Les Miserables and Korean society ①

Guerrilla column: A guerrilla column has been contributed by OhmyNews citizen journalists. There will be a guerrilla column written by citizen reporter Ingyu Kang below. It was translated to English with a summary of the contents.

Les Miserables has been a smash hit in Korea. There have been over two million people that have seen this film within a week of its premiere and it topped the box office in that time. It seems that this movie has helped soothe those who have suffered from the aftereffects of the presidential election. (particularly voters who desired a change of government.)

It is understandable because the younger generation who eagerly desired for a change in Korean society has fallen into despair and feels betrayed. There are many reasons why the younger generation want changes in the Korean society, but one only has to look at the number 1 cause of death in those younger than 40 to have an understanding of how the generation feels. A number of estimates show suicide to be that cause of death.

According to the BBC (2012), Koreans officially work an average of 2193 hours annually, which is 125 hours more than the second ranked Chile.

It is because of this situation of being overworked and a feeling of despair that the younger generation cast their votes the opposition Democratic United Party’s Jae-in Moon, and not the conservative ruling party’s Geun-hye Park. (Korea elected Park as the 18th president)

Should the youth  feel frustrated with the current living conditions of Korean society? It seems the answer  is ‘yes’,  but we can find some perspective  thorough Les Miserables’s tremendous popularity in Korea.

The backgrounds and social problems in Les Miserables are closely related to recent Korean events. For instance, scores of men at semiconductor companies have contracted cancer and workers at automobile companies have committed suicide because of their unfair dismissal from their work. In addition, many workers risk their lives to clime to the top of transmission towers. After the presidential election, a total of 5 people lost their lives due to difficult living conditions and suicide.

Social issues are applied to not only workers  but also children in Korea. In the last 10 years there has been a two fold increase in the number of children who have been abused emotionally, physically and/or sexually. More than 40 million primary school children have to skip lunch during  vacation due to disturbed backgrounds. There are over 20 million teenagers  who run away across the nation and a quarter of women who have become a prostitute have done so only to stave off hunger and to live more comfortably.

These unbelievable problems have persisted in the country with 10th largest economy in the world. It would be better for the government to do nothing, as they aggressively promote an unfair education system, deregulate employment protection legislation and welfare retrenchment, that all negatively affect the lives of regularly working people.

* For orginal article in Korean:  http://bit.ly/TFtCPL (by Ingyu Kang)

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Eunbin Ko

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01 2013

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