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352. How are you? Fine, Thank You

What We Really Want to Answer

뉴스관리자 기자2014.03.31 15:23:55

           How are you?

Fine, Thank You

– What We Really Want to Answer -

 

By Lee, Young-sun, Reporter, Shin, Min-gyeong, Cub Reporter

sunny20@knu.ac.kr, mk920629@knu.ac.kr

 

Now that the new semester has started, the campus is full of energy. Freshmen are getting to know each other, while exchanging greetings with senior students –‘Annyeonghashimnika?’ which means ‘how are you?’ in Korean. However, only a few months ago, it was more of a greeting. The words of regard ‘Annyeongdeulhashimnika?’ (how are you, guys?) have been used to point out political issues, and have had a huge impact all over the country. Let’s examine this phenomenon and deliberate on our the political participation.

 

The Trigger of the ‘Annyeongdeulhashimnika’ and Its Effect

The first hand-written poster with the title ‘Annyeongdeulhasimnika’ was written by a Korea University student (Joo, Hyun-woo) on December 10th, 2013. It was the next day when Korail (Korean National Railroad) Union went on strike and Korail officials immediately fired all employees involved in the strike. The contents of the poster included criticism of current government policies, pointing not only to the removal of the positions of demonstrators but also allegation of a rigged election, an old man’s suicide against establishing a transmission tower, unfair dismissals and problems of non-regular workers. In addition, Joo mentioned “People usually think that college students these days do not show concern about social problems, but now we cannot keep silence” and urged students to shout their opinions.

Since that day, posters replying to those arguments have been distributed from universities in Seoul to non-capital regions. A variety of people, including high school students, professors, businessmen, laborers, and even a housewife, have also represented their views using posters. Even Korean students in UC Berkeley and North Korean students have written posters in agreement. On-line discussion was as hot as off-line discussion; the news spread through Facebook and Twitter, and people shared their thoughts through Internet communities.

 

Response to the Hand-written Posters

Not everyone agrees with the ideas on the poster. Some people insisted that the argument was absurdly overstated. They also criticized the determination of the Korail Union to continue the strike although the government had not announced an intention to privatize the railroad. Some detractors asserted that the poster seemed to glamorize those people who opposed the government. That is, the poster implicitly blamed people who advocated the government. Moreover, as the first writer, Joo, was identified as a member of the Labor Party, some claimed that the argument did not arise from the pure intentions of a university student, but was made for a demagogic purpose. However, Joo contradicted this opinion, saying that no matter who wrote it, people could feel empathy with the poster, since it pointed to injustice in reality.

Whether people agree with the poster or not, it was true that not only the Korail Union strike but also the hand-written poster culture itself stood out as hot issues. This became a motive for more people to have a critical mind on public affairs, and some people have daringly indicated what they considered problematic as well as advancing pros and cons on current issues. At Chung-Ang University, ‘one million won posters’ have appeared since the university applied for an injunction that anyone who protests or posts a banner has to pay one million won. On January 15th, ‘Kimchi woman posters’ which satirized the unfair requirements for women and misogynistic attitudes, were displayed in Korea University.

Among the various posters which have recently appeared, many exhort college students to take up interest in political. Compared to the 1970s and 80s, university students these days seem indifferent to social issues and many people, especially in older generations, worry about it. The arguments in posters encouraging the engagement of young people verify the lack of political attention, but at the same time the posters themselves represent students’ political participation. Are university students really apathetic to society? What has made them stop caring?

We can find out how many people are politically active through examining voter turnout since the revision of the direct presidential election system in 1987. As you can see from the chart, the turnout of people in their 20s is at the lowest level compared to other age brackets. According to the KBS newscast, the average voter turnout for the universities’ representatives is hardly a majority. This means that Koreans in their 20s, especially university students, are mostly disinterested in politics.

 

Why Younger Generations are Indifferent to Politics

1. Getting a job

Contrary to most university students in the 1980s, students nowadays find it hard to get a job after graduation. There are many reasons why they cannot get a job easily, such as the development of automatic machines and the increased number of students. Therefore, all graduating students have to stand out from other applicants in some way. One student said her lack of participation in politics stemmed from the need to find employment. “I even studied other subjects which are not related to my job in order to become the best applicant. Honestly, there is no time to read election pledges. I’m really busy taking care of my affairs” said Kim, Min-ki (23, the College of Veterinary Medicine).

2. Political apathy

The young generation is less sensitive to the importance of democracy than members of the older generation, who experienced the pre-democracy movement in the 1980s. The young generation only learns politics through textbooks written in formal language. They do not learn stories showing the importance of events to normal people. They only memorize facts for the test, so it is natural that they get bored by politics. In addition, the mass media has failed to inspire younger people to get involved in politics. Therefore, most of them think that it is okay not to have an interest in politics. If you ask them: "Do you check almost all the pledges of the candidates? Or do you have your own basis for checking them?" The answer will be “No.” It seems that almost all young people in Korea feel bored by politics.

3. Election policy

While Korea has a preferential voting system, other countries such as Australia have mandatory ones so the polls show a high turnout. Actually the nations acting with mandatory voting systems had turnouts of over 80%. This number is really huge compared with the Korean rates. It is also more than 60% higher than the average turnouts of advanced countries. “If Korea also enacts mandatory voting, then I think many more people would vote” said Yoon, Ji-min (23, English Education). “People, especially the young, usually think that an election day is a day-off. They just go out and play, thinking it is throwing away their free time to go and elect someone.”

 

How about Other Countries?

