Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Lankov on Korean society

I once complained of Lankov's writing style and the choice of the topic. Not that what he wrote is inaccurate, but he chooses the topic and the writing style in such a way that his writing fits with Korean nationalism. Yes, he sometimes critizes Korean society, but it is obvious he takes care not to offend it by not focusing a good benificialside Korea received
during the colonial period.
Now I understand the reason why.

53 Lankov from Korea (South)
Posted January 1, 2007 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

Frankly, I am not surprised. I am surprised that somebody is surprised, since most people here have spent in Korea a number of years, often speak Korean, married to a Korean and sometimes are Koreans themselves. Frankly, when I read about Gerry Bevers being merely called to his university president a couple of months ago (?), I was surprised how liberal and free-minded the school is and how much things have changes over the last decade. Ten years ago a mere discovery of such activity would lead to an immediate dismiss of the wrongdoer.

Korea is a seriously nationalist country. It might be unpleasant and annoying, but this is a part of package. In every country, US/Australia/Russia/India/Singapore there are features one likes and features one does not. We make decision about whether we like place or not, based on balance, not on complete absence of things we do not like. Nobody is perfect. Will any of us go to a seriously fundamentalist Muslim country and then spend some efforts proving that certain chapters of the Holy Koran are, well, not perfect, and would not stand a serious scrutiny? And if such a person is fired from a teaching job and perhaps kicked out of the country, should anybody be surprised? This is not “democratic”, of course, but now, in 2007, democracy is not a universally accepted value, whichever people in the White House want to believe.

Frankly, and not as an offence to the overwhelmingly American crowd here: it sometimes strange to see that you people behave as if American or Western values apply everywhere and are accepted everywhere. They are not! If you go to Saudi Arabia, you do not wear mini-skirts and preach Bible in public (do it in your home)! If you come to Korea, you do not attack the sacral cows, and the Dokdo issue is one of the most sacral cows now. Dokdo was the worst possible choice, I can think of only few issues where an expression of doubt by a foreigner would produce similar outbursts.

In Korea you do not criticize nationalist assumptions, at least, you do not do it too actively. This is not the States where academic writing about slaughter of the Amerindians or the US military interventions/aggressions in Latin America is not merely safe but will improve your career opportunity in academia. Again: in Saudi Arabia you do not criticize Koran, in Korea you do not question the nationalist superiority complex, in the States you do not cast doubts at women’s perfect equality and do not make whichever would pass for a “racist statement”. At least, you do not do it in public, and if you do, you know that retribution might be swift. Do you remember what happenned to Professor Lawrence Summers? And he was not a hakwon teacher…

54 Lankov from Korea (South)
Posted January 1, 2007 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

THE SECOND PART, so to say. About the situation. Well, advices to use the legal channels might sound good, and I wish Bredon Carr and his colleagues all the best. However from my own experience I am very skeptical about outcome. Even if a case is won, there will be too many ways to make life miserable, and these ways will be used, be sure. Serious people in Korea seldom solve their issues at the court, and people here know how to get around a court decision they do not like. Again, there might be righteous outrage about it, but this is how things are done here. Period. And you/we are here. Period.

Gerry Bevers’s situation is made worse by two things. First, foreigners are expandable. Even if they happen to have special skills (not a common situation), foreigners are not protected by the networks of chi-yol, hak-yol, hyol-yol. Second, the major task of a Korean university administrator is to avoid scandals and embarrassment. Everything should move smoothly Once again, I am not judgmental, I have worked in Russia and in English-speaking West long enough to make equally unfavorable comments about situation there! People in the university might be even sort of sympathetic, but since there is a great potential for a scandal now, and since Gerry is a foreigner without a clan and an alumni association sanding behind his back, the solution is obvious.

As a matter of fact, three years ago a reputable university suddenly broke a contract with me. Yes, they signed a contract, I paid a lot of money to prepare for my move to Korea, but in the last moment when I had tickets, paid for storage etc. they notified that they could not accept me, citing an invention they wrongly believed I could not check. It took me few phone calls to learn that they were lying, and more time to learn that the real reason was an act of one very nasty and influential person who happens to dislike me (mutually, I am proud to say). So, what did I do? Did I sue them for breaking the signed contract? No. Did I try to revenge? No. I sighed, said a few Russian obscenities, wrote off some five thousand dollars spent on the preparations, and began to look for other opportunities. Last year I went to the said university for a presentation and had a nice dinner with some of those people and even their president (well, the guy who was most actively involved with the intrigue, did not come). Why? Because a legal case, even if it is won, is not something which helps your reputation here. Well, to the Westerners it might sound unfair? To me, too. But, first, it works (see South Korean GNP), second, it is how things are being done here. Like it or not.

Of course, Gerry might try. This was just my humble opinion.
Lankov at Marmot

No comments: