What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The first lady’s clothes
In June 2018, a private organization called the Korea Taxpayers’ Association (KTA) requested the release of information regarding the amount of government budget that had been spent on clothes, accessories, shoes, and other items for First Lady Kim Jung-sook. At the time, Cheong Wa Dae declined the request, and the KTA eventually filed a lawsuit. On February 10 of this year, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the KTA, stating that partial details about the expenditure should be released. Cheong Wa Dae appealed the court’s decision on March 2.
Since then, members of the public have been trying to estimate the cost of the first lady’s wardrobe themselves by collecting photographs of her in different outfits, and there have been petitions to Cheong Wa Dae demanding the release of relevant information:
Cheong Wa Dae should immediately disclose to the public the protocol expenses for the president’s wife Kim Jung-sook, including the cost of her clothes!
1) The transparency of the Moon Jae-in administration in Cheong Wa Dae has not improved much from the previous administration, and Cheong Wa Dae has kept the details of each item of its business expenses undisclosed. Transparently disclosing whether public taxes were used for the purchase of the president’s wife’s clothes is the foundation of national trust and democracy, and it is the people’s right to know.
2) In November 2017, even the Moon Jae-in administration argued that “special activity expenses” should be abolished. The court has now ruled that some of the details of the “special activity expenses” should be disclosed, but Cheong Wa Dae has appealed the decision. Once President Moon Jae-in’s term ends, the details of the “special activity expenses” will be moved to the Presidential Archives and sealed. Since the government’s motto has been “a fair country”, it should prove its transparency by disclosing the protocol expenses for Mrs. Kim Jung-sook.
3) If Cheong Wa Dae delays disclosing this information for the protection of constitutional order, we have no choice but to apply to President Moon Jae-in the same reasoning that was used for the impeachment of the former president. And if he appeals, he is committing a sin against history.
4) The brands and prices of the clothes [Kim has worn in the past] have already been posted on the internet, and we require a detailed explanation for them. In the case of high-end brand clothing, Cheong Wa Dae must disclose the places of purchase as well as their prices.
5) For clothes that are similar to those of famous brands, or are fakes, as there is a potential for infringement on the creations, we require explanations.
The people are very disappointed about the allegations that the president’s wife has spent a huge amount of protocol expenses on expensive clothes when everyone is having a hard time due to the Covid pandemic, and we have the right to an explanation from Cheong Wa Dae.
Do not hide the truth that will be revealed someday anyway, and please disclose and explain these issues in a transparent manner for the people’s right to know.
— Anonymous petitioner, March 15, 2022.
Because this controversy was picked up by major news outlets, including the Chosun Ilbo, with members of the People Power Party also demanding the release of the information, Cheong Wa Dae issued an official response on March 29.
There have been groundless allegations, such as the use of special activity expenses, in relation to First Lady Kim Jung-sook’s official wardrobe, but they are not true at all.
There was never any part of the national budget, such as the special activity expenses, which was earmarked for the purpose of purchasing clothing for the spouse of the incumbent president. All of her clothes have been purchased privately. Clothes that she has received for international events or travel have been either donated or returned.
The protocol expenses for the diplomatic activities of the head of state and the first lady during official activities, such as bilateral summits, state visits, and invitational events for foreign dignitaries, are incidental expenses, and the budget for those expenses is partially subsidized at the minimum required level, according to strict internal procedures.
It is regrettable that there are reckless claims that differ from the facts, given that it is difficult to disclose the special activity expenses of the Presidential Secretariat in detail for reasons of national defense, diplomacy, and security.
— Shin Hye-hyeon, deputy spokesperson for Cheong Wa Dae, March 29, 2022.
Despite this response from Cheong Wa Dae, the allegations of Kim using tax money to purchase her clothes are likely to stick around for a while longer.
Protests by Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination
In February 2022, Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD), a civic group established in 2007 to speak up for people with disabilities, began holding morning protests at subway stations in Seoul, demanding that the government increase the budget for welfare programs and guarantee mobility rights for disabled people. After Sim Sang-jeong, the Justice Party’s presidential candidate at the time, mentioned mobility rights in a televised presidential debate, SADD decided to suspend the subway protests.
They began again on March 24, however, after Yoon Suk-yeol had been elected president. SADD has said that its reason for resuming the protests is to secure the budget for the rights of people with disabilities. This issue was not addressed by Yoon during the presidential debates prior to his election.
As SADD’s protests have caused delays in the subway during the rush hour, many have criticized the group for causing inconvenience to the citizens of Seoul. One of their most vocal critics has been Lee Jun-seok, the leader of the People Power Party:
The People Power Party has always worked hard to improve the mobility of people with disabilities and will continue to work harder.
