Global Geopolitics

Why are politicians from South Korea shaving their heads?

The opposition leader of South Korea has become the recent politician to openly shave his head in an anti-government protest.

In front of followers and reporters outside the presidential palace on Monday night, Hwang Kyo-ahn had his hair completely cut off. The protest is about a fresh minister of justice, Cho Kuk, whose family is engulfed in accusations of corruption.

Two female parliamentarians shaved their heads over the same controversy last week. All three come from the conservative end of the political spectrum and oppose President Moon Jae-in’s present government. They want the resignation or sack of Mr Cho.

What triggered the protest?

Two female parliamentarians shaved their heads over the same controversy last week. All three come from the conservative end of the political spectrum and oppose President Moon Jae-in’s present government. They want the resignation or sack of Mr Cho.

Cho Kuk, a former law professor and Mr. Moon’s assistant, was appointed Minister of Justice last week. But his critics are furious that, despite continuing allegations of academic fraud and financial crimes against his family, Mr Moon nominated him for the post.

His wife, also a teacher, was charged with supposedly forging material that helped her daughter get into college and secure scholarships, something that irritated other learners at college. Prosecutors are also investigating investments in a supposedly questionable equity fund associated with another relative. In latest weeks, there have been several raids by prosecutors related to the family of Ms Cho.

Mr Cho conveyed his “deepest apologies to the younger generation” at his confirmation hearing last Friday over the supposed benefits his daughter got. But he said he wished to carry on with the justice system reforms. Mr Moon pointed out that there was no confirmation of illegal action and said that it would be a poor precedent not to appoint someone on the grounds of accusations alone.

But the situation has led to a government discussion over South Korea’s class privilege, which has been hit over latest years by corruption scandals. The past government was overthrown over accusations of corruption, and former President Park Geun-hye is presently serving jail time for corruption and energy abuse.

Under former President Pak, Mr Hwang served as Prime Minister-some analysts proposed that his public stunt was partly motivated to undermine present President Moon Jae-in.

Why shave the head though?

South Korea as a type of protest has a lengthy tradition of hair shaving. The act is rooted in traditional Confucian teaching and has been seen historically as a manner of showing dedication to a cause. When South Korea was under military dictatorship during the 1960s and 70s, dissidents would frequently shave their heads as a sign of opposition.

Over the previous centuries, it has been used as a manner of protest by activists and politicians. Women shaved their heads at a march in 2018 against the increase of spy cameras placed in bathrooms and changing rooms to film females secretly. More than 900 South Koreans shaved their heads two years earlier in a demonstration of demonstrations against a US anti-missile system

Hundreds of Icheon City inhabitants shaved their heads in 2007 over a dispute where a fresh industrial plant was to be built. Mr Hwang’s public stand was held outside Monday evening’s presidential palace, the Blue House. He encouraged Mr Cho to stand up, referring to him as “criminal.” He said to the crowd watching: “By shaving my head, I’m here to pledge my determination. I won’t step back.”

His protest on social media attracted broad attention. He produced it into Naver’s top 10 trending list, the number one search engine in South Korea. Many remarks resembled actor Gary Oldman’s looks-earning him the nickname Kimchi Oldman.

Article originally featured by BBC.

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