Parents in Education – GEPIK Questionnaire

Today I saw a survey given to students in a GEPIK elementary school for their parents to fill out. The kids were told that they would be punished if their parents didn’t fill it out.

It’s a survey about what the parents think about me, the native English-speaking teacher at the school, and what they think about the projet of using people like me in general.

Before I get into any further discussion, here’s the survey:


원어민 영어보조교사 활용 수업의 효율성에 대한 설문조사
“A questionnaire about the usefulness of the  Native speaking English assistant teacher’s classes”
(For parents of students)

이 설문은 원어민 영어 선생님 활용에 대한 학부모 여러분의 의견을 조사하고자 하는 것입니다.
해당된다고 생각하는 항목에 ‘V’표시를 하시기 바랍니다.
“This questionnaire is to survey the views of you the parents of the students about the use of the native English-speaking teacher.
Please mark a ‘V’ in the articles that you agree with.”

And now the questions:

1. 귀 자녀는 어느 학교에 재학 중 입니까? What school are your children currently attending?
     1. 초등학교 Elementary school
     2. 중학교 Middle school
     3. 일반계 고등학교 Regular high school
     4. 전문계 고등학교 Vocational high school
     5. 특수목적 고등학교 Specialist high school

2. 귀 자녀가 재학 중인 학교에서 실시하는 원어민 선생님을 활용한 영어수업에 만족하십니까? Are you satisfied with the English language classes that utilise the native speaking teacher at the school your children currently attend?
     1. 한국인 영어교사가 혼자 할 때 보다 훨씬 좋다. It’s greatly better than when the Korean English teacher teaches alone.
     2. 한국인 영어 교사 혼자 할 때 보다 조금 나은 면이 있다. There are aspects that are a bit better than when the Korean English teacher teaches alone.
     3. 한국인 영어 교사 혼자 할 때나 별반 차이가 없다. There’s no real difference from when the Korean English teacher teaches alone.
     4. 한국인 영어 교사 혼자 할 때가 조금 더 나은 면이 있다. There are aspects that are a bit better when the Korean English teacher teaches alone.
     5. 한국인 영어 교사 혼자 할 때가 훨씬 좋다. It’s greatly better when the Korean English teacher teaches alone.

2-1. 위 2번 문항에서 1, 2에 응답하셨다면, 그 이유는 무엇입니까? (해당되는 것을 모두 고르시오.) If you answered 1 or 2 to the above question 2, what is your reason? (Select all corresponding answers)
     1. 영어능력 향상 English ability has risen (presumably the ability of the child.)
     2. 외국인에 대한 두려움 극복 Conquering the fear of foreigners
     3. 외국문화에 대한 이해의 폭 증대 Increasing the breadth of understanding of foreign culture
     4. 영어에 대한 자신감 증진 Increase in confidence about the English language
     5. 영어에 대한 관심 고조 Increase in interest in the English language
     6. 기타사항 기재 Other comments

2-2. 위 2번 문항에서 3, 4, 5에 응답하셨다면, 그 이유는 무엇입니까? (해당되는 것을 모두 고르시오.) If you answered 3, 4 or 5 to the above question 2, what is your reason? (Select all corresponding answers)
     1. 교사자격증 미소지 Does not have teaching qualifications (NOTE: This could also mean capability or character)
     2. 교수 능력 부족  Not enough teaching ability
     3. 우리말 구사능력 부족 Is not fluent enough in our language (Yup, that’s what is says)
     4. 한국문화에 대한 이해 부족 Does not have sufficient understanding of Korean culture (Again, this is what it says)
     5. 한국의 교육 상황에 대한 이해 부족 Does not have sufficient understanding of the situation of Korean education
     6. 기타사항 기재 Other comments

3. 원어민 영어선생님을 활용한 영어수업을 통해 귀 자녀의 의사소통능력 향상에 도움이 된다고 생각하십니까? Do you think that your children’s comprehension/understanding  is helped through the English classes that utilise the native speaking English teacher?
     1. 매우 도움이 된다. It helps greatly.
     2. 도움이 된다. It helps.
     3. 잘 모르겠다. I don’t really know.
     4. 별로 도음이 되지 않는다. It doesn’t really help.
     5. 전혀 도움이 되지 않는다. It doesn’t help at all.

