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Ruling camp revs up move on state history textbook

The government and the ruling Saenuri Party are accelerating moves to introduce state history textbooks for secondary education despite burgeoning opposition from academics, teachers and progressive voters.

The Saenuri Party held a discussion with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea on Sunday afternoon and mapped out plans of unifying the history textbook publication under the government’s direct watch. Earlier this month, the party also launched a special committee aimed to improve the current textbooks that they claimed were confusing and self-depreciative about Korean history and politically biased as they were authored by leftist historians.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, in counteraction, held an emergency meeting and criticized what they said was President Park Geun-hye’s move to whitewash and glorify her late father former President’s Park Chung-hee’s iron-fisted rule in the 1960s and the ’70s.

NPAD floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul proposed the Saenuri Party to hold a parliamentary investigation into the current textbooks and the authorization process before pushing ahead with introducing the new system.

His proposal was in response to Saenuri Rep. Lee Jung-hyun’s earlier comment that the controversial makeup of current textbooks that brought division and bias requires a national audit. Lee is one of President Park’s closest aides.

While the ministry is yet to make an official announcement of its decision -- which is slated to happen early this week -- the ruling camp is said to have prepared for the introduction of the state-authored textbook upon President Park’s orders.

In February last year, Park told the Education Ministry to “prepare measures to improve, such as by developing a balanced history textbook based on facts.”

Sources have said that the government appears to have decided to have a state-run agency author the textbook under its supervision, noting that reinforcing the authorization process would fall short of serving its purpose as the progressive Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union would block selection of certain textbooks. The government has claimed that of the eight textbooks currently published by private houses, only one is conservative and the other seven are authored by mostly the same leftist authors.

Sunday’s meeting was presided by Saenuri chief policymaker Rep. Kim Jung-hoon, and also attended by chairwoman of the special history textbook committee Rep. Kim Eul-dong. They reportedly shared views that current history education was being manipulated by the leftists’ ideological and political purposes and that normalization of the textbook was necessary for a balanced view on history and integration of the people.

They also reportedly discussed ways to promote the move to the general public, such as by distributing casebooks to parents and students with a list of distorted and erroneous historical events and interpretations written in the current textbooks. The special committee is also set to produce various programs tailored for social networking platforms as well as arranging public hearings and seminars.

“Some from the opposition are suggesting that the history textbook issue is relevant to the incumbent government’s ideological propensity, but that is absurd,” said Rep. Kang Eun-hee, a member of the special committee.

The opposition, meanwhile, has been taking issue with what they said was President Park’s long-held goal of “setting straight” the accomplishments of her father ever since he was assassinated by his intelligence chief in 1979.

They are said to be contemplating holding rallies and moving to link the government’s move with other key issues that they hold sway to, such as the approval of major economic or budget bills. They are also reportedly considering pushing for the resignation of the education minister.

“It took years of democratic movements to change the state-authored textbook, the remnant of Yushin, to state authorization. No conspiracy that attempts to turn back time of the Republic of Korea will succeed,” said NPAD spokesman Kim Sung-soo. Yushin refers to the constitutional amendment by the Park Chung-hee administration that allowed him to stay in power.

The minor Justice Party also vowed to fight alongside NPAD against the government’s move.

“The Education Ministry and the ruling party claim that the authors of the textbook are leaning to the left. But such an argument is based on data compiled by ultrarightist groups,” said Justice Party floor leader Rep. Jeong Jin-hoo.

Currently, eight private publishing companies print history textbooks for middle and high schools after getting approval from the government. The schools then can choose any of the eight publishers’ textbooks. Elementary schools have been using state-authorized history textbooks throughout.

The government was in charge of publishing history textbooks from 1973 to 2009. In 2010, it began allowing approved private publishing companies to print history textbooks.

From news reports