Not only Korean people in their 20s, but also people in other countries experience the same situation. In Germany, for example, the number of university students voting has been falling regularly, with only 37% of eligible people voting in 2007. However, there are also several countries where the opposite occurs. These countries have introduced new political systems or maximized modern technologies. It would be really helpful for Korea to consider this process in order to overcome political apathy.

1. Australia

To attract the members of an uninterested nation, the parliament of Australia set up a mandatory voting system. It is a system in which constituents are obliged to vote in elections or attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be subject to punitive measures such as fines or community service. The parliament revised the law in 1924, finally carrying out the world’s first reform in 1925. Of course the result was successful. The average turnout is 95% and the rest mostly give prior notice, so it is only 1% that does not vote. Not only did the parliament change the system, but they also made lots of ways to vote. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), there are a total of eight ways to vote for people who cannot vote in the ordinary way. People who are blind or have low vision, for example, can vote over the telephone from any location or with assistance at any place. We can consider their voting system and various ways to vote as an alternative.

2. Japan

Not long ago, Japan also experienced low turnouts of people in their 20s. Like Korea, the young in Japan have trouble getting jobs. According to the Japanese Election Administration Committee, Japan has experienced continuing declines in young voter turnout since 1990. Turnout reduction is due to the youth employment problem, which has continued after the bubble economy collapse, which occurred in the 1990s. However, the young in Japan have realized the importance of participating in politics for themselves. Recently, they held a voting campaign, making some new groups. Among these groups, one called ‘ivote’ is the most popular. People in ‘ivote’ went out and campaigned against political apathy as well as communicating with others through the Internet. Japan is giving an important example to Korea on how to overcome political apathy.

3. Tunisia

This nation follows the latest fashion. Nowadays, most people use Social Network Services (SNS) such as Facebook. They communicate with others, including political discussions. Therefore, the government tried to communicate with the nation through SNS, especially Facebook. The Tunisian government has managed their own Facebook account since 2011, so people could be more interested in politics. They have also practiced Internet polls since 2002. Today, people are really familiar with the Internet, so they usually get information through it. Holding Internet polls is effective in drawing national attention. Finally, the average turnout was over 90%. Korea, as an IT powerhouse,  can get lots of advantages, including increased turnouts, if it uses SNS or the Internet.

 

Methods Exist for the Youth to Vocalize Their Political Comments

Clearly, fewer university students run out to the street to hold demonstrations these days. The above mentioned reasons make the situation worse. Although they recognize the necessity of engaging themselves in politics, it is not easy to put their ideas into practice. Nevertheless, there are still quite a number of students who express their opinions about society. How do they do this?

1. SNS (Social Networking Service)

In terms of the political participation of Youth, the effect of SNS cannot be overlooked. According to the available statistics for February, 2012, the number of SNS users in Korea exceeded 20 million (46.6% of Korean population). Moreover, people spent an average 73 minutes per day on SNS and 61% of twenties use SNS, which shows the highest percentages compared to the rate of people in other ages (KISDI, 2013). There three main features of SNS: immediacy; ubiquitousness; and openness. These have contributed to enhance the political concern and participation of its adopters, who upload photos to prove they voted, press “Like” or “Retweet” on the contents of their favorite candidates or political parties, and post their own thoughts or written comments on the issue.

As SNS is based on individual participation and the network is composed of one-to-one interactions, it gives more freedom and speed than any other media source. It also can spotlight agendas, which the press could not find out or had to avoid. Sometimes the issues came out in SNS first before reported by the newspaper and the TV news.

However, political activism on SNS is much like a double-edged sword. On-line participation is too light and temporary, with a lack of deep deliberation. Even though people encounter social issues more than before, it is hard to lead to direct action. This is nothing but a fingertip control. It is also likely to be biased to one side, since people can choose to see just what they are interested in. Usually contents in SNS are progressive, because the main users are in their 20s and 30s. Besides, posts are not always well founded and can easily be distorted or exaggerated in the process of traveling. Thus, in the flood of information on the Internet and SNS, the attitude of consumers has become more and more significant in the picking out of sincere and reasonable information and keeping impartial to diverse views. Furthermore, not only in delivering political news, but also in leading active interest and participation, more fundamental motivation is required.

2. Club and extracurricular activities

University students put their efforts in extracurricular activities and these also can be a way of political participation. For example, students who work in mass media clubs such as newspapers, webzines, or broadcasting stations in colleges or other private communities naturally have more concern about public issues inside and outside of the campus. Students can join civic organizations related to their interest or future career. They can be intimate with group members who share similar interests and with to spread their value to society at large. For example, club members participate in the fair (ex. Univ Expo), campaigns and performances on the street together and publicize their arguments.

3. Others: Special lectures, Youth Concert, Debates, and Political participation committee.

Students can participate in the special lectures given by politicians or celebrities. This style of lecture has changed to two-sided communication, so students can ask questions or express their own ideas on the agenda as well as listen to the speech. In addition, political debates or forums are also held for university students on issues such as reunification, economic democratization, and cutting college tuition in half. Political parties and civic groups are hosting more events to encourage the participation of young generations, recognizing the importance of their role in politics. Usually these lectures and debates take place in the capital area, but there are also nationwide tour lectures and locally originated discussions.

 

There are still different views on university students’ participation in politics. Some think students do their best by participating in politics, but we find low turnouts compared with other nations. Therefore, we should encourage students to get interested in politics for social and private reasons. It is imperative that students recognize the importance of participation for themselves. However, when other nations showing high turnouts are taken into consideration, it is more important that the government changes our political environment.

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