Celebrities with a True Social Conscience

      March 07, 2012 13:34

      Kwon Seung-joon

      The focus of a concert held on Sunday to raise awareness of the plight of North Korean defectors were the families of the defectors themselves. But a driving force behind the event, titled "Cry With Us," were the 49 celebrities who put the concert together in just 12 days, in the firm belief that the repatriation of North Korean defectors from China must stop. They donated more than their time. They pitched in up to tens of millions of won each to make sure the concert took place.

      The idea came from around 20 celebrities, including actor Cha In-pyo, who took part in a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul on Feb. 21. They felt that although they were not social critics or policymakers, they were better placed than many others to get public attention.

      But goodwill alone was not enough to ensure a smooth preparation process. They were given the cold shoulder by many venues whose operators thought the celebrities were being being manipulated by political groups ahead of the general and presidential elections this year.

      Some celebrities themselves were concerned that they would be suspected of ulterior political motives. But due to persistent efforts by Cha, around 1,000 North Korean defectors were able to attend the concert and find a moment of solace.

      Many entertainers are active in charities. Actress Kim Yeo-jin and TV host Kim Je-dong are the most famous for their social engagement. They have been very vocal in their support in several controversial issues recently, including efforts to reinstate laid-off shipbuilders at Hanjin Heavy Industries and calls to lower university tuition fees. And they have received overwhelming public support for their social awareness.

      But the entertainers who organized "Cry With Us" are different. They did not jump on a popular social issue to raise their profile but embraced an issue that many South Koreans are strangely squeamish about. They did not chant noisy slogans or make flashy gestures. Instead, they went on stage one by one and quietly pledged to stand by the North Korean defectors. They said they did not wish to take political sides but embrace the fight for life and human rights.

      That did not garner them the overwhelming public support that some leftwing celebrities enjoy. But they plan to hold more concerts to help North Korean defectors and are even considering taking their concert overseas, possibly at their own cost. That is a much braver route to take.

      By Kwon Seung-joon from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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