It seems that the return to the ‘good old days’ has begun well before the Roh Moo-hyun government leaves office next year. The conservative forces in the security and legal apparatus of South Korea have made their move and decided to start a major witchhunt against the country’s (moderate) left party the Democratic Labour Party. Either that or in a rather strange tactical move Roh Moo-hyun himself has decided to prove his toughness credentials after the North Korean nuclear test by attacking those to the left of him. In any case, it turns out that the earlier attempts to take down Prof. Kang Jeong-koo were just a dress rehearsal for the real attempt to revive the National Security Law. So two senior members of the DLP have been arrested and accused, along with a Korean-American businessman of being part of a North Korean spy-ring.
I’m in no position to know what the truth is about these people, but one thing is clear: the timing of this is dodgy and the motivations are almost certainly political (as in so many cases where there is the supposed ‘uncovering’ of a terrorist or espionage cell that has clearly been kept on ice for sometime by the security services). There are some more details in English at the Marmot’s Hole, including the interesting facts that the accused are apparently thought to have engaged in such heinous crimes as compiling dossiers to keep track of trends in South Korean society or promoting environmental issues to involve civic groups in the anti-American struggle, and… wait for it, reporting on the activities of the DLP branch in Seoul. It strikes me that even if all this stuff were to turn out to be true then basically what they are being accused of is gathering materials on South Korean social movements and left for passing on to North Korea. So they were spying on themselves and their comrades.
Finally, to get some idea of just how desperately excited the Korean right are by all this and how keen they are to return to the good old cold war days of red baiting and ppalgaengi bashing, you must read this translated editorial from the Joongang Ilbo. I picked up a copy of the paper’s English edition for the first time in years when I was catching the plane down to Chejudo a few days ago and this made me almost fall out of my seat. A sample:
The recent incident has revealed that former and current officials of the Democratic Labor Party are involved in this case. This is an issue that could become a death sentence for the Democratic Labor Party. The party itself has staged protests in front of the National Intelligence Service arguing that the case is fabricated. Protesters also argued for the abolishment of the National Security Law. How can one argue that the incident was fabricated under an administration such as the current one?
No political party can exist outside national security. The Democratic Labor Party has to reflect upon itself, find the internal “red” part and apologize to the people.