However, it is puzzling that the continuous protests began to be held after Mayor Oh Se-hoon took office, with people arguing that he has failed to keep the promises, for the right to mobility for disabled people, that were made by former mayor Park Won-soon under the Moon Jae-in administration.
In addition, the People Power Party and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol already promised several months ago to discuss the issues with [SADD] executives.
No matter how legitimate the claim, if it is made while excessively infringing on the rights of others, people may view it negatively.
The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Seoul Metro should actively deploy safety personnel to ensure that the millions of passengers on the Seoul subways, where punctuality is vital, do not become hostages to a certain group. Since boarding the trains is normally restricted according to a schedule even for non-disabled passengers, it is not a problem at all to restrict boarding for passengers with disability to a certain window of time after the subway doors have opened.
They need to actively intervene in the absurdity of the disabled people holding the morning of millions of Seoul citizens hostage, while protesting for their right to mobility in their daily lives.
— Lee Jun-seok, leader of the People Power Party, March 25, 2022.
Lee’s strong language and false claims that SADD’s “protests began to be held after Mayor Oh Se-hoon took office” and that people were “arguing that he failed to keep the promises for the right to mobility for disabled people made by former mayor Park Won-soon under the Moon Jae-in administration” have aroused anger from many who support SADD. These promises were in fact made by Lee Myung-bak, years before Oh, Park, or Moon took office. And the protests for mobility rights have been going on for much longer. Jang Hye-yeong, National Assembly member for the Justice Party, is one of those who have spoken out in support of SADD.
The People Power Party’s leader Lee Jun-seok has attacked the legitimate protests demanding universal mobility rights for those who have difficulty using public transportation and has pressured the Police and Seoul Metro to take measures. The self-righteousness of the next ruling party’s leader, who has zero empathy and is making wild claims about mobilizing law enforcement to suppress the voices of the underprivileged who are not guaranteed the right to safely ride the subway, is very concerning.
Lee asserts that the People Power Party has made efforts to improve the mobility of people with disabilities. That is just spin. If Lee Jun-seok and the People Power Party, a major political party that has held power twice in the past 20 years, have really worked hard enough to improve the mobility of people with disabilities, there would be no reason for disabled people to get hurt or fall to their deaths from the dangerous wheelchair lifts at subway stations without an elevator, nor would there be the need for subway protests like now. The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations promised to increase the use of low-floor buses to 41.5% of city buses nationwide by 2016, but only 19.0% were supplied during their terms. If what Lee says is true, he is only confessing to a lack of effort and incompetence.
The Seoul subway, where he says “punctuality is vital”, has continued to neglect its obligation to guarantee punctuality and basic safety to citizens with disabilities among millions of Seoulites. The demand to guarantee the right to move is not a matter of promises made by the heads of specific local governments, such as Oh Se-hoon and Park Won-soon, but a consistent civic demand that has been repeated for the past 21 years. The right to mobility is the improvement of the public transportation environment that binds all citizens, including people with disabilities, to ensure punctuality for all citizens. The current protests are being held to address the issue of the poor environment for mobility not only in Seoul but all across the country.
During the last presidential election, people with disabilities held subway protests demanding that each candidate promise a budget for the rights of disabled people, to ensure the right to mobility, education, and deinstitutionalization. In response, Justice Party candidate Sim Sang-jung used her one minute in a televised debate to urge other candidates to address the issue, but candidate Yoon Suk-yeol and the People Power Party gave no sensible response the entire time.
I would like to say this to People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok. As the leader of the next ruling party, if you have even the slightest awareness of your responsibility to guarantee the right of all citizens to move freely, now is not the time to make rash and risky remarks about using law enforcement to suppress those who have difficulty using transportation. Instead, it is time to sincerely reflect on you and your party’s lack of effort and ability and suggest measures to address these issues.
— Jang Hye-yeong, National Assembly Member for the Justice Party, March 25, 2022.
Byun Jaewon, the former head of the Policy Bureau at SADD also responded to Lee’s Facebook posts:
It is true that SADD and you [People Power Party’s leader Lee Jun-seok] met, but if anyone were to ask if that led to anything, I can only say that nothing has been achieved, particularly regarding the budget. It would be correct to say that the next dialogue was only achieved after we staged a surprise demonstration or protest. I’m sorry, but the purpose of SADD as a human rights organization and a civic group was not to have a commemorative photo taken with the then-opposition and current ruling party representatives. The goal of our activities is to improve the system so that the lives of people with disabilities, who do not even dare to go out of their houses, receive education, or even dream of commuting to work, can improve even just a little. Therefore, no one can call our meeting and a commemorative photograph of the event a great achievement or effort. And, incidentally, we did not just chase after the People Power Party. If you just search for “SADD Lee Jae-myung Song Young-gil” right now, you will find a lot of search results that show that SADD has doggedly followed around the Democratic Party.
