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Counteracting the economic and political blues

SEOUL (SE): How to counteract the economic and political blues? 

Well, according to the results of a survey carried out by the Hankyoreh Social Policy Research Institute and the Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs, released in the Republic of Korea in February this year, getting deeper into politics may provide the cure.

A report published in the Hankyoreh News on February 14 says that in the 20 to 40 age bracket, there is hope in the future.

Long time missionary to South Korea, Father Donal O’Keefe, says that he finds this surprising, as in recent times, issues such as the growth in the irregular workforce sector, outsourcing by industry destroying permanent jobs, which are being fast replaced by short term contracts for workers, the death of the old life-time employment concept and difficulties being encountered by those who have retired, have been dominating headlines in the South Korean press.

There is maybe nothing surprising in these reports of social polarisation in a nation like South Korea, as a glance through any newspaper in Asia tells a similar story about almost any country you wish to name.

The results of the survey reveal that 68 per cent of respondents strongly agree with the statement, “There is hope for the future.”

The survey then goes deeper asking people if they have developed a greater interest in politics in recent times. 

Almost half, 46.2 per cent, ticked the strongly agree box to this question.

South Korea could be on the cusp of a new political era with both general and presidential elections scheduled for this year.

With the experience of what has proven to be a tense and tempestuous rule of the current president, Lee Myung-bak, which has been peppered with massive demonstrations and a tightening of state security laws, people are hoping that a new political wind is in the air.

Opposition parties are regrouping and re-describing themselves in terms of social welfare and human rights, which Father O’Keefe says mirrors the concerns of the majority of the electorate.

Over 60 per cent of respondents to the survey ticked the strongly agree box to the question, “Do you believe that citizen participation in the general and presidential elections could bring about changes in policies and politics?”

The Hankyoreh News says that the survey indicates that despite the cynicism and distrust of the political world, the majority of those surveyed believe that political engagement can be a driving force in creating a more hopeful future.

Father O’Keefe explains that the Church has not been immune to this heightened concern for social issues either.

“This is being reflected in the pastoral priorities articulated by the various dioceses across the country for this year,” he said.

He said that he thinks that it is a belief that people are realising that there is a connection between being involved in social issues on the ground and strong and realistic hope, in both the present and the future.

He said that opposition to the building of a giant military base on beautiful Jeju Island, which was recently included on the list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, is a prime example of how this new-found interest in national affairs is being played out.

Father Pat Cunningham says that it is a prime example of the resistance of the general populous to a new National Security Law passed by the Lee administration.

“It has been used in an arbitrary way against activists opposed to the construction of the naval base in Jeju,” Father Cunningham says.

He said that this was clearly demonstrated by a recent raid on the Seoul offices of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea.

“The raid was politically motivated,” he claims, “given the organisation’s vital role in supporting the Gangjeong villagers’ resistance to the naval base on Jeju.”

Father Cunningham explained that the National Intelligence Service justified the raid by claiming that the organisation had violated the National Security Law by sending a letter of condolence to Pyongyang following the death of Kim Jong-il, and that one member of the organisation was a North Korean spy.”

The solidarity group countered by saying that it had gone through all the proper legal channels before sending the letter and that the charges of affiliation with a spy ring were fabricated.

The Asian director of Amnesty International, Sam Zarifi, says, “The National Security Law has a chilling effect on freedom of expression in South Korea. It is used not to address threats to national security, but instead to intimidate people and limit their rights to free speech.”

Where do people find hope in such oppressive and difficult times? 

Well, according to the recent Korean survey, getting involved in the process that governs you can be a good start.

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