Some high-profile politicians belonging to the ruling party of South Korea are under heavy criticism for their insensitive remarks towards the bereaved families of the Itaewon tragedy victims. The comments were explicitly directed to the family members, who started a civic group to demand a full government investigation into the matter and an apology from president Yoon Suk Yeol.
On October 29, a tragic crowd surge at Itaewon ended up claiming hundreds of lives, most of which were people in their 20s. After forty days after the tragedy, some 170 family members of 97 out of the total 158 victims formed the Association of Families of Itaewon Disaster Victims. The group’s agenda is clear— they want the government to take responsibility and apologize sincerely.
But multiple politicians from the ruling party have attacked these family members for what they feel are “unfair” demands. One of the most criticized remarks came from Kim Seong Hoi, Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s former presidential secretary for religious and multicultural affairs. In a Facebook post, he blamed the family members for trying to shift the responsibility on the government from their own shoulders.
Why do you people blame the government for the whole thing when it was your responsibility to keep your grown-up children from going (there)?…Have your children been conscripted by the state from birth? Since when did the president of the free Republic of Korea become the ‘supreme paternal leader’?
—Kim Seong Hoi’s Facebook post made on December 11, KST
Kim also pointed fingers at bereaved family members to blame them for the tragedy before. In his opinion, asking the government for an apology for the incident is equivalent to “Losing money on a bad investment and asking the government for debt forgiveness.”
Rep. Kweon Seong Dong from the conservative ruling party went a step further and brought the families of the Sewol ferry disaster victims into the blame game. The Sewol ferry tragedy took more than 300 lives in 2014 when it sank en route from Incheon to Jeju due to excessive weight. Rep. Kweon expressed his concerns that the Itaewon victims’ families might abuse the government’s considerations to benefit their personal interests, “Just like those from the Sewol ferry disaster.”
They shouldn’t organize themselves and pressure the government…Some of those civic groups from 2014 embezzled government funds given to them for the memorial project and used them to play around and inculcate people as followers of North Korea. The government should be careful to avoid politicization of the incident, like what happened with the Sewol ferry.
—Rep. Kweon Seong Dong, Facebook
Jin Jung Kwon, a former lawmaker, a revered progressive critic, and an information science professor at Kwangwoon University in Seoul, tore into the conservative politicians, calling them “inhumane.” He said that when a government is unsure how to keep the country’s people safe, it is time for them to step down immediately.
How come no one from this government is stepping forward to take full responsibility for the tragedy?
—Jin Jung Kwon
Rep. Lee Soo Jin from the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea also called out Rep. Kweon for his remarks. She criticized his usage of terms like “followers of North Korea” and “embezzlement,” saying that he insulted the families of the Itaewon and Sewol tragedies with his insensitivity.
The least we should do is reflect on not having prevented the tragedy…And yet, you are slandering the families and civic groups who are demanding a full investigation. Why? What are you so afraid of? Is it the truth of the disaster, or is it the order of the people to take responsibility for the disaster? I now understand why the Yoon administration tried to screen and meet only select families of the victims and, furthermore, meet each family behind the curtains.
— Rep. Lee Soo Jin
One of the representatives from the Association of Families of Itaewon Disaster Victims refuted the ruling party politicians’ accusations saying, “If the government had investigated the facts and given a sincere apology, we wouldn’t have needed to start this group.” Meanwhile, the group plans to host a special gathering at Itaewon Station on December 16. It will mark the 49th day since the tragedy, and the families will pay tribute to the deceased loved ones according to Buddhist practice.