We are not asking for the fulfillment of excessive demands from a single meeting. Both you and I know this, but beneath the surface of this case, there have been countless informal exchanges of messages and continuous requests for dialogue and review. Those records must be in your KakaoTalk messages. Not only this, but during the televised presidential debates, we boarded the trains with a message to all presidential candidates asking them to make a promise to improve policies for people with disabilities, and candidates Sim Sang-jung and Lee Jae-myung both made promises during the TV debates. Only the People Power Party never responded.
So, in the end, before we talk about who’s throwing a tantrum, it’d be nice to be able to talk about who is refusing to communicate.
— Byun Jaewon, former head of the Policy Bureau at SADD, March 26, 2022.
Voices against Lee have been growing stronger among other civic groups too, including the Korea Differently Abled Federation, which has called for Lee to resign from his post as the leader of the People Power Party:
Lee Jun-seok who incites hatred instead of walking with the weak is not suitable to be a party leader and must resign.
It’s deplorable. The disability awareness of the leader of a political party is very wrong. The leader of the ruling party, who will soon rank seventh in terms of national protocol, ordered the intervention by public authorities in the protests held by people with disabilities.
Lee Jun-seok’s remarks are not mere mistakes. He has made more than 10 posts on Facebook over the weekend, obstinately sticking to his own opinions. During the presidential election, he promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and recently he announced that people would have to compete fairly, without quotas for young people, women, or people with disabilities, in the proportional representation nomination system.
Lee Jun-seok’s idea of fairness goes against common sense. There is not a single hint of the value of equal opportunity for resolving inequality. Is there any difference between Lee Jun-seok, a young politician who has been part of an elite group with good education, and other established politicians? Rather than siding with the weak, he promotes hatred and division. His way of thinking is no different from the views of Seoul Metro, which drafted a document on ‘Fighting Opinion Wars with the Socially Vulnerable’ on March 17. In the comment sections under Lee’s Facebook posts, hate speech against disabled people and the division of people into those with disabilities and those without are reproduced countless times.
It is wrong of Lee Jun-seok, as a politician, to criticize the protests without offering an alternative. Now is not the time to judge the rights or wrongs of any government or mayor but to face the reality that the right to mobility of people with disabilities has not been guaranteed, even after 21 years, and to provide responsible measures as a politician. Eliminating the protesters does not address the problem.
Lee said that he has learned about the discourse of underdogma (the idea that the underdogs, or the weak, are unconditionally good and the strong are unconditionally evil), but people with disabilities are not necessarily good people. However, it cannot be denied that they are not weak. The majority of people do not think that they discriminate against people with disabilities, but people with disabilities believe that they are discriminated against. Of people with disabilities, 55.3% have an educational level below middle school, and the average income of people with disabilities is only 48.4% of the national monthly average household income. There are no low-floor buses among intercity buses, and special means of transportation are also impossible due to regional silos. Since I have personally experienced discrimination in my school days, in the process of getting a job, in hospitals, in restaurants, etc, my entire life has been full of situations where there are no perpetrators but only victims.
Our federation does not support the method of the SADD protests, but we actively sympathize with the issues that they are raising. In order to make this country a livable place, let alone a good place to live for people with disabilities, we have no choice but to fight the forces that promote inequality and hatred against people with disabilities. In the face of an aging population, securing the right to mobility is an immediate task we are facing, and education is our key to working and earning income. Deep-rooted discrimination can only be eradicated through everyone’s experience of living together with people with disabilities in the local community.
Lee, who is promoting conflict without thinking, without common sense, and without any measures to address the issue at hand, while the president-elect of his party is emphasizing togetherness with the weak and national unity, has lost his qualifications to be the leader of a party. Lee must reflect on himself and properly study what measures should be taken to promote the social participation and equal rights of disabled people that are guaranteed by the Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, and what hatred of people with disabilities is. There is nothing more to be expected from a young politician who repeats the old style of established politics, saying that he must come into power in order to solve these problems.
— Namgung Eun, Manager at Korea Differently Abled Federation, March 28, 2022.
People with disabilities still struggle to use public transportation that people without disabilities use daily without difficulty. For over 20 years, they have raised the issue, but their voices have not been reflected enough in society. Rather than simply looking at the protests as a group of people making a fuss during the rush hour, perhaps it is time we consider why SADD considers such protests necessary.