At any other time the presence of a demonstrator outside the KCC – and outside the opening screening of the London Korean Film Festival – protesting about artistic censorship that is said to have taken place during the current KCC director’s stint at the National Gugak Centre would have been prominent news. But choreographer Jung Young-doo’s protest has been overtaken by events. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular case, this is one alleged incident among many. Longstanding rumours of a Chongwadae blacklist of artists and cultural figures were confirmed in October, with luminaries such as Park Chan-wook, Kim Jee-woon and (perhaps less surprisingly) Hwang Sok-yong are on the list. According to the Korea Times article, the list comprises
594 artists who opposed a government enforcement ordinance about the Sewol ferry disaster, 754 authors who signed their names on a statement calling for the government to take responsibility for the disaster, 6,517 artists who declared their support for then opposition candidate Moon Jae-in during the 2012 presidential election and 1,608 artists who supported Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon during the 2014 mayoral election
If there is not a separate blacklist of people who oppose the history textbook there are certainly rumours of one: a novelist who visited London last year was afraid they would not be allowed to travel because of their opposition to the textbook.
Every day new jaw-dropping stories from Seoul hit the newspapers, and it is difficult to disentangle those that might be Choigate-related and those that result from more mainstream political interference or favouritism. As The Korean says of Park’s presidency, we have now entered what he calls the Tyson zone, in which any story seems credible.
But the resignations last weekend of the head of KOCCA and the second vice minister for culture sports and tourism, resignations specifically related to Choigate, make you wonder how many other shameful incidents that have happened recently in the Korean cultural space are Choi related. The attacks on the Busan Film Festival for screening a not very good documentary that was critical of the official rescue attempts following the Sewol disaster; the firing of Kim Young-na from her position as head of the National Museum for resisting an exhibition that promoted a big French brand; the censorship of the opening exhibition of the MMCA’s Seoul space.
For a devastating summary of where the Korean culture sector is right now, read Kim Hoo-ran’s piece in the Korea Herald, or Kim Hyung-eun’s in the Korea JoongAng Daily. When even the most conservative papers attack a conservative president it’s coming to something. Let’s hope something positive comes out of all this – perhaps a period of greater artistic freedom. For example, there has been speculation in the past that we’re unlikely ever to see Lee Chang-dong in London because of his political colour. So, here’s a challenge to the Ministry of Culture: send Director Lee to London for a retrospective next year, and we might start believing that things have moved on.
LKL met the protestor Jung Young-doo outside the KCC on 28 October 2016 and outside the Picturehouse Central (where the opening film of the London Korean Film Festival was screening) on 3 November.