3-1. 위 3번 문항에서 1, 2에 응답하셨다면, 어떤 영역에서 도움이 되었다고 생각하십니까? If you answer 1 or 2 to the above question 3, in what area do you think it has helped?
     1. 듣기 Listening
     2. 말하기 Speaking
     3. 읽기 Reading
     4. 쓰기 Writing
     5. 모든 영역 All areas

3-2. 위 3번 문항에서 3, 4, 5에 응답하셨다면, 어떤 영역에서 도움이 되지 않았다고 생각하십니까? If you answer 1 or 2 to the above question 3, in what area do you think it has not helped?
     1. 듣기 Listening
     2. 말하기 Speaking
     3. 읽기 Reading
     4. 쓰기 Writing
     5. 모든 영역 All areas

4. 귀 자녀의 영어수업시간에 한국인 영어 선생님보다 원어민 선생님이 더 효과적일 것 같은 영어학습 활동은 무엇입니까? In what English language learning activities in your children’s English classes do you think the native speaking teacher will be more effective than the Korean English teacher?
     1. 영어 대화 연습 English conversation practice
     2. 영어 쓰기 English writing
     3. 영어 듣기 English listening
     4. 영어 연극 English plays (as in a play with acting)
     5. 영어 게임 English games
     6. 기타사항 기재 Other comments

5. 귀 자녀의 정규수업 이외에 원어민 영어선생님과 어떤 활동에 참여하고 있습니까? Outside of your children’s regular classes, what activities do they participate in with the native speaking English teacher?
     1. 방과 후 영어 관련 수업  English related classes after hours
     2. 영어 동아리활동 English group/club activities
     3. 온라인 활용 학습 Online study
     4. 영어캠프 English camp
     5. 쉬는 시간 및 점심 시간에 대화 시간 Conversation time during breaks or lunch time
     6. 기타사항 기재 Other comments

6. 귀 자녀의 학교에서 실시하고 있는 원어민 영어 선생님 활용 영어 수업이 사교육비 경감에 도움이 된다고 생각하십니까? Do you think that English classes the utilise the native speaking English teacher operating at the school help in reducing private education expenses?
     1. 매우 도움이 된다 It helps greatly
     2. 조금 도움이 된다 It helps a little
     3. 그저 그렇다 It’s the same
     4. 별로 도움이 되지 않는다 It doesn’t really help
     5. 전혀 도움이 되지 않는다 It doesn’t help at all

7. 귀 자녀의 영어 관련 사교육에 월 평균 얼마의 비용이 듭니까? On average, how much per month does your childs English private education cost?
     1. 해당 없음 Not applicable
     2. 10만원 미만 Under 100,000 Won
     3. 10만원 이상 ~ 20만원 미만 Between 100,000 and 200,000 Won
     4. 20만원 이상 ~ 30만원 미만 between 200,000 and 300,000 Won
     5. 20만원 이상 Over 300,000 Won

8. 앞으로 원어민 영어선생님의 활용 방안은 어떠해야 한다고 생각하십니까? In future, what do you think should be done regards the programme of using native speaking English teachers?
     1. 학급 수에 따라 뭔어민 영어선생님의 수를 더 늘린다. Increasing the number of native speaking English teachers according to the number of students per grade.
     2. 현행수준으로 유지한다. preserving the current numbers.
     3. 한국인 영어 선생님의 역량을 키우면서 원어민 영어선생님의 수를 점차 줄인다. Gradually decreasing the number of native speaking English teachers while raising the capability of Korean English teachers.
     4. 원어민 교사 제도를 폐지하고 대체 프로그램을 마련한다. Abolishing the native speaking teacher programme and prepare an alternative programme.
     5. 기타사항 기재 Other comments

9. 귀 자녀가 원어민 영어선생님과 수업을 하면서 만족하는 이유를 적어주세요. Please write down your reasons why you are satisfied with your childs classes with the native speaking English teacher.

10. 귀자녀가 원어민 영어선생님과 수업을 하면서 어려워하거나 불만족스러워하는 이유를 적어 주세요. Please write down the reasons why your children are dissatisfied or have struggled with their classes with the native speaking English teacher.

11. 원어민 영어선생님 활용 사업에 대한 의견이 있으면 적어 주세요. If you have any opinions about the scheme of utilising native speaking English teachers please write them.

설문에 응해 주셔서 감사합니다.
Thank you for answering our questionnaire.


So, that’s it.

Now, for my thoughts, for what they’re worth. Firstly, I think it’s ridiculous that parents are asked some of these questions. These are people who largely haven’t met me, they don’t know me or anything about me. They haven’t seen my classes. They don’t know how I teach. They don’t know what their children are like in class.

How is it possible that “is not fluent enough in our language” can be an answer for why classes that I do are no better or worse than the Korean english teacher on their own? Surely the reason me and thousands like me are here is that we are native speakers of English. Secondly, clearly I do speak reasonable Korean. But I’m banned from talking Korean in front of or to the students. Still, many of them do not know.

I don’t really want to get into too much of a rant about this. Suffice it to say that I think parents have far too much power in the Korean education system. For the reasons above, they just aren’t in a position to know what’s best with regards to education practices. And yet they get this detailed questionnaire to do. Is the purpose of it really to find ou what parents think about native speaking English teachers in order to act upon it? Or is it simply making a show of valuing their opinion and won’t actually be taken seriously?

If the results are considerably against or for native speaking English teachers, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the results appear in a newspaper somewhere.

It strikes me that schools in Korea, even public schools, are far too concerned with showing off to parents. There seems to be far too much focus on how to appear good in the eyes of parents than how to actually be good and effective educators. Too much time is wasted doing what parents say should be done than on what is pedagogically sound practice. Parents opinions of NESTs can be influenced by any number of outside sources; newspapers, the internet, gossip and rumour and so on. But how many actually have accurate knowledge or experience of the programmes that bring them here or the work they do? And who is it that the education office is asking for their opinion?

If this and other such surveys come back with a large number of parents saying they don’t want NSETs any more, will the policy-makers defy such a moniker and simply adopt that as policy?

I’ve heard far too often in my time working in a Korean school: “but the parents want…” “but the parents don’t like…” “but the parents say…” And what the parents want, they always seem to get, for better or worse.


Protest and Bad Government: A Response to Popular Gusts

As the title suggests, this is a post in response to this post by Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling. Go read that one first, it’s a good post and very interesting, before coming back to read what I have to say on the matter.

From here on in the rest of this post assumes that you’ve read Matt’s post.

I’ve read Myers’ book and found it to be very good, and I have a lot of time for his opinions. There are some things here, however, that I disagree with, and others that I agree with.

I agree with Matt also, that Myers’ most interesting and important point is the difference in reaction to the Cheonan sinking and the protests.

That said, I think I need to throw in something to broaden the perspective on those two series of protests. I know that some people, particularly Americans, will feel very frustrated, angry, aggrieved about the protests, and they have every right to. I also know that that means they may not like what I’m about to say, but my intention is not to undermine their justification to feel angry about what happened.

Firstly, the 2002 protests. Now, I was not there, I was not in Korea at the time, nor did I speak Korean at the time. Despite this, when I have asked Koreans about it at a later date, the vast majority do not blame the individual soldiers for what happened. They also concede that similar things happen on Korean roads every day with Korean drivers, and nothing is done about it. Despite this, they think that friendly soldiers during times of peace should not be causing the deaths of schoolchildren on the streets. Accident, yes, but should it have happened, no, is the general message.

Regarding the protests, everybody I’ve asked has said it was more about the perceived lack of apology from America, and the fact that it apparently wasn’t a big deal in America, than about America itself. Their view is that, considering it was America that was stationed in Korea, America should have been more willing to conduct itself by Korean standards when apologising. That is, what Americans may have considered an over-elaborate gesture for a more minor incident (think of the number of friendly fire deaths in wars America has been part of), is what Koreans would have considered to be a fitting gesture to apologise for a serious incident. Think of the way Koreans in Korea apologised about the guy who shot his school up – they were nothing to do with it, and yet they apologised. This is a cultural thing, which some Koreans understand is different in America, others do not. Regardless, they felt this was the way America should have behaved. And whether we agree with that viewpoint or not, we surely must concede that that is a Korean cultural standard that America did not necessarily uphold at the time.

Bearing this in mind, and despite my positive opinion of what Myers has to say in general, I question then, “it was widely claimed that the Yankees murdered them callously.” Yes, there was public outrage, but as I’ve said above, many Koreans believe this was more at the way the incident was handled than either the incident itself or America. What sources is Myers using for the above comment, then? Or does he simply assume people will accept it? Same goes for the Uncle Sam comment, where so far only one such image has been found.

Of the 2008 protests, again, I think perhaps our view is somewhat distorted because of how we experienced the protests as non-Koreans. To us they were anti-Americanism at its ugliest.

Yes, some very xenophobic people helped stir them up, but there was more to it than that, and more to it than beef. I will acknowledge completely that the vast majority of Koreans were and still are hugely misinformed about the issues regarding mad cow disease. However, this really was, in many ways, more about the Lee Myung-bak government. I know some people will see this as the Korean justification, that it clearly was about anti-Americanism, and I understand that viewpoint. I also think some people want it to have been about that to justify their own anger about it. I don’t think that anger needs justification, personally, as it’s completely acceptable. It is still true, though, that the mood in Korea at the time was one of anger at the government, that something had to be done to show the government how angry people were.

The beef issue was the excuse to go out protesting, in the grand old Korean tradition. People felt that American beef imports were necessary, but that the government was weak in negotiations. The Koreans wanted younger cattle, who are statistically less likely to carry mad cow disease, and they wanted each cow checked, and the checking to be done by Koreans. What they got was older cattle, with random checks, carried out by Americans. Now, I’m the first to vociferously argue about the stupidity of protesting American beef because of the dangers of a disease that wasn’t present in American beef. On the other hand, I also accept that the government’s behaviour caused people to think that they were submitting to America, that they were acting as America’s lapdog, rather than in the interests of their own people. I’m not saying who I agree with but I do think this was the largest factor in the scale of the protests and of the anger. It may have seemed like it was directed at America, but they were in reality largely protests against the government, and out of frustration that it seemed that the government would let America have its own way and as a nation they were powerless to act in their own best interests.

The text at the bottom reads "Beef older than 30 months" - referring to older meat that is apparently more susceptible to mad cow

The government handled the protests badly, using overly violent means to try and suppress them, saying the babies who were there (who never should have been there) were protesters just the same and so on (See here, here, here and here). We know this, we’ve seen the videos and the photos. But what non-Korean speakers may not have picked up on is again the public calls for an apology, this time from the government negotiators. They wanted them to stand up and say they were sorry for not fighting harder for what Koreans wanted – which after all is their job – but instead, those negotiators went on tv and ate American beef. This just made it worse, predictably.

Irresponsible parents respond to irresponsible government

Then there’s the issue of Korean farmers, who were and still are rapidly becoming a dying breed due to the importation of cheap American rice and beef. I know, as I’m sure most people do, that this will benefit Korea in the long term. The issue is that these people are losing their livelihoods now. I personally have very close friends who have family members who farm rice and beef. With no suitably state pension, if these sorts of people can no longer sell what they know how to farm, they essentially can’t survive. People are angry and definitely were angry then about this, and I can see why. And then also, as I alluded to above, there’s the frustration that when such international negotiations take place, Korea comes off as the weak party. People often have the opinion that if Korea disappeared, America would move one and barely feel any ill effects, whereas if the reverse were true and America disappeared, Korea would soon follow.

