A right-wing online community is adding fuel to ideological and regional frictions that have long plagued South Korea’s politics.
The website, Ilgan Best (ilbe.com) began as a subsection of another user-edited website but broke away in early 2010. Although the site began as an online community for humor, it has been dominated by those with extreme right-wing opinions, and its most popular posts are often those that denigrate progressive political leaders as well as the Jeolla provinces and their residents.
The website also has its own vocabulary, in which the word democratization is used to referred to negative developments or when expressing dislike of a particular post. Some of its users also refer to May 23, the day former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide by jumping off a cliff, as “Gravity Day.”
Its users also use the word “skate” to refer to the residents of the Jeolla provinces and those with progressive political views. Fermented skate is a popular dish in the region.
The website and its users have most recently come under public attention for posts claiming that the Gwangju Democratization Movement that began on May 18, 1980 was an anti-South Korean riot incited and led by North Korean agents and troops.
Although similar opinions have been expressed over the years, the issue rose as a major social topic following two cable channels broadcasting programs supporting the claims.
|Website of Ilgan Best|
On May 13, a TV Chosun current affairs program showed North Korean defector Lim Cheon-yong claiming that 600 North Korean troops were present in Gwangju during the event.
Although the program incited strong criticism from the political arena, Channel A aired a similar program on May 15 showing a man claiming to have been a former North Korean soldier present in Gwangju during the 1980 event.
The main opposition Democratic Party has since called for the programs to be axed, and officials concerned with them to be penalized.
As such, political figures including Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-tae and the Democratic Party as well as non-governmental organizations in the southern city are considering legal actions against those responsible.
“(The party) will take civil and criminal legal action against those who posted (about the Gwangju movement) on Ilgan Best,” Rep. Kang Gi-jung, the chief of DP’s committee on distortion of the 1980 movement, said Wednesday.
“Against the site and its operator, the party will consider legal actions such as petitioning for an injunction to stop the site from being operated.”
For their part, users of the Ilgan Best website say that they are only expressing their opinions, and that legal actions against them would violate their freedom of speech.
“Even previous administrations have changed the way historical events are viewed, and as there are still unanswered questions, we should be allowed to express our views,” an Ilgan Best user said declining to be named.
During the Chun Doo-hwan administration, the 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement was referred to by various terms including riot and “violent situation.” Under the Roh Tae-woo administration that followed, the event was first referred to its official name of Gwangju Democratization Movement.
“If we are prosecuted for saying things that do not conform exactly to the government’s official stance, then that is oppression of the freedom of expression.”
However, Ilgan Best members have engaged in expressing political views.
Racist posts can also be commonly found on the website, the most recent of which concerned Hwang Min-woo, a 7-year-old singer who shot to fame after appearing in the music video for Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”
Earlier this month, the police were alerted to posts by more than 10 Internet users who appear to be Ilgan Best users cooperated in paralyzing the homepage of Hwang’s management company on April 23.
In addition, there are reported to be hundreds of derogatory comments ranging from those attacking him for his heritage and his hometown.
His mother is originally from Vietnam, and until recently he lived in Gwangju.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org