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Saturday, May 27, 2006

"Not 'common people' but citizens"

So charming that Oranckay thought of me when he saw the column Sômini anira siminida ("Not 'common people' but citizens") and passed it on to me by email.

As has been the common occurrance especially since the administration of Kim Dae-jung who really seems to have made the term so central in Korean politics, the election time elevates the 'common people' (sômin/seomin) to the political agenda and has the politicians competing who best represents their interest. This time those two are Oh Se-hun and Kang Keum-sil, two jurists with 15 mil W monthly income, who are trying to convince voters that they know the komin (worries) of the sômin the best.
서민이 아니라 시민이다
‘서민’이라는 말이 원래 뜬구름과도 같은 것이다. 잡힐 듯 하면서도 구체적 모습이 잘 그려지지 않는다.
어찌 보면 이런 불가시성이 서민의 특징이다. 서민은 평소에는 보이지 않는 ‘투명인간’ 같은 존재다. 내세울 것도 없고, 하는 일도 눈에 띄지 않는다. 그러다가 선거철만 되면 자신의 의사와 무관하게 가시권으로 들어오는 것이다.
서민과 비서민을 가르는 경계도 불투명하다. 빈곤계층을 지칭하는지, 거기에 중산층을 더할 것인지, ‘강북’처럼 특정 지역도 포함하는 것인지 합의된 정의가 없다. 강금실-오세훈 서울시장 후보간의 난데없는 ‘서민논쟁’이 서민을 위해서 무얼 하겠느냐가 아닌, 서민이 과연 누구냐 하는 ‘국어사전 뒤지기’ 수준에 머물 수밖에 없는 이유다.
The rest of the column in Munhwa Ilbo.

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