Progressive Mayor of Seoul Labelled as ‘Pro-North Korean’


A version of this article was first published at, an online magazine with a China-North Korea focus. Illustration by Cammy Smithwick.

Although it has been 60 years since the end of the Korean War and more than two decades since the Berlin Wall fell, many elements of Korean politics and society still reflect the Cold War period.

Korea’s Berlin Wall, the DMZ, is still there, and left wing politicians (and others) still get lampooned (and worse) as commies and, more recently, as jongpuk – pro-North Koreans. It isn’t the 1970s anymore, yet the way many left wingers are branded is eerily reminiscent of both McCarthyism (a term that is directly translated and well understood in South Korea) and a Cold War political environment forgotten almost everywhere else.

The political and physical attacks levelled at civic activist-cum-Seoul City mayor Park Won-soon, who in 2011 was ushered to victory over affluent Park Geun-hye-backed assemblywoman Na Kyung-won, are indicative of the nature of both contemporary South Korean domestic politics and the difficulty of confronting politically sensitive issues in the country. This article, which ran last month in the left-leaning Hankyoreh, is a good example. It reported on accusations against Park, via Twitter, by a conservative figure who called him both a commie and a jongpuk.

Park’s role in founding the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a civil society organisation that, along with a number of laudable social programs, famously questioned the results of an international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean frigate the Cheonan, his support for the abolition of the controversial National Security Law, and his vocal opposition to the policies of the outgoing administration of President Lee Myung-bak have made him a prime target for conservatives, many of whom have precious little patience for the politics of the left.

From the Hankyoreh:

‘Blind follower’ accusations going further than ‘Park Won-soon is a Commie’… Why?

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has, against his wishes, once again emerged at the heart of the ‘jongpuk dispute’.

On January 19, former KBS announcer Chung Mi-hong wrote on her Twitter account:

@Naya2816: The pro-North Tendencies of Seoul Mayor (Park Won-soon), Seongnam Mayor (Lee Chae-myong), Nowon-gu Disctrict Commissioner (Kim Seong-hwan) and the heads of other jongpuk-type community bodies should be remembered, and then they must be thrown out at next year’s regional elections.’

@Naya2816:‘Those who act against the national interest, and, in contradiction to the constitution, propagate Kim Il Sung’s ideology and cause social confusion by spreading distorted views of history must all be dealt the harshest punishment, and laws sending them into exile must be promulgated.’

Upon seeing opinions in support of Mayor Park and the others put up on Twitter, she then replied in a mocking tone:

@Naya2816: ‘Because I say that heads of local government with questionable qualifications and jongpuk tendencies must be kicked out, you come running like a swarm of bees. Without even knowing what those guys are doing, you are just disagreeing for disagreement’s sake… tsk tsk.’

Former KBS announcer Chung Mi-hong | image via City Daily

Over the weekend, these comments spread widely online and became the center of an active debate. In particular, netizens had a fierce online dispute regarding the jongpuk accusations against Mayor Park, who is seen as the leading [progressive] figure in local government.

The attacks by conservative netizens continued despite criticism from Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung, who is famous for his hard-line stance against North Korea. On January 20, Ha posted on his Twitter account:

@taekyungh: ‘If even Park Won-soon can be accused of being a jongpuk, then that shows that the meaning of being a jongpuk is not understood. The conservative bloc must stop going too far by placing the jongpuk hat on the political opposition’s head.’

The debate surrounding Mayor Park’s jongpuk tendency is nothing new.

During the 2011 special mayoral election, he suffered continuous jongpuk accusations from the ruling party. However, the accusations didn’t affect his election because the ruling party was unable to draw any connection between their accusations and Mayor Park’s personal history. But even so, the debate did not subside following his election.

The Korea Parent Federation [대한민국 어버이 연합 – a militantly anti-North Korea conservative group] and conservative civic groups gathered outside Seoul City Hall thereafter to brand him a commie and shower him with critical blows. Even worse, a woman in her 60s assaulted Mayor Park while he was viewing a civil defense training exercise. As she assaulted him, she said: ‘You commie, you’re ruining Seoul.’

However, thanks to the way he carried out his duties after his election as mayor, not slanted toward any one particular ideology, the jongpuk accusations against Mayor Park then subsided; recently, however, in the aftermath of the 18th presidential election, they have resumed.

