27, the 61st anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote in an open letter published online in the Huffington Post, ” As someone who, during 16 years in the United States Congress, has celebrated the US-South Korean friendship and who maintains deep ties with the Korean community in the United States, I respectfully write to express my concern about the policies of your government, which are anti-democratic and which discredit the sacrifices that American soldiers made so many years ago in Korea’s defense.”

His list of the government’s anti-democratic actions included the arrest and imprisonment of Lee Seok-ki, attempt to outlaw an opposing political party, use of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) for political purposes, the cabinet’s obstruction of justice in attempts to investigate the NIS, attempt to cast as disloyal to South Korea all who disagree with the administration, use of illegal surveillance of civilians, use of Cold War rhetoric to attack those who legitimately question the government’s policies, and use of official resources, including state social media resources, to influence the result of elections.  These actions, he said, “raise legitimate questions about whether or not you have any commitment to democratic values.”

Kucinich continued, “It is my hope that the 33,686 US soldiers who gave their lives in Korea, together with another 8,176 US soldiers who were missing in action, did not make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of your freedom to enable freedom’s destruction under your government,” and added, “As members of the US Congress learn of your policies, you may well find that it will be necessary to correct your course by stopping all practices that undermine principles of democracy, self-governance, separation of powers and human rights.”

In an interview with Kyunghyang Shinmun on July 28, Kucinich said, “I don’t particularly like US interventionism, but the South Korean situation I have observed in the past two years is a serious situation from the point of view of freedom of expression,” and added, “It’s shocking that a country that has a history of democratization having transitioned from a dictatorship to a democracy is retreating backwards.  There needs to be attention not just in the United State but globally.”

Kucinich, who represented Ohio in the US Congress from 1997 to 2013 and ran in the Democratic presidential primary in 2004 and 2008, is known as the most progressive voice in the US Democratic Party.  He was the lone opposing voice against the George W Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He has been very critical of the US National Security Agency’s civilian surveillance program.

Below is an interview with Kucinich.

Q: Why did you decide to write an open letter to the South Korean president?

“I have been observing with concern what’s been happening in South Korea for the past two years.  The collapse of democracy and the sudden change in South Korea’s direction…  I was shocked at the arrest of a parliamentarian elected by the people for being considered disloyal.”

Q: Representative Lee Seok-ki was indicted on charges of conspiring sedition.

“I know full well how Korea was divided.  Despite that history, I don’t think it’s right to punish someone for expressing and vocalizing one’s thoughts or for being considered disloyal to the country.  The United States also went through very painful times during McCarthyism when loyalty to the country was questioned.  I also was criticized as being disloyal for opposing the invasion of Iraq.  But democracy means not being afraid to say what you believe.  From the point of view of freedom of expression, I see the punishment of that lawmaker as regressive.”

Q: Why did you suddenly decide to express your interest in South Korea’s situation?

“Because of South Korea’s unique position in the world, what happens in South Korea is important.  I have been interested in the South Korean situation since 2013.  I don’t particularly like US interventionism.  But from the point of view of freedom, I thought that it’s time to say this to the South Korean society.  In the United States too, a climate of fear overwhelmed the country after September 11.  Freedom of expression was violated and raids and arrests without warrants were common.  The spirit of the constitution was thrown out the window.  I think people around the world need courage to stand up to that sort of trend.  Governments should not spend their energies on repression that encourages a climate of fear but respect those with different beliefs.  South Korea and the United States should not silence people who have that courage.  I want the American people to understand what is really happening in South Korea.  That’s not just a problem of South Koreans but a global problem.  It’s shocking for a country that has a history of democratization, having transitioned from a dictatorship to democracy, to retreat backwards.  That’s why there needs to be more attention and concern beyond solidarity.  The United States too is a country with many problems.  The creation of extreme national security states is a problem not only in South Korea and the United State but all over the world.  Democracy is on very shaky ground.  That’s clear from the South Korean intelligence agency’s interference in the presidential election.”

Q: Have you delivered the open letter to the South Korean government?

“Before posting on Huffington Post, I sent it to the South Korean embassy.”

Q: Have you ever been to South Korea?

“Not yet.  During my 16 year tenure in Congress, I was preoccupied with Iraq, Afghanistan, and US domestic affairs, so I wasn’t able to travel abroad much.”

Q: Your relationship with South Korea?

“In Ohio, which was my district for 16 years and where I currently have a home, there is a large Korean community.  People I met at cultural and other events felt very proud of democratization and progress in their homeland.”

Q: Where do you get information about South Korea?

“Through a variety of media, such as the Asia Pacific Journal and Korea Journal”

Q: What do you do these days?

“I travel around the country to give lectures and I write.  I’ve written articles on the situation in Gaza, Syria, and Ukraine.  I continue to be involved in world affairs in my own way.”

Q: Are you retired from politics?

“What I do now is politics.  I haven’t closed the door on running for public office.”

Q: What about the November mid-term election?

“I’m focused on speaking and writing so I won’t run in the upcoming election.”

Dennis J. Kucinich was a 16 year member of the United States Congress, 1997-2013, and a two time former U.S. presidential candidate.


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