If you want my personal opinion, I think the Lee Myung-bak government is pretty useless – worse than – and the biggest reason is the complete inability and failure of the government to explain themselves to the people. If they are really acting in the way which they consider to be in the best interests of the country (beef imports, FTAs), they also have to be able to explain why this is to the people. They are either inable or just don’t; they act against the wishes of the people, and instead of explaining their reasoning beforehand, they bulldoze straight through and try and suppress the inevitable backlash. That’s not good government, and if it was my government, I’d want to protest it too. Had the beef protests never happened, we could well have seen similar protests as a result of the 4 Great Rivers project or any number of other things. That said, anti-Americanism among a small minority was vociferous and vocal enough to really fire up those protests, which were of course a perfect vehicle for it.

There’s obviously more to say about this, and I know not everyone will necessarily agree with what I’ve said, or like it, so I welcome discussion in the comments.

Suspects Guilty Until Proven Innocent

This is essentially the message that the Joongang Daily is sending out to the public with this story.

Suspects in Korea’s worst violent crimes will soon have to show their faces to the public… Under the new regulations, where there is strong evidence of guilt and a public demand to know, prosecutors will be able to release the names and ages of accused sex offenders and vicious criminals, and allow the media to photograph their faces.

Now, I’m not really sure what to make of this. Firstly, the authors of this article, Lee Chul-jae and Kim Mi-ju, should be given due credit for raising both sides of the issue. They go on to write,

The practice to shield suspects’ faces grew out of human rights concerns, and some experts believe it should still be upheld.

Seo Suk-ho, an attorney at Kim and Chang, warned that unilaterally revealing suspects’ identities against their will violates the presumption of innocence.

And on the other hand,

Others approved of the soon-to-be adopted regulations.

“If [prosecutors] can accurately describe their charges, revealing a suspect’s identity doesn’t violate the presumption of innocence,” said Moon Jae-wan, a law professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

I’d like to raise a few points in response to this. Obviously, most of you will now that this follows on from two specific cases, one where a man raped an eight year old girl, known as the ‘Na-young’ case, and the other more recent one of the rape and murder of a thirteen year old girl.

Mothers protest the 'Na-young' case ruling

In the second case, a photograph of the suspect, Kim Kil-tae, was released before he was even arrested, as well as being used on wanted posters. As the Joongang Daily article implies, the decision to do this has come out of public opinion. In my opinion, however, it’s another case of the government trying to just keep the people happy while completely missing the point.

The point is not that people want to see the faces of these people – they’re not a threat once they’re caught. What the people of Korea really want is, one, for better regulations to be put in place to stop these crimes being committed in the first place, and two, for the offenders to be given sufficiently harsh sentences when they’re charged.

The public face of Kim Kil-tae

One point of real aggravation that I’ve heard from Koreans I’ve spoken to about this is that far too often things that the government or other people with power really should be doing doesn’t get done unless they have to. When does should become have to? When the public is made aware of it, and when they make a big fuss. But it shouldn’t take street protests, or national outcry for the government to realise somethings wrong and to do something about it.

I don’t want to go into too much detail of past occurrences of such things, but for people who recognise what I’m talking about, I think this in part stems from Korea’s developmental state period. That was a time where anything went as long as it led to economic development in the short term. Such attitudes clearly still run through the government when it comes to certain issues. With the economy, it took the 1997 economic collapse to make anyone do anything about it. Now it’s taken huge public outcry for anyone to do anything about violent sexual crimes, and it’s probably the most ineffectual thing they could possibly have done. A bit like tightening laws on foreigners after Koreans commit crimes…

I’ll only touch on the issue of innocent until proven guilty briefly here, because I’m not too sure where I stand on it yet – I’m interested to hear your thoughts though. Basically, once the police release photos of their suspects they’ll become guilty in the public’s eyes. That’s what happened with Kim Kil-tae, even if that’s not what the police are saying. They’re only fueling the media and public frenzy by doing this, and as far as I can tell, it serves nothing. If it had been the law all along I could see that it might not have had the effect of convincing people suspects were guilty before they were tried, but changing it suddenly under public pressure means from now on suspects won’t have the luxury of presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion. And what happens if they’re found innocent? Anyway, enough of that, because I’m no legal expert, and as I’ve said, I haven’t made up my mind about it yet.

