Author: Bas Verbeek

One dream, one face

(a translation of this article was published in the Korean edition of Newsweek on Monday April 29)

Last week the world chuckled when South Korea again made it into the entertainment and ‘bizarre’ sections of foreign media: in a beauty contest in Daegu all the faces of the contestants look eerily similar. ‘One dream, one face’, was one of the headlines on the contest that resulted in something that rather looked like a ‘best plastic surgery’ contest. What many foreign readers don’t realize is that this is far from funny. A great part of South Korean society is completely stuck in the uniform believe of ‘one face’: if you are different, there is no place for you.

A ‘big’ face with natural eyes, being gay, being fat, not having went to the army, having a Filipino mother, having a diploma from an unknown university. No matter how smart, brilliant or suitable you are for the job, a South Korean company will prefer to hire somebody without these ‘handicaps’, as they value all these non-relevant aspects to ridiculous levels. Recently there almost was a breakthrough to give South Korea the chance to start getting rid of forcing it’s citizens to model themselves after the one and only holy standard: a new anti-discrimination law. The UN Human Rights Council recommended South Korea to push forward the law, after which a group of politicians started the process.
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Nothing To Envy

How do you make a movie about life in North Korea? Walking around freely is impossible, so a group of film makers decided to make an animation film based on the book ‘Nothing to Envy’. Many refugees from North Korea talk about their personal experiences living in North Korea, drawing a picture of the daily reality in the country that is locked up in a vicious circle of fear and corruption. The film is financed through crowdfunding, you still can donate to become part of the story.

Occupy Seoul

The protests at Wall Street are spreading over the world. Also in Seoul people joined the 1%-movement: a small group of people went out in the rain to rally against the financial goliaths in Yeouido, the financial district of Seoul.

Photo-finish for Korea

Before the cars enter the grid of the Korean Grand Prix next week, the most important race in Korea has already been held: the one against time. Four years ago the South Koreans received confirmation to host the Formula 1 race in 2010, but not even two weeks before the race the FIA did approve the new circuit. While the foreign press began to worry about the track, the Koreans always maintained confidence. Read more

Korea-Japan 1910-1945: Japan’s difficult way of admitting historical wrongdoings

With memorizing the centenary of Japan’s annexation of Korea, much has happened around reviewing the history between the two countries these past months. A new apology by Prime Minister Kan, the return of cultural heritage, release of original state documents which provided scholars with new evidence for proving the illegality of the treaty from 1910; Japan is on the move. Despite these gestures, for Koreans nothing seems to have changed at all. For them there is only one way to go: an official acknowledgment by Japan of the illegality of colonization of Korea. The recently expanded nullification movement delivers hard evidence of Japan’s wrongdoing. But can legal proof beat Japan’s nationalist sentiment?
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Japan-Korea 1910-1945: Polarization in Japan

This past week the tepid reaction to the apology of the Japanese prime minister dominated the news.  Today, a more positive light shone through when the Korean minister of foreign affairs, Yu Myung-Hwan, emphasized that the apology certainly is ‘very meaningful’. The reality that Kan’s gesture made a difference became clear through the gathering of progressive and conservative demonstrators alike, who crowded the streets of Tokyo yesterday. Progressive partisans pleaded for a stronger gesture towards Korea and other Asian countries, but were pleased with the prime minister’s decision not to attend Yasukuni. The war memorial commemorates the people who died for Imperialist Japan, which upset many conservatives who place great value on the memorial. They also marched the streets on the day that Japan fell in 1945.
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Korea-Japan 1910-1945: ‘Sorry for colonizing’

You could feel the Korean people sighing collectively last Tuesday; another Japanese prime minister makes a useless apology for the colonization. Although the apology of Naoto Kan was the first to acknowledge that Japan had set pressure on the Koreans, most don’t value his gesture. The Japanese government should officially acknowledge that their annexation of Korea was unjustified so the Koreans have some peace of mind and can cash their compensation. Which will win: Korean insistence or Japanese tenacity?
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