Cho Yoon-sun is South Korea’s minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. She is a key figure in a “blacklist” scandal involving artists who were excluded from state funding and access to public venues. She underwent a blistering cross-examination by South Korea’s former prosecutor, Lee Yong-joo of the People’s Party. Lee pursued and cornered Cho, repeatedly asking her what she knows about the blacklist. Cho tried to dance around the issue and spoke in third person to avoid making any admission. However, Lee’s dogged pursuit paid off and he prevailed in the end — Cho ended up admitting that some artists were indeed blacklisted based on their political beliefs. One of the most dramatic moments at the hearings.
Those following the Choi scandal have been treated to a spectacle on January 9th. Cho Yoon-sun is the head of South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. It’s a cabinet that resembles the chamber of commerce combined with a ministry of culture in some countries. Cho just assumed the position in September 2015. Prior to that, she served as President Park’s close political adviser. Since the Choi Soon-sil gate broke, however, Cho has been mired in a separate “blacklist scandal” involving artists that were kept from receiving public funds and performing at state venues. Supposedly, this blacklist was based purely on whether each artist regarded President Park Geun-Hye and her policies favorably or not.
Those on the blacklist include actors, theater directors, painters, writers, poets, composers, and musicians that number around 9,000. Among them are some really prominent South Korean figures:
- Film director Park Chan-Wook, who won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2004 and directed “Oldboy“
- Writer Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her novel, “The Vegetarian”
- Poet Ko Un, considered annually by the Swedish Academy for the Nobel prize in literature.
South Korean poet Ko Un says he's "disgusted" to find himself on the government blacklist.
The blacklist scandal is one offshoot of the Choi gate. We are witnessing the Choi gate metastasize into several mini scandals.
The blacklist scandal is one offshoot of the Choi gate. The Choi gate has metastasized into several, mini scandals.
It isn’t clear how extensive the blacklist was and how much harm it caused artists. It’s still not clear who compiled the blacklist and how it was implemented. But many people believe Cho may have played an active role in creating and circulating the blacklist. Prior to her appearance at a hearing on January 9th, though, she denied that she ever saw the list or was even aware of it.
At the hearing, however, Cho encountered some blistering cross-examination by Lee Yong-joo (이용주). Lee is an elected member of the parliament who belongs to the People’s Party, which leans center to center-left on many issues. He happens to be a former prosecutor in the south Jolla province — somewhat equivalent to being a district attorney in the U.S.
Some believe Cho and another adviser, Kim Ki-choon, created the blacklist in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry disaster (4/2014). Cho was Park's adviser from 2014-15. Effigies of the two indicating their involvement.
문화예술인들이 만든 김기춘, 조윤선. 사람 크기임. pic.twitter.com/Rjsjm8ISSp
— 미디어몽구 (@mediamongu) January 10, 2017
Lee asks Cho 10 times whether the blacklist exists or not in a span of 5 minutes. He interrupts Cho and pursues her, who tries to dance around the issue. She dances ably at first and shows some grace under pressure. Cho is usually known for her demure demeanor and composure. However, under relentless pressure, she finally relents — she admits that the blacklist did exist, although she doesn’t say who was behind it.
Here’s the video. Even if you don’t understand Korean, you can grasp the full frontal pressure that this former DA puts on Cho. Cho sighs several times, smiles then laughs in futility. She tries to muddy the issue by saying there is an ongoing investigation. She also speaks in third person to appear non-committal — “it seems to be,” “there seems to be,” “there is now …” However, Lee triumphs in the end and gets the answer he’s been looking for.
Here’s the transcript translated into English. The dramatic questioning starts at 1:44, when Lee pushes Cho into a corner . It ends at 6:03, when Cho finally makes her admission.
[1:44] Lee: Even now you claim that there is no blacklist? That’s what I’m asking.
Cho: I don’t think that way.
Lee: There is a blacklist, true?
Cho: Some employees …
Lee: It’s true that there is a blacklist, right?
Cho: Well, the special prosecutor is now examining the issue … and we will find out.
Lee: Just answer that first. Is there a blacklist or not? It exists, right?
Cho: Like I explained to you before …
Lee: Is it true that there is a blacklist?
Cho: With regard to that issue, last time around October 31st …
Lee: Witness Cho Yoon-sun, I’ll ask you again. When you answer, please honor your name. There is a blacklist, is that correct or not? It doesn’t matter who created it but it’s true that there is one, right?
Cho: The special prosecutor is now examining the issue ..
Lee: Stop talking about the special prosecutor … tell us what you know. There is a blacklist, right or wrong?
Cho: The special prosecutor is now …
Lee: Witness Cho Yoon-sun, Cho Yoon-sun, I’m not asking a difficult question. I’m asking only one thing. There is a blacklist. True or false?
Cho: Based on political inclinations, it’s coming out now there may have been some instances of artists being excluded …
Lee: Don’t talk about some instances. Let me ask you again. There is a document, a blacklist document, true or false?
Cho: During the investigation, I am aware that there have been claims that that kind of document might have existed.
Lee: Witness, speak honestly. There is a blacklist document or not?
Cho: [Sighs and laughs.] [From the audience: “Please, let’s go. Speak up.”]
Lee: Witness Cho Yoon-sun, does the blacklist exist or not? It’s no use asking the question if it doesn’t exist.
Cho: It’s being shown that there may have been instances where certain artists may have been excluded based on …
Lee: I’m not asking you about instances but about the blacklist.
Cho: It’s being investigated now how certain artists were being excluded … but that investigation is not yet complete.
Lee: Witness Cho Yoon-sun, I am well-aware that there is an investigation. I’m not asking you that. The blacklist document, does it exist or not?
Cho: Now, much resources have been spent to find out whether …
Lee: Witness Cho Yoon-sun, Cho Yoon-sun, this is not a hard question. There is a blacklist and it exists as a document. The document exists, true or false?
Cho: It looks like several instances of artists being excluded based on their political inclinations .. it seems that’s turning out to be true.
Lee: I’m asking you again. There is a blacklist? Yes or no? Which is right? Exists or doesn’t exist?
Cho: [Sighs and smiles.] There was a list of artists excluded from state support for their political beliefs.
Lee: Good, that’s good enough. I can accept that kind of answer.
* * * * * * * *
Lee gets the answer he’s been waiting for. This was the seventh hearing of the Choi Soon-Sil gate and one of the most dramatic moments of the hearings. It will be only exceeded when either Choi Soon-sil or her daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, is put on the witness stand (that is the reason why South Koreans want to see Chung extradited). One can imagine some fireworks, then.