Professor Kim Dong-gil and losing mayoral candidate Na Kyung-won | image via Yeongdeungpo Pakga

Professor Kim Dong-kil and losing mayoral candidate Na Kyung-won

Kim Dong-kil, a representative conservative and Professor Emeritus at Yonsei University, stated at a conservative group event on January 16:

‘The Seoul Mayor doesn’t sing the national anthem, doesn’t fly the South Korean flag, and held his inauguration ceremony in front of Daehan Gate [the front gate of Deoksu Palace in Seoul] with only his closest associates in attendance.’

After he said this, he indicated to Mayor Park and said: ‘This crazy bastard.’

Despite Seoul City’s immediate rebuttal, saying that [Park] had in fact pledged his allegiance, the controversy has continued to spread online. It is becoming the talk of the town in the context of Mrs. Jung’s and Emeritus Professor Kim’s statements. So, why does the jongpuk dispute about Mayor Park won-soon keep on re-emerging?

First of all, it is a feature of so-called noise marketing, wherein criticism of popular individuals is used to emphasise one’s own humble existence.

In 1995, Mrs. Jung, who criticized Mayor Park, became a member of former Democratic Party Seoul mayoral candidate Cho Soon’s camp, and then chief publicist for Seoul City. Later, in 2007, she helped to initiate the Moon Guk-hyun-led ‘Creative Korea Party.’

We also know that in last April’s legislative elections she registered to be Saenuri Party candidate for part of Seoul’s Seocho-gu, but failed. [The area in question is south of the Han River, and covers Seocho-dong, Yangjae-dong, Naegok-dong and Bangbae 2-dong and 3-dong.]

Mr. A, a centrist political columnist who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, ‘If we want to say that Mayor Park is ‘pro-North,’ then shouldn’t we also discuss the concept and content of ‘pro-Northism’? Mrs. Jung saying something like that out of the blue is tantamount to McCarthyism: condemning persons if they think differently to oneself. It’s not conservatism, either.’

He went on, ‘From the perspective of the person who is raising [the issue], it can be seen from the aspect of noise marketing. [For Mrs. Jung] it looks like one kind of political action, but it is not a good one,’ before adding in criticism, ‘If there really are facts then what are they; she should not do things like this on social media for her own gratification.’

Some also see the situation as being linked to the rapid rise in Mayor Park’s political importance following the Democratic United Party’s presidential election failure.

Commentator Choi Joon-young said of the jongpuk attacks on Mayor Park, ‘In a situation where everyone, including the Democratic Party, has been deep in a slump since the presidential election failure, it may be the desire of the right, including the ruling party itself, to label as pro-North Korea those who could potentially be at the core of the opposition at the next regional or presidential election, thus nipping it in the bud and breaking their spirit.’

A second political columnist, Mr. B said, ‘It’ll be hard to remove the jongpuk label from the rational progressive Mayor Park until he radically transforms into a rightist,’ going on, ‘I have this sense of foreboding that our future election campaigns will be buried beneath this kind of jongpuk ideological battle rather than policy matters.’

Meanwhile, Mayor Park’s office is keeping silent on the jongpuk attacks. Mayor Park has also said that he does not want the women in her 60s who publicly attacked him to be prosecuted.

Comments from the Hankyoreh:

Danny Kim:

Go, Chong Mi-hong, go!! Finally, Korea is standing upright. Everyone join in on removing the commies and protecting freedom and democracy to ensure that future generations have a world without political prison camps.

Danny Kim:

If you can’t call a commie a commie, isn’t that suppressing freedom of expression? ‘The monkey’ [Park Won-soon, his name sounds similar to ‘monkey’ in Korean] says we should be able to say ‘Long live Kim Il Sung’ [in principle] and argues for the repeal of the National Security Act. He doesn’t attend the ‘Seoul Restoration Commemorative Event’ but he does attend all commie-events; he’s calling himself a commie, no? Is he planning to send his son to the Korean People’s Army (KPA)?


A spy has been caught in Seoul and has been imprisoned there. The spy was placed in a core position within the Seoul government by Park Won-soon. This way, South Korean intelligence is easily passed to the North. Classified military information is also being sent to the North by those assemblymen loyal to Kim Il Sung. What’s going to happen to this country …


Those accusing others of being a Leftist commies and jongpuk listen up. You have to base your claims on hard evidence to be fair, according to the principles of history. Those of you going around running your mouths without hard evidence should be sent to jail this time.


The 5.16 Coup and the Yushin regime will be justified, and Park Chung-hee will become a hero? I wonder if they will have an indirect election?


The Big 3 [Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, and Dong-a Ilbo – main conservative newspapers], The ‘Party of Dogs’ [Saenuri Party], Korean People’s Army, and Chaebol commies … be like Park Won-soon; even if he is a commie, it’s good. He is 100 times better than the commie Oh Se-hoon.


