Adoptee becomes first Korean in French Senate, The Korea Herald, 2011-09-27 19:59

Adoptee becomes first Korean in French Senate, The Korea Herald, 2011-09-27 19:59

PARIS (Yonhap News) ― A South Korean adoptee won a seat in the French Senate in the country’s parliamentary election on Sunday, becoming the first ethnic Korean to advance to France’s top political body.Jean-Vincent Place, 43, who was adopted by a French family in the 1970s and grew to become a politician, was elected as a French senator after running in a constituency of the province of Ile de France on the leftist Green Party ticket.Born in Seoul in 1968, Place was adopted by a French lawmaker and his wife at the age of 7 and became a naturalized French citizen two years later. He majored in economics in college and began his career as a financial auditor.

After entering politics as a liberal in 1993, Place joined the Green Party in 2001, and once took the post of its assistant secretary general. Since 2005, he has been representing the province of Ile de France, which encompasses Paris, and currently serves as an assistant director of the provincial assembly’s transportation committee.

Less than a month prior to Sunday’s election, Place was embroiled in racist controversy as Alain Marleix, a lawmaker of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement, accused him of being a “Korean national” and warned him of “paying a price,” prompting the then-leading candidate to consider a lawsuit in response, according to local media reports.

After winning the seat, Place was quoted by local media as saying that he was satisfied with the election results, in which the Socialist Party and its Communist and Green allies took the majority of the 348-seat upper house of the parliament for the first time in more than 50 years, paving the way for a presidential win in seven months’ time.

The French Senate is chosen by a “super-electorate” of around 150,000 elected officials involving mayors, local and regional councilors. The legislative assembly has right to vote on laws proposed by the government and parliamentary initiatives as well as any amendment to the constitution, and controls the government while representing local bodies.

Place, along with other newly elected senators, has a six-year mandate that begins next month.

Jean-Vincent Place, a South Korean adoptee, talks to Korean reporters at his office in Paris on Monday after winning a seat in the French Senate. (Yonhap News)

“It is a great pleasure to win a historic victory in a senatorial vote,” Place said in an interview with South Korean reporters held at his office in Paris.

“I had tried to forget all my memories about South Korea after being adopted to France as a young child. Although my French parents made a lot of effort to help me maintain ties with my home country, I simply didn’t want to.”

“I had a hard time for a couple of years in France, but it was not that painful. I easily learned French and adopted to new circumstances here,” he said, adding he was also happy during his early days in a Korean orphanage.

Chances to visit South Korea’s southern scenic resort island of Jeju for a global forum and meet with Seoul’s ambassador to Paris, Park Heung-shin, have sparked his interest in his native country, through which he got to learn more about the country and enjoy its food, according to the senator-elect.

“I am planning to visit South Korea starting Oct. 26 at the invitation of the Korea Foundation,” the senator-elect said. “While traveling across the country, I will drop by the orphanage where I spent my childhood. It will be my trip to the past.

“Though I have not made an attempt to find my biological parents, some two people separately contacted me to say I appeared to be their relative after my Korean name Kwon Oh-bok was made public,” he added.

As for the racist controversy surrounding him before the senatorial vote, he said, “We should guard against such xenophobic comments, reflecting the emergence of the ultra-right wing nationalism.”

Asked for his advice for adoptees around the world, he stressed the balance between their time before and after their adoption.

“Regarding their days in their native countries as positive ones and planning the future in a better way would be the key (for their happiness).”

Wrapping up the interview, he expressed his strong will to work for the left-wing allies’ rise to power.

“I’ll strive to make the left-wing allies become a ruling party in next year’s presidential election.” he said. “I hope to head the department in charge of the state’s budgets in the new government.”

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