The Real South-South Conflict Deepens

By | January 16, 2015 | No Comments

Seoul: a globalized political space, par excellence | Image Wikicommons

South Korea has developed ferociously over nearly half a century. Rapid modernization like this come at a heavy societal cost, as recent SNU research indicates. | Image: Wikicommons

While the so-called south-south conflict [남남갈등] in South Korea is not a new phenomenon, a study released by Seoul National University (SNU) Institute of Korean Politics in October 2014 reflects growing concern that genuine social divisions are becoming deeper and more problematic. The report [link to PDF direct download here] concludes that in the Korean context, divisions exist throughout society and are particularly divisive along class and generation lines, in ideology and culture, public disputes and regional development, and labor and welfare (report, pg. iii).

It is important to note the data collection context. The survey was conducted at the end of June and beginning of July 2014, coming at the height of widespread dissatisfaction and protest as the Park administration scrambled to deal with the political fallout of the Sewol ferry accident in April and the Saenuri and NPAD parties sought to contain problems in their respective bids to control the National Assembly via the July 30 by-elections.

The following January 12 Kyunghyang Shinmun article highlights the reports’ findings.

Lee Hye-ri, “Opposition parties, management-labor, rich-poor…71 percent of South Koreans find group divide more serious than five years before” [여야·노사·빈부국민 71% “단갈등 5 전보다 심각], Kyunghyang ShinmunJanuary 12, 2015.

More than seven out of ten South Korean citizens feel that conflicts between social groups—such as party-party conflict, conservative and progressive, and business and the working class—have become more serious over the last five years, a survey has revealed.

According to a final report of the Presidential Committee for National Cohesion titled, “Diagnosing the State of Korean Social Conflict” [한국형 사회갈등 실태 진단 연구], which Kyunghyang Sinmun obtained on January 11, 91.1 percent of respondents answered that conflict between political parties is severe. 86.8% of respondents said that conservative and liberal conflict is severe.

Respondents believe that conflict tends to be greatest among business versus laborers (79.4 percent), rich versus poor  (77.7 percent), big business versus small and medium enterprises (74.6 percent), Honam versus Yeongnam (60.8 percent), the educated versus uneducated (59.9 percent), the young generation versus the older generation (74.6 percent). Among the respondents, 71.5 percent answered that the domestic divide is “more severe” than five years prior.

Progressives and conservatives also thought negatively of one another. Progressives said they associate conservatives with words such as “authoritative,” “stagnant,” and “entitlements/vested interests [기득권],” and 69.3 percent of the words chosen were negative. Conservatives associate progressives with somewhat positive words (54.4 percent), while 45.6 percent chose negative words such as chaos, radical, and pro-North Korea.

To the question, “How do well you think democracy is operating in Korean society?” those who identified as progressives evaluated the situation less generously (5.92 on a 10-point scale) than those respondents who identified as conservatives (6.65 on a 10-point scale). The research team concluded that, “More than a policy concern, the discord in Korean society is more greatly concerned with factional divides. Even if ideology is irrelevant to the issue, if an issue is political, it becomes ideologically divisive,” adding, “If a political ideology apart from one’s own comes to power, that person will express dissatisfaction with this ideological divide, to the point of describing it as a fundamental problem with democracy.”

The research team also put forward measures to solve the ideological divide, such as the introduction of proportional regional representation, job creation, extension of the retirement age, and raising the minimum wage. Among the proposed solutions, one stood out: “The conservative media market monopoly phenomenon must be improved.”

The research team determined, “Considering that the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and Donga Ilbo dominate the media market, the possibility of progressive groups becoming exposed to conservative newspapers is high, but on the other hand the chance for conservative groups to be exposed to progressive newspapers is relatively small,” going on to add, “If the conservative newspapers’ monopoly were eased, likewise concerns about the ideology of the media might also be resolved.”

This research was conducted by Seoul National University Institute of Korean Politics under Professor Kang Won-tae. The national opinion research was conducted from June 25 through July 17 to 1210 respondents over the age of 19 throughout the country, with a confidence level of 95 percent and a sampling error of ±2.8 percent.

Source: “Opposition parties, management-labor, rich-poor…71 percent of South Koreans find group divide more serious than five years before” [여야·노사·빈부… 국민 71% “집단갈등 5년 전보다 심각”], Kyunghyang Shinmun,  January 12, 2015. Translation by Darcie Draudt.

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