Back To Top

Ruling party links state textbook opponents to North Korea

With South Korea plunging deeper into the dispute over state-controlled history lessons, the ruling Saenuri Party on Thursday attempted to throw North Korea into the mix by suggesting that opponents of the policy may be under orders from the communist country.

Rep. Suh Chung-won, a senior Saenuri lawmaker from the pro-President Park Geun-hye faction, suggested that the recent criticism issued by Pyongyang on Seoul’s plan to reinstate state-authored history textbooks for secondary education was a “public order” to its associates.

“The judicial authorities must conduct an investigation to see if there is any truth to this (claim),” Suh said during his party’s Supreme Council meeting. “If this is true, the authorities must find out which pro-North groups and individuals received the order and which actions the said groups and individuals took after the state textbook arose as an issue.”

Saenuri chief policymaker Rep. Kim Jung-hoon chimed in by saying that the opposition’s logic in opposing the state textbooks is similar to that of Pyongyang, and added their fight will only fuel the people’s suspicion toward the government. Rep. Lee Jung-hyun of the same party had said earlier the opponents of the state textbooks intend to prepare to “communize Korea.”

The ruling party’s accusation sparked furious reaction from the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

“What about Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, (Saenuri lawmakers) Yoo Seong-min, Chung Doo-un and Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil (who raised issues about state history textbooks)? Does he (Lee) seek to report them to the authorities?” said NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul on Thursday.

“(The comments) make me wonder if these lawmakers can even think normally. They aren’t the pro-Park faction; I would like to call them ‘pro-Park insane’ faction.”

The same day, NPAD leader Rep. Moon Jae-in suggested that the president should launch an organization encompassing the education circles, historians and others related to the textbook issue to discuss ways to improve the existing textbook publication system. The current system allows eight private publishers to author textbooks, which the government authorizes for use after a screening process.

Activists in support of the government’s plan for state-authored textbooks stage a protest against the current history textbooks in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap
Activists in support of the government’s plan for state-authored textbooks stage a protest against the current history textbooks in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap

“Since the government and the ruling party claim that the current system has problems, let’s discuss the issue from square one,” he said in a press conference Thursday. ““In exchange, the president should temporarily cease attempts to push ahead with plans for the state textbook. ... The political circles should focus instead on policies related to the public.”

The Saenuri Party immediately turned down Moon’s request, claiming that it is a “ruse” to drag the textbook issue to the center of the politics.

The Park administration’s decision to take back the publishing rights of history textbooks for secondary education from private publishers has sparked nationwide objections, mainly from progressive historians and opposition lawmakers. Since the policy was announced by the Education Ministry on Oct. 12, a myriad of scholars ― including the state-run Academy of Korean Studies ― have issued statements decrying the move and vowing not to participate as authors in what they claimed was a “move to squash out diversity in historical interpretation.”

As of this week, 181 scholars outside Korea also have signed a joint statement expressing their concern over the government-issued history textbooks.

On Tuesday, President Park Geun-hye reiterated her resolve to push ahead with the contentious policy, saying “correct history textbooks” are essential for “normalizing history education.” Her Saenuri has also been accusing the opposition of attempting to use the textbook issue for political gains.

A new poll by Realmeter announced Thursday showed that 44.8 percent of Korean adults support the state-issued textbooks, while 50 percent oppose them. The gap had narrowed from 40.4 percent for and 51.1 percent against in a poll held on Oct. 26-27.

Those in their 20s, 30s and 40s overwhelmingly rejected the idea ― disapproval rates of 73.3 percent, 65.8 percent and 59.4 percent, respectively ― but 59.6 percent of 50-somethings and 68.4 percent of 60-somethings approved the policy.

By Yoon Min-sik