Two figures long thought to be behind an artist blacklist have been arrested by Korean prosecutors. Kim Ki-choon is President Park’s former chief of staff: he is considered the ‘architect’ who created the blacklist in 2014. Cho Yoon-sun, the former culture minister, is the ‘enforcer’ who managed and circulated the list. The blacklist probably owes its origins to the Sewol ferry disaster which claimed 304 lives. Artists and celebrities joined in prolonged demonstrations against Park for her negligent handling of the crisis. In the process, several satirical works of art, particularly paintings and films, emerged ridiculing Park, which made her furious. It is possible that someone with the ultimate authority to implement the blacklist and advocate its use may have directed Kim to create it.  We will soon find out if the trail leads to the sitting president.


Two figures long thought to be behind a blacklist of some 9,000 South Korean artists have been arrested by prosecutors.  Kim Ki-choon is the former chief of staff of President Park Geun-hye:  he is considered the ‘architect’ who originally created the blacklist back in 2014.  Cho Yoon-sun was until today the head of South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism:  she is considered the ‘enforcer’ who managed and circulated the blacklist.  We provided the dramatic details of how she made her admission of the blacklist during her blistering interrogation by legislator Lee Yong-joo on January 11th.  Soon, we will do in-depth feature articles on the blacklist scandal, which is heading toward some kind of denouement.  In this post, however, we will treat the arrest of Kim Ki-choon.

Kim had long been suspected of masterminding the blacklist.  The blacklist was used to keep left-leaning artists from receiving public funding and performing at state venues — it purportedly included some 9,000 artists that are critical of President Park and her policies.  It also included those that campaigned for or support Park’s opponents such as Moon Jae-in.  The special prosecutor announced that Kim and Cho are accused of not only abuses of power while serving in their official capacity but perjury and obstruction of justice.

Kim (left) is supposedly the 'architect' who created the blacklist; Cho (right) is the 'enforcer' who managed and circulated the blacklist.

Kim has so far denied any involvement.  However, that’s not what someone who used to report to him said under oath.  Kim Jong-deok is the former cultural minister that preceded Cho Yoon-sun.  He was arrested earlier and is being investigated by the special prosecutor.  Kim testified that he used to report to Kim Ki-choon and discussed the blacklist with him in several face-to-face meetings.

Kim Ki-choon told a subordinate that the blacklist will ‘annihilate’ South Korea’s left-leaning artists, whom he called  ‘commie pinkos.’

According to the ex-minister, Kim Ki-choon justified the blacklist by branding left-leaning artists as “commie pinkos” (빨갱이) and explained that implementing the blacklist will “annihilate them.”  The special prosecution believes that the former minister’s testimony will prove in court that Kim Ki-choon was ultimately the one who devised it.

Former culture minister Kim Jong-deok (below) told prosecutors he had several face-to-face discussions with Kim Ki-choon about the blacklist.

Apparently, Kim also tried to destroy evidence.   He is accused of erasing CCTV tapes, his cell phone data and paper documents  before his house was raided in December 2015.  The same is also suspected of Cho, who switched out her computer hard drives before assuming her post as cultural minister.

The prosecution strongly believes that the blacklist was created in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster back in April 2014.  The disaster claimed 304 lives, mostly high school students, and led to prolonged protests and demonstrations which took the Park administration to task for negligence and incompetence.  Artists and celebrities became active participants in such protests, which featured not only placards and posters but effigies of Park (see below).

The blacklist was supposedly created when artists and celebrities started participating in anti-Park demonstrations following the Sewol ferry disaster.

In particular, the Park administration became enraged by the satirical paintings of Hong Seong-dam, who portrayed Park unflatteringly in several of his paintings. Here, Hong portrays Park as a scarecrow being controlled by her uniformed father, Park Chung-hee.  But if you look close, there is a familiar figure behind the Parks:  the bespectacled Kim Ki-choon in his suit, who latches himself onto the  late strongman.  The painting became a powerful symbol of the disaster and was showcased in an arts festival in Kwangjoo, the largest city in South Korea’s Jolla province.

Park and Kim were said to be made furious by this painting by Hong, portraying Park as a scarecrow being controlled by her dad and Kim Ki-choon.

However, the city of Kwangjoo felt that comparing Park to a scarecrow was disrespectful — it is not clear if the city was being pressured by the Park administration.  In response, Hong revised his painting, this time portraying her as a chicken being pushed by her father and Kim Ki-choon.  For those who are not aware, President Park’s Korean nickname is “chicken”.  Birds seem to convey a similar meaning in different cultures — dull or mildly retarded people are often compared to chickens in Korea.  Plus, Park rhymes with how chicken (닭) is pronounced (“dark”) in Korean. As you can see, both Park and Kim were specifically targeted by Hong — now we know why they became furious and may have planned to do something about being personally ridiculed.

Diving Bell is another work of art which may have pushed Kim Ki-choon over the edge.  Subtitled, “the truth shall not sink with Sewol,” Diving Bell is a 77-minute film which documents the incompetence of the Park administration in responding to the ferry disaster.  Directed by Ahn Hae-ryong, it premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2014.  However, one month prior to the premiere, Busan’s mayor and city officials began pressuring the organizers not to air the documentary.  There are accounts that the festival’s budget was being threatened to be slashed if the documentary critical of Park went on to be aired.  Many believe that this was the start of the blacklist being actually implemented — i.e., cut off funding for projects that are not friendly to Park.

It is strongly suspected that Kim started identifying and focusing on these activists and came up with a list initially numbering tens to hundreds at most. However, the list grew and approached some 9,000 names.  It is not clear how such a large list was being maintained or in what form — e.g., in a spreadsheet or database file.

In our lead paragraph, we pointed out that the blacklist scandal is heading toward a possible denouement.  Some people actually feel that it would have been difficult to systematically maintain a working blacklist without being ordered to do so by someone with the authority and willingness to implement it — it is hard to believe that Kim and Cho used the blacklist without the knowledge or tacit approval of the sitting president.  In fact, presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo and many others believe that the blacklist is the brainchild of President Park — Park probably gave a direct order to her trusted chief of staff to create the blacklist.

Ahn Cheo-soo believes the blacklist stems directly from Park Geun-hye.

This is why we are not quite done with the arrests of the two closest presidential advisers.  There may be something bigger looming on the horizon.   But it may not just be Park.  It might also include someone whom many consider to be her puppeteer — Choi Soon-sil.

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