What do you see in North Korea that would make you become a jongpuk. If there are these people, they are a small minority. If you oppose, you are a sympathizer. Calling someone a commies only made sense during the period of Yushin dictatorship. Stop this now. Even though you don’t know, you carelessly teasing the small rat.


One contracted Seoul employee has been caught as a spy! Good lord, Park!


I’m frightened. Not only, jongpuk, but now the word commie is coming in usage; it’s to the point that even if you mention giving rice to North Korea … talk about peace … we are in a world where you are not merely a jongpuk but now a commie.


Park Won-soon has done various types of business with Lee Myungbak’s government… who is this Chong Mi-hong? She is an evil existence in this vampire-like society.

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  • shes very cute and for some reason she looks like a Japanese rather than Korean. Every time I see her picture I see her saying “Hai” “Hai” “Hai”, how strange…. I think im just tired, didnt have enough sleep today…

  • Paul M

    With most Koreans I’ve spoken with seeming to have an almost apathetic view towards N.Korea, I’m surprised terms like jongpuk and commie still hold sway.

    • Political games are always absurd, but don’t think your politicians are stupid. They may appear to lack common sense, but they know how to game the system. After all, we voted them into office…

  • As I read this, I see a google ad for a conservative lobby group asking if I think it’s okay that Obama wants to give amnesty to illegals.

    Not only does the right wing disregard reality, it embraces this bizarro world of fear it has imagined up. Only in the name of patronizing its voter base. Just like I highly doubt any GOP congressman truly believes Obama is a Communist, I get the feeling none of these SND clowns really think that the other side is in cahoots with the North’s government. They’re just taking advantage of a stupid constituency.

  • commander

    The progressive stance on welfare and inter Korean relations is mistaken by conservatives. Leftist belief in expanded welfare’s effects on sustainable economic growth is often wrongly construed a populist pledge and national coffers-depleting move. Their view of North Korea as what should be integrated into one Korea is denounced as a dovish perspective that provides aid to Seoul-threatening dictatorship in Pyongyang.

    Consevatives, deep down their psyche, thinks of the poor as the incompetent that envy the accomplishment of the rich without making efforts. North Korea, in their eyes, is the dedicated enemy that should be brount down by, if necessary, force. Thus rightists claim that leftist case for better care for the weak is hypocritic becasue they pay scant attention to moaning North Korean residents under an iron-fisted dictator in the North.

    The dissonant views are hardly reconciled by discussions. Each side inwardly think taking power to realize each vision is the only way to prevail over the other. As a result, mud-slinging and groundless defamation in South Korea’s political landscape have become the staple of its notorioulsy partisan political struggle.

    The biggest big victim from the fruitless partisan standoff is ordinary people. Without laying out compelling, reasonable policy platforms, each party where factional strifes are deeply ingrained spend the better part of its time on making political maneuvers than finding common denominators.

    In what is an increasingly confrontational security terrain in Northeast Asia, drawn out political deadlock and national division would be a national suicide.

  • chucky3176

    Welcome to South Korea’s extremely polarized politics. Left or Right, but no middle.

    Koreans are too busy fighting amongst themselves that they don’t notice the Japanese and Chinese laughing at the Koreans. Just think what kind of a great regional power a united Korea (north and south) could be. I can only dream.

    • Kate

      And In North Korea, they grow lots of weed and its legal to smoke there. That would help South Koreans chill out ^_^

      • dk2020

        I’ll take some good weed over soju any day ..

  • Yu Bum Suk

    Is there another country on earth where the mayor of the largest city refuses to sing the national anthem? If the mayor of NYC did this you can be sure he’d be labelled a commie, too (and would commit political suicide at the same time).

    • dk2020

      President Obama didn’t place his hand over his heart during the national anthem before a debate a couple years ago and he was been criticized for that ever since .. they are expected to sing the national anthem in ROK? thats a bit excessive ..

    • Dan Kim

      yet again a brainwashed blind sheep, the offspring of the extreme right wing media.

      do you only read newdaily or any of its ilk? mayor park did not wish to make a big fuss out of his inauguration and sang the national anthem in his office, streamed live through the sns. his goal was to save the budget that would be wasted into something that is nothing more than ceremonial and would not benefit the citizens in no way except wasting tax payers’ money.

  • redgirls

    Is there a hope for Peace and Reconciliation between the two korea’s?

  • Jon

    Lol, I love how that one commenter says that “removing the commies” will result in a world without political prisons. 삼청교육대 much?

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