Roh Moo-Hyun’s Suicide: Sadness and Hypocrisy

As the title to this post suggests, I did not take well to reading of former President Roh’s (pronounced No) suicide in the news. I was troubled by this latest of markers that Korea is a country ravaged by suicides, and has been for a few years now. There are numerous excellent blog posts regarding the issue of suicide in Korea, so I will not attempt to rehash what has been said in them, and I will only provide here the basic data of Korea having the highest suicide rate in the OECD, in fact the highest in the world outside of the Eastern Bloc (inclusive of Kazakhstan).

As I’m sure we all now know, in the last few years Korea has suffered a spate of suicides, the causes of which seemingly being drawn from a small pool of usual suspects: depression, pressure in schooling or work, online verbal attacks by netizens, debt. As I said, the phenomenon of suicide in Korea has been discussed elsewhere to good effect, and so I would rather stick to this particular case, largely for its uniqueness. Roh Moo-hyun’s suicide is not just an unusual case in Korea, however, but also internationally. Until roughly a year ago, he was the president of the Republic of Korea, the most powerful and prominent man in the country. How did he fall so far and so fast (genuinely no bad taste pun intended), why is it such a sad story, and why do I associate it with hypocrisy?

Well, to explain these, it’s necessary to glance briefly back over his presidency. In the election of 2002, Roh stood against Lee Hoi-chang. Speaking about this in mid-2009, it seems reasonable to say that Barack Obama and John McCain represent a decent comparison of where Roh and Lee stood in relation to each other. By this I mean that Roh was by far the more liberal, younger and more politically sensitive of the two. He was the first of a new generation of politicians, and demonstrated that he could deliver a new style of government and politics for the younger generations of Koreans. Roh won about 60% of votes in the 20-40 age group, with Lee claiming just over 30%. The 40-50 age group was split about 50-50. It was only in the older generations that Lee managed to win popular support. What we should take form this is that Roh was able to empathise with those who did not grow up under the highly authoritarian governments of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. They were voters who grew up in a much freer society, where they didn’t suffer the same political and ideological suppression and oppression that their parents’ generation did. They lived in the internet age, with far greater access to information and far more discussion on important issues. On top of this, Roh was arguably the most liberal presidential candidate Korea had ever had. In a political climate used to military figures, authoritarian rule and veteran campaigners as their presidents, human rights lawyer Roh was a breath of fresh air.

Roh really was supposed to be the clean break, that crucial step forward into the modern democratic era. He decried corruption and actively sought to purge regionalism from Korea’s political landscape. He was a nationalist, but moderate enough in that respect to appeal across the board. He was the son of a ‘peasant’ family, and was even a leader of rebellions against the government of Chun Doo-hwan. This was the hype that surrounded his election campaign, and for my money, he tried very hard to back it up once he was in office.

He did attempt to free Korean politics from the grip of endemic corruption and regionalism. He even wanted to move the capital away from Seoul. He also opted to continue the Sunshine Policy of the previous administration, the policy of engagement and steps towards cooperation with North Korea. But it seems that Korea did not cope well with some of the changes Roh attempted to bring about. Perhaps Korea’s top-down age-based hierarchy prevented the desires of the younger generation(s) being put into practice. Another contributing factor evidently was that Roh was inexperienced when it came to actually being in a position to make the decisions. As mentioned, his attempt to move the capital failed completely, and it was an ill-advised move in the first place – just imagine if someone tried it in your country.

Roh did have moderate successes, but it was the negative aspects of his term that garnered most interest, especially from the press. His administration was accused of being incompetent in dealing with the economy, as well as other issues, such as moving the capital, or purging the corrupt politicians. I could give various excuses for why these failed, in defense of Roh, but the truth of the matter is that being a politician is about more than just having the right policies. That may be what gets you elected in the first place, but then you have to be able to turn words and ideas into action, and it was perhaps in this respect that Roh was lacking as a leader.

