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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#701(Special)】Struggle of “Anti-Japan Tribalism” Authors

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2020.07.15 (Wed)

July 13, 2020

On July 2, Song Young Gil, who chairs the Foreign Policy and Unification Committee of South Korea’s National Assembly, held a press conference along with family members of former comfort women and wartime workers in Japan, announcing that they would file a criminal complaint against Lee Yong Hoon, the editor-author of “Anti-Japan Tribalism,” a bestseller in Japan and South Korea, and his associates for defamation, National Security Act violation and other criminal charges. Among the associates was Yu Seok Chun, a professor at Yonsei University, who received disciplinary punishment from university authorities for taking up the book in his lectures. Song, who belongs to the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, criticized the book as seriously distorting history and absolutely intolerable.

Complaint battle

At the press conference, an attorney representing the complainants said, “the authors awfully asserted that comfort women for Japanese military had been prostitutes, that Korean wartime workers in Japan had not been coercively recruited but had been given rare opportunities to make fortune, and that the Dokdo Islands (called Takeshima Islands in Japan) were a Japanese territory and should be returned to Japan.” One of the family members of former comfort women and wartime workers harshly abused the authors, saying, “They made my blood boil.”

On July 7, nine family members and Lee Yong Soo, a former comfort woman who has recently made news by criticizing an organization supporting comfort women, filed a complaint against the Anti-Japan Tribalism” authors and Prof. Yu.

On the same day, “Anti-Japan Tribalism” authors Lee Yong Hoon, Ju Ik Jong and Lee U Yeon and Prof. Yu opened a press conference at the Seoul Press Center and vowed to file a counter complaint against Song and the complainants for defamation, while criticizing them harshly.

At the press conference, they asserted that the three points cited by the Song side as representing the distortion of history were not found in “Anti-Japan Tribalism” or its sequel titled “Struggle against Anti-Japan Tribalism.” They described these points as fakes forged by some media and doubted if the Song side read “Anti-Japan Tribalism.” They explained that their assertions made in the book were based on their academic research and that they repeatedly offered open discussion to those advocating theories running counter to their assertions. They emphasized that the Song side’s remarks unilaterally concluded the book as distorting history without academic debate and represented a grave infringement on free speech and academic freedom.

Challenging academic freedom

After winning 60% of the National Assembly seats in April’s general election, the Democratic Party of Korea monopolizes the unicameral assembly’s committee chairs that had earlier been distributed among parties in line with a party-by-party breakdown of the assembly seats, realizing the self-righteous legislature management allowing itself to do anything but constitutional amendments. The party’s lawmakers have submitted a 5/18 Gwangju Uprising distortion punishment bill that would criminally punish those opposing the interpretation of the armed uprising of students and other citizens against martial law forces in 1980 as a democratic movement. The bill would establish a special investigation commission with the right to arrest and the punishment of up to seven years in prison for those who distort the interpretation.

A bill to ban pro-Japan remarks is also being prepared. Separately, Democratic Party members have submitted a history distortion punishment bill. Free speech and academic freedom form the backbone of democracy. Will South Korea go in the direction of totalitarianism? Can the move be stopped? I would like to closely watch the struggle of Lee Yong Hoon and his group.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.