As rallies flared up all over the country Saturday to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation, teenagers took to the streets to express their anger and frustration at the scandal involving Park and her confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Many middle and high school students are disappointed at how Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, was illegally admitted to a top university and received special treatment there.
“She did not study or make the appropriate effort but had the privilege of going to the university because she was born into a powerful family,” Kwon Ha-kyeong, a 16-year-old student, told The Korea Herald at Saturday’s rally. “While we are forced to study hard to get good grades, all she needed was her powerful parents.”
Three students hold signs reading “Expel Park Geun-hye” at a rally in front of Bosingak Bell, central Seoul on Saturday. (Jo He-rim/The Korea Herald)
In the unfolding Choi scandal that even threatens Park’s presidency, allegations concerning Chung may appear trivial. Choi is accused of much more serious crimes such as extorting billions of won from the country’s top conglomerates. However, the anger and frustration felt by South Korean teenagers goes beyond just Chung -- it is a reflection of their dissatisfaction with society.
“I am disappointed at the current society. It is full of unfair competition,” Kim Ie-tae, 17, said at Saturday’s rally.
In South Korea, where many consider education to be a top priority, students are often pushed to study hard to enter a good university. The Choi scandal, however, seems to deny what they have been told and believe in -- hard work eventually pays off.
On Friday, the Education Ministry confirmed that the 19-year-old dressage rider Chung had been accepted to Ewha Womans University in Seoul with false academic records. Her mother, Choi, had pulled strings behind the scenes to get her daughter special treatment in educational and sports circles.
The university, which had previously denied the allegations against Chung, issued a public apology and decided to annul her acceptance.
The sinking of the Sewol Ferry in April 2014 also drove many teens to the streets.
“I cannot believe the president’s whereabouts are unknown after the Sewol Ferry incident happened. I could not help but come here,” said 18-year-old rally participant Kim Soo-yeon.
The Sewol Ferry sank while heading to Jeju Island, leaving more than 300 dead. It had been carrying 475 passengers, including 324 students on a class trip.
The public had heavily criticized the president’s failure in handling the situation and Park’s whereabouts for seven hours on the day of the disaster still remain in question.
Changes in society might also be the reason behind teenagers’ willingness to take part in the demonstration Saturday.
“Young people and teenagers are participating more and care more about current affairs because more adults are willing to hear our voices,” said Kim Ji-yoon, a high school senior who took the national college entrance exam Thursday. “There are more of us (students) willing to speak out about state matters as citizens of South Korea as well, even though we are young.”
On the day of Suneung -- the annual college scholastic ability exam -- , a teenagers’ group called Hope held a candle light vigil in which some 70 students demanded the president step down from her post. Most of them were high school seniors who came after taking their big exam earlier that day.
“My cousin who’s a year older than me retook the exam today with me because she failed to go to the very school Chung was so easily accepted to last year,” a high school senior Jeong Eun-seon said at the rally. “I was also a student athlete (like Chung) but I hurt my back and gave up my goal.”
Hope also organized a demonstration Saturday. Some 600 students gathered for the rally held in front of Youngpoong Bookstore in Jongno, central Seoul, calling for the resignation of President Park.
Just hundred meters away was another group of middle and high school students, under the group name “Teens’ Evolution.” They held a rally against the president in front of the Bosingak Bell in Jongno. The organizers estimated some 500 participants.
Participating teens were not all members of the organizations but came to the rallies after they saw posts and articles about the rallies on social networks, they said.
“I saw a Facebook post (about today’s rally) and decided to participate,” said Kim Hyung-sub, a sophomore at a high school in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province.
After announcing their official denunciation of the scandal in a statement at 3 p.m., Hope marched down the streets through Euljiro 1-ga Station and pass City Hall to reach the Seoul Finance Center near Gwanghwamun Square where the main candle light vigil was held.
At the main vigil, there were more teens in school uniform holding signs that read “Park Geun-hye out.“
An 18-year-old student went up on stage impromptu to address the massive crowd.
“Even soap opera writers would not create (in their texts) a president this corrupt,” he said. “This cannot be reality.”
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)