What struck me most, however, was how badly the media took to him. Most Korean presidents go through a stage when their popularity plummets, but for Roh this stage seemed to last for most of his term in office. As anyone who has spent time in Korea will know, the mainstream media has a great impact on popular opinion – more even than one might expect. It is for this reason that I say that Roh’s declining popularity was largely caused by the fact that the press didn’t like him. They focused so much on corruption within his party, his family, and his failures, that the general public turned against him in ever-increasing numbers. None of the accusations against him were particularly serious, certainly not by the standards of South Korean politicians. The simple fact of the matter is that Koreans have had to put up with far worse from some of their presidents, but this was masked by economic development or simply by oppression. In some ways, then, the transparency in politics that Roh fought for contributed heavily to his diminished support and in turn ability to achieve anything.

Perhaps what he was most renowned for was the attempted impeachment due to an alleged breach of election regulations. The rule he was accused of violating was that he openly supported his Uri Party before the election – the issue being that the party wasn’t formed until after he had taken office. He was found guilty, but his actions were not deemed to be serious enough to warrant impeachment, and he was allowed to continue his term. On the positive side, this little mishap sparked a protest on the streets of Seoul by supporters of Roh, asking for him to be allowed to continue.


Roh Moo-hyun placard
Roh Moo-hyun placard

The sign on the left reads: “Please let our country’s president do some work!”


As I’m sure many people will have read, Roh was also under investigation at the time of his suicide, this time for accepting bribes. This is what angered me most about the whole history of the media seeking to demonize Roh for fairly trivial matters, simply because they didn’t approve of him. Firstly, he has never been proven guilty. As I said, the case was ongoing, and has now been dropped. But to the media, it seems like this man’s taking of his own life is perfect justification to recirculate articles whose real focus is in making Roh look like a criminal and a fraud. Secondly, Roh has always claimed his innocence. He admitted that money changed hands, but we know that none of it was ever given to him. It was paid to two members of his family, and everyone involved has stressed that it was investment money, not a bribe, as is the accusation. I’m in no position to determine what the reality of the situation was. All I will say is that the total amount was about $6m, and I’m pretty sure that more than that has changed hands between other Korean politicians before and quite possibly since. Kim Dae-jung won a Nobel Prize for organising a summit that only happened because North Korea received money from the Hyundai Group in secret, just to get things moving I suppose – enough said.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this shouldn’t be investigated properly. My issue is that other presidents and prominent politicians have got away with far worse, but seemed to keep the right people happy, and nothing ever came of it. Roh was disliked from the start in some circles, and in my opinion they sought to tarnish his image to the general public. He certainly wasn’t the most capable nor the most effective South Korean president, but he clearly was a passionate man, who believed he was acting in the best interests of the people of his country. He represented a huge step towards more liberal politics in Korea, and a more modern way of doing things. One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve heard aimed at him since his presidency is that people were sometimes embarrassed by the fact that they saw him as a weak president. Basically, they wanted someone who could be more authoritarian. And yet we all know about their history with authoritarian presidents.




The Kwangju Uprising, 1980



The tragedy of the story is that he seemed to be a decent man, who tried to improve the situation in Korea, had moderate success in a political sense, and perhaps some small failures in a personal sense, and yet it is these that have hounded him, to the point that he would throw himself off a cliff. I look back and think of the effort he made before and during his presidency, and his striving for justice – don’t forget he was a human rights lawyer before he was a politician – in a system that has time and time again rewarded injustice and corruption. To reach a point where he felt that he could no longer achieve anything, having once been a man of so much purpose is what saddens me. I was not his greatest admirer as a president, but I do share many of his beliefs regarding what should be done to improve the country in which he lived. He was hounded unfairly by the media, and now that he’s dead the same media say how much he will be missed. The hypocrisy is a shame, and he deserved better.