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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Seoul Village Season XV

At long last we managed to escape from 2020.

We're certainly not out of the woods yet: the beast is still striking all over the world, our economies have yet to fully experience 'long covid', and vaccination will take much longer than it should (particularly in Korea, where hubris led to an embarrassing failure to secure doses before the second half of 2021).

Beyond this mother of all crises, here's what I liked and didn't like in 2020, what to expect from 2021.


A positive cultural leader, a pro yet fun soft power... the new Korean cool!

Korean culture claimed mainstream recognition in 2020. Of course "Gisaengchung - BONG Joon-ho's existenchial Parasite" scored a perfect grand slam, of course BTS dynamited the charts, but Korean series surfed the wave far beyond the usual Korean dramas, and Foreign media started paying more attention to different beats, from indie music to trot to pansori. I just loved to see Leenalchi succeed at home as well as overseas; that's the Korea I love, and these guys brought priceless freshness and fun when they were most needed.

Respect is what this world needs to better heal, and Korean citizens showed the world how caring for each other and respecting the common good was the way to overcome together. Even Korean American Rep. Andy Kim contributed to this positive image when he humbly cleaned up the US Capitol rotunda after the riots. That's the spirit.

Korea acted as a cultural leader also by innovating in the management and the treatment of the pandemic. The country realized unprecedented breakthroughs in research and development, not just, as usual, at the product level, but at the platform level as well, including in medical fields. 

This is not just about a K-pop fad anymore. Korea proved it could be at the same time super-pro, and super-cool... just like SON Heung-min!


The Dark Side of the Moon

2020 should have marked MOON Jae-in's triumph, with the ruling party's landslide victory at the elections, surfing on a brilliant success against the first wave of coronavirus... but his handling of three key issues durably tarnished his legacy.  Actually the very same issues I spotted two years ago (see "Moon Landing - The Cheong Wa Dae Curse"):

- Economy: dogmatism over pragmatism, that's certainly not the way to think in this millennium, particularly when small businesses struggle to survive. This pandemic only constituted a second wave after reforms that already claimed a lot of victims among the weakest ones. And what to say of the real estate mess? The ayatollah in charge of the reforms even wrote a book explaining that the aim of the game was precisely to hurt the little guys, because studies show that when the middle class benefits from the market, they tend to vote more conservative... Simply put, this government deliberately betrayed the very ones he pledged to defend.

- North Korea: now the government doesn't even try to pretend anymore. Protecting the KIM Jong-un regime matters more than defending human rights, defectors who criticize him have become the enemy, and KIM Yo-jong all but dictates the laws (see "KIM Yo-jong Crash Landing On You"). Human Rights Watch and other international bodies have denounced this moral failure, but that's not even the worst that has happened last year.

- Justice: if MOON Jae-in's approval rates are nosediving, that's because his administration has betrayed the spirit of 2016, the democratic values they were supposed to herald, and yes, even the memory of ROH Moo-hyun. Now international media are starting to look at MOON through less rose-colored glasses, and even some hardcore stans find that they went too far. Because when it comes to undermining justice and separation of powers, this administration has out-trumped Donald TRUMPCHO Kuk and CHOO Mi-ae have out-williambarred William BARR, and the ruling party has out-GOPed the Republicans. The only person who stands on their path is the incorruptible Eliot NESS MOON Jae-in himself named to lead the prosecution reform. YOON Suk-yeol (YOON Seok-youl) refused to turn a blind eye on the corruption within Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party, and decided to defend democracy and the Constitution instead of his party. By harassing him and his teams in the most outrageous ways even by trumpian standards, these thugs managed to turn a selfless liberal into a hero even for conservatives. YOON is now leading in the polls for the 2022 presidential election, but like Robert MUELLER, he's more interested in defending the integrity of justice and the soul of the nation than in a political career. 

What does 2021 have in store?

The race for 2022 starts this year, with key mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan. The ruling party should easily keep the control of the capital city, but its leaders lost a lot of credit at the national level (see above) as well as at the local level (between the lack of transparency in the controversial Sejong-daero project and the scandals surrounding PARK Won-soon suicide - see "Mayor Park to ground control"). 

After the moral collapse of the right and left wings, Korea seems ripe for a centrist, uniting figure, but no one emerges there. Because the ruling party betrayed its own values, there's an opportunity at the center right, and OH Se-hoon hasn't given up his grand national ambitions. He proposed AHN Cheol-soo to join the People Power Party and run for Seoul mayor in 2021, which would clear the way for OH in 2022, and for AHN in 2027. To the left, the future could belong to people like GEUM Tae-seop, a moderate who left the ruling party because he felt it lost its moral compass. Yet at this stage, no one is as popular as YOON. 

We will see which welcome pack KIM Jong-un prepared for Joe BIDEN, how long Yoshihide SUGA survives on top (anyway, whoever succeeds him, without or "With Yoshihide Suga, Nippon Kaigi remains in charge of Japan politics"), what kind of pressure China intends to exert on South Korea... 

We will of course keep an eye on the evolution of Seoul's cityscape, the 3rd Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, the impact of Sejong-daero revamping. 

And I might have a surprise or two in the fiction department. Thank you again, dear readers, for downloading my collection of short stories, 'Seoul VillageS', from all over the world. Your kind feedback brightened this dark year.

I wish us all a better year 2021, full of health and love. And if this year of the cow brings us another roaring tiger, let's not lose hope and let's not forget the power of laughter.

Seoul Village 2021
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PS - ICYMI, the manual to 2020:


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