-How deplorable is this age of distrust!
Last Friday, a very special event, the Seoul City Culture Awards, was held. Winners of the award, which has been given to eleven people, include Mr. Oh Hyeon-gyeong, who has devoted himself to acting on stage and television for over 50 years, Mr. Sin Hyeon-deuk, who has contributed to the development of children’s literature through his researches on Korean juvenile poetry literature, and Mr. Jeong Il-seong, who has made a great contribution to the development of Korean films.
By the way, I felt very sorry while I was speaking to and awarding these eleven winners. First of all, I thought that it was very late in the day to be awarding these people who had achieved such great works. However, there was another bigger reason to feel very sorry. It was the fact that we weren’t offering any prizes with this award. The winners only receive a medal and an award certificate. Oh, no! An award without a prize! There is no prize for this famous award presented by Seoul Metropolitan Government. I, as the Mayor of Seoul, was very disconcerted.
When I asked the member of staff concerned, I was told that it was prohibited by the election law as the prize money could be a political-patronage donation or gift. I was even more confused after I heard that explanation. The selection committee chooses cultural personages according to a fair judging procedure and criteria, and then the mayor gives out the awards according to their decision. I couldn’t understand how it could be a donation or gift. I guess the mayor could decide by himself to award persons who are not qualified to receive it, so based on that premise, the prohibition of prize money is the result. If the selection committee were to behave like puppets and simply select winners of the mayor’s choosing without recourse to a fair judging procedure or a proper review of their qualifications, then of course prizes shouldn’t be offered.
However, even without a prize, the Seoul City Culture Award is not such an insignificant award. The award was established in 1949 to recognize those who made a great contribution to the development of culture and arts amid the poor environment immediately after Korea’s liberation, and who accomplished great achievements in arts in Seoul and Korea. Since then, about 600 people have received the award including a stage actress, Ms. Park Jeong-ja, and a master singer of pansori (Korean traditional music), Ms. An Suk-seon.
I felt saddened by the idea that this time-honored traditional Culture Award could be offered at the mayor’s own discretion, leading to the prohibition of prize money, which seems highly symbolic of this age of distrust we are living in. I was very ashamed when handing the award over to the winners. Even though we may be living in an age of distrust, it is still a great shame that even this kind of award is tainted by it.
I offered eleven recipients some words of consolation: ‘Although we can’t give you even a penny in prize money, this award represents the gratitude and heartfelt warmth of ten million Seoul citizens. This award is filled with bigger and deeper emotions than the big prize, so please do not feel regretful.’ As much far as is humanly possible, we should strive to create a society that is built on trust.