The protest may re-ignite the dispute between the Lee Myung-bak administration and the nation’s Buddhist sector, which has claimed Lee, a Christian, discriminates against Buddhism.
“Replacing the original temple-related names with new ones is depriving people of identities which have ‘stories.’ We fear the new names may take away from the Korean tradition,” Ven. Jeongman said.
“In the nation’s 5,000-year history, temples have been able to maintain the tradition most effectively. Names of roads and places near temples have stories handed down from ancestors and have been deeply rooted in the lives of nearby villagers,” he said.
The protest follows the government’s introduction of a street name-based address system, giving names to all roads and alleys. The new system will take effect on July 29, while the current system will also be available concurrently until the end of 2013.
But Buddhists recently raised objections to the system, as about 100 temple-related street names have been changed into unrelated ones. For example, Hwagyesa-ro in Gangbuk-gu, northern Seoul, which was named after Hwagye Temple and has been called that since 1984, became Deongneung-ro, named after Deongneung, a nearby royal tomb of Joseon Kingdom.
The Korea Youth Buddhist Association also said that the authorities didn’t take tradition, history and residents’ opinion into consideration in renaming the streets. “About 100 Buddhism-related road names were changed. It indicates the government intends to eliminate Buddhism,” a director of the association said.
The Jogye Order recently asked people from all of its temples across the country to collect cases of such “improper” name changes.
Officials of the order also plan to meet new leaders of the ruling Grand National Party to express their opposition to the new system.
The ministry said it was local authorities who named the streets. “Local authorities decided on the names according to their own circumstances. In most cases, they kept the names,” a ministry official said.
But he showed anger at the order’s current move. “We informed people of the new names last year. We received objections until June 30, and changed some of the names which residents disliked. But people from those temples didn’t raise objections at that time and now say the government is religiously biased.”
The official said there still is a chance for modifications: Residents can file their objections with local authorities three years after the name is first adopted. “If their insistence against the change is reasonable, the name will be changed,” he said.