Professor Shaw: Even Progressive Politicians in South Korea Occasionally Display Authoritarian Tendencies

Professor Meredith Shaw of the University of Tokyo discussed the issue of “autocratization” in South Korea, highlighting concerns about authoritarian tendencies even within progressive political circles. She pointed out that some progressive politicians on the left have at times exhibited authoritarian behavior. For example, they have proposed laws like the national security law, which aimed to penalize statements perceived as supportive of North Korea. Professor Shaw further noted recent proposals for laws targeting the misrepresentation of historical events, such as the Japanese colonial rule or the democratic movements, including the Kwangju massacre under the military dictatorship.

Interview by Selcuk Gultasli

Giving an exclusive interview to European Center for Populism Studies (ECPS), Dr. Meredith Shaw, a research professor at the University of Tokyo’s the Institute of Social Science (社研) and the managing editor of Social Science Japan Journal, talked on “autocratization” in South Korea and stated that “Unfortunately, in the democratic era, some progressive politicians on the left have occasionally displayed authoritarian tendencies, though not to the same extent.”

According to Professor Shaw, even these progressive politicians in South Korea employed authocratic tactics, such as proposing laws like the national security law, which aimed to penalize statements perceived as supporting North Korea. “More recently, there have been proposals for laws punishing the misrepresentation of historical events like the Japanese colonial rule or the democratic movements, such as the Kwangju massacre under the military dictatorship. While preventing the spread of false historical narratives is essential, such laws could potentially enable governments to selectively dictate acceptable historical interpretations, ripe for manipulation by either side,” said Professor Shaw.

In this exclusive interview, Professor Shaw delves into the complex landscape of South Korean politics. With a wealth of knowledge spanning historical contexts, socio-political dynamics, and the intricacies of populism and authoritarianism, Professor Shaw offers insightful analyses and nuanced perspectives on the challenges and trends shaping contemporary South Korea.

South Korea’s political landscape is deeply influenced by its historical context, marked by a transition from anti-communism to a burgeoning anti-Japanese sentiment. Against this backdrop, the rise of populism and authoritarian tendencies presents multifaceted challenges. Professor Shaw sheds light on the historical and socio-political factors contributing to these phenomena, exploring how they intersect with the dueling antagonisms of anti-Japanism and anti-communism.

Throughout the interview, Professor Shaw navigates through the intricate dynamics of South Korean politics, examining how populist leaders frame their rhetoric and policies to resonate with the populace. She elaborates on the utilization of historical events and symbols by different factions to shape political messaging, providing insights into the evolving political discourse.

Furthermore, Professor Shaw discusses the impact of populist and authoritarian tendencies on democratic institutions and processes in South Korea. As the interview progresses, Professor Shaw explores the influence of nationalism in South Korean politics, particularly during election campaigns. She assesses the strategies employed by political parties to maintain relevance and examines the role of securitization theory in shaping political rhetoric and decision-making.

Drawing on her expertise in North Korean politics and literature, Professor Shaw also offers intriguing insights into the readership and dissemination of state-produced fiction within North Korea. She analyzes how these literary works intersect with the regime’s control over information and ideology, providing valuable perspectives on understanding the reception and interpretation of foreign interactions among North Korean society.

Here is the transcription of the interview with Professor Meredith Shaw with minor edits.

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