Ko Un speaks out on scandal overseas, stays silent at home. Why?

/ Captured from Guardian's website

Abroad he denies sexual misconduct, but at home stays mum

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Poet, writer and critic Ko Un, 84, denied allegations about his habitual sexual misconduct in a statement sent to British media outlet the Guardian, Saturday (KST).

Ko Un / Korea Times file
His denial, however, caused controversy.

The poet has remained mum on fresh allegations that he abused his status in the literary world to sexually harass female writers and publishers. But he was vocal in defending himself against the same allegations in the foreign media outlet.

In a statement published in the Guardian article titled "Poet Ko Un erased from Korean textbooks after sexual harassment claims," Ko said he regrets that his name had been brought up in the recent allegations.

"I have already expressed regret for any unintended pain that my behavior may have caused. However I flatly deny charges of habitual misconduct that some individuals have brought up against me," it read. "In Korea I would simply wait for the passage of time to bring the truth to light and settle the controversy. However to my foreign friends, to whom facts and contexts are not readily available, I must affirm that I have done nothing which might bring shame on my wife or myself. All I can say at the moment is that I believe that my writing will continue with my honor as a person and a poet maintained."

Earlier, Ko was quoted by a Korean media outlet as saying that he hadn't intended to harass female writers or those who were involved in the literary world. He said he tried to encourage them and if what he did in the past was construed as sexual misconduct by today's standards, he was sorry for that.

His statement, however, didn't stop the controversy about him here.

Poet Choi Young-mi, who first raised the issue of Ko's habitual sexual misconduct in a poem published in a literary quarterly last year, made a detailed follow-up allegation about this based on what she and her fellow writers witnessed in the early 1990s at a shanty bar in Central Seoul. In a 1,000-word letter sent to Dong-A Ilbo newspaper last week, Choi said Ko unzipped his pants and masturbated in front of the writers.

Further testimony about his sexual behavior followed. An undisclosed writer detailed another incident in April 2008. According to the writer, Ko grabbed a female graduate student's hands and groped her arms and thighs at a gathering with an unnamed professor from a local university and three graduate school students. As he got drunk, Ko unzipped his pants in front of them, which frightened them.

Ko has remained silent about the fresh allegations.

The controversy about the poet made a turn on Saturday as a woman identified by her surname Han refuted poet Choi's claims about Ko. In a Facebook post, Han claimed that she was the owner of the bar Choi mentioned in the letter published by the Dong-A Ilbo, and that Choi's memory seemed to be flawed. Although Ko sometimes went too far in his choice of words, she said Ko was not a sex offender and claimed the female poet was on a "witch hunt." Han demanded Choi identify the literary figures with whom she was there with in the early 1990s.

But Han's claim didn't stop the controversy over Ko.

The bashing is showing no signs of abating. The public is demanding government withdraw any financial support for the poet or projects related to him.

Last week, Suwon city government scrapped its plan to establish a literary park to commemorate the veteran poet, whose name has unendingly surfaced as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature since 2000.

The local government initially planned to create the park on 2,000 square meters of land on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Ko's literary debut. He debuted as a poet in 1958 with the work "Pneumonia" in the quarterly Contemporary Literature.

Feeling the pressure of or a backlash against the poet following the revelations, the local government scrapped the project. This came as the Ministry of Education is pushing to remove 11 of Ko's poems from school textbooks, and after the Seoul Metropolitan City government shut down the Maninbang Library featuring his literary works, just months after it was set up in Seoul Metropolitan Library.

Kang Hyun-kyung hkang@koreatimes.co.kr

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