Published : 2013-10-23 19:54
Updated : 2013-10-24 10:59
President Park Geun-hye’s rekindling of the globally well-received “Saemaul Movement” legacy of her late father, former President Park Chung-hee, is sparking debate at home about whether or not the attempt is politically dangerous.
On Sunday, Park appeared before a zealous crowd belonging to the nationwide Saemaul leadership council and proposed a second wave of the landmark rural development movement from the 1970s.
She said, “The Saemaul Movement was a mental revolution that changed our modern history.”
She proposed developing the movement to a future-oriented, pan-national movement to “realize the second miracle of the Han River” for it to become “a movement to reform the citizens’ mindset” through “integration of the people.”
While details of the second Saemaul movement are yet to be elaborated, Park suggested that it would involve resolving gaps between rural and urban areas and further, between generations, regions and class. The ambitious vision should go beyond borders and spread globally, Park added, saying that the Saemaul movement has become a “lamp of hope” for many countries around the world.
Moves to resurrect the Saemaul Movement have been repeated in the past, including in 1998, when the leadership council pledged a second round of the movement to reinvigorate the country, realize a sustainable environment, prepare for reunification and bring coprosperity to the world.
But critics point to the historical origin and what they call the totalitarian characteristic of the original Saemaul Movement.
The movement that stemmed from rural development projects gradually spread into a movement for national modernization. The movement ran alongside the authoritarian rule of the Park Chung-hee administration including the Constitution revision in 1969, the state of emergency in 1971 and the declaration of the Yushin system in 1972.
Critics say that the Saemaul Movement largely morphed into a political movement, and that the move for its second round runs the risk of awakening specters of the past.
“The message of running the second Saemaul Movement in itself could be perceived as backward-looking and stuck in the Park Chung-hee era. The mentality or the governing environment from the Saemaul Movement of the past and now has extensively changed,” said politics professor Kim Hyung-joon of Myongji University.
“It is said that a president’s style is largely identified by his or her cognitive style. (Regardless of the contents of her intentions), Park is exposing herself to the opposition attacks by having her cognition stuck to the 1970s and being represented as authoritative and closed,” he said.
The Saemaul Movement is considered to have evolved from the combination of rural areas’ autonomous attempts to prop up their communities and the government’s on-again, off-again regional communities’ development projects since the 1950s. Its characteristic is also often compared to the rural area promotion movement pushed by the Japanese Government-General of Korea during the colonial years.
During the Park Chung-hee administration, when modernization and industrialization radically accelerated, farming areas were relatively neglected. In order to address the growing dissatisfaction from rural regions, the Saemaul Movement, freshly named by Park Chung-hee, started to pick up pace to reduce the gap against urban regions and promote regional balance.
While the initial phase of the Saemaul Movement involved efforts to raise the income of agricultural households, the successful operation spread onto cities and factories with the prevailing slogan of “diligence, self-development and cooperation” with the united goal of becoming an advanced nation.
But the movement gradually lost its steam, and under the Chun Doo-hwan administration, the organization depreciated into a source of various corruptions with the involvement of Chun’s brother.
Efforts to maintain the Saemaul spirit continued such as with the launch of Korea Saemaul Undong Center in 1980. International attention also continued, and export of the Saemaul gained traction in the 1990s.
Upon Park’s full-fledged Saemaul Undong initiative, the rival political parties immediately sparred over its appropriateness.
The ruling Saenuri Party supported Park’s vision as a means to break through the difficult economic situation, while the main opposition Democratic Party accused it of returning to the past authoritative government.
“The Park administration must keep in mind that the people will judge on its audacity to view the people as a subject to straighten out. … The people only see the Saemaul Undong campaign as a return to the past,” said DP spokeswoman Bae Jae-jeung.
Saenuri Party spokesman Yoo Il-ho rebuked: “It has been long since President Park emphasized on the Saemaul Undong, and it is also true that other countries wish to learn it. It is a far-fetched interpretation to say Park is trying to create another authoritarian government.”
The government, meanwhile, is moving to step up the export of the Saemaul Undong. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration said Monday that it will actively support cooperation with such countries as Myanmar, Cambodia and Rwanda.