[KS] FW: South Korea's Rollback of Democratic Rights
kirkdon at yahoo.com
Tue May 12 17:46:34 EDT 2009
There seems to be some misunderstanding here about the violence seen in last summer's anti-U.S.-beef demos. The violence did not occur in front of City Hall. Nor did it happen when the demonstrators there marched up Sejong-ro toward Kwangwhamun. Nor did it generally happen until quite late, after 10 p.m. and sometimes much later, peaking after midnight when the vast majority of demonstrators were safely on the last buses and subways home. The violence as I saw it was perpetrated by a small, perhaps tiny but still significant, minority as they surged against the rows of police buses straddling Sejong Ro at Kwangwhamun. The writer of the post to which I'm responding notes that he was there in June. It was after June that the violence, late at night, got progressively worse.
Broadening a little, the writer puts down the LMB government as if it somehow gained power despite the wishes of most people. In fact, he was elected in an embarrassingly wide landslide in December 2007 in reaction against the policies, mostly to do with the economy, of the previous government. Now LMB is running into his own "popularity" problems, again a lot to do with the economy. The forces ranged against him generally supported his opponent in 2007 and have never accepted the fact that their candidate lost soundly. (He just got elected to the Assembly, incidentally, running as an independent after his former party refused to put him on the slate.)
It seems to me we as foreigners are on shaky ground when we try to align with one side or the other in these confrontations. None of us really appreciates fully the social, regional and economic issues though some of us may think we do.The fact that none of these issues has come up in these posts speaks volumes about our incomprehension. Also lost is the fragility of the issue around which the demonstrators rallied -- the risks of imported U.S. beef. It's coming in to Korea now, available at lower prices than Korean beef. Pray that "Mad Cow disease" never happens here. (You DO remember that was what the protest was allegedly about, do you not?)
--- On Tue, 5/12/09, Jim Thomas <jimpthomas at hotmail.com> wrote:
From: Jim Thomas <jimpthomas at hotmail.com>
Subject: [KS] FW: South Korea's Rollback of Democratic Rights
To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Date: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1:32 PM
#yiv1477050698 .hmmessage P
#yiv1477050698 .ExternalClass .EC_hmmessage P
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Having been cited in a recent thread by Frank, I feel compelled to to offer my two cents worth--or ten cents worth, as the case may be.
Vladamir writes: "I was myself a sort of observer-participant in an anti-beef demo in July
last year, while majority of my Korean friends participated for
sustained periods of time. One thing I really was impressed was the
degree to which the absolute majority of the demonstrators were acutely
aware of the detrimental character of the anti-police violence above the
level of simple self-defense. Almost every time somebody tried, for
example, to beat up an isolated riot policeman, it usually was stopped
by loud cries of "Pip'ongnyOk!" (Non-violence!) from all the sides."
Based on my own first-hand observations, I concur 100% with Vladamir's account of these demonstrations.
Scott asks: "How long must one live within another culture before one is allowed to have an "autonomous" voice that is able to engage within local discourses and debates?"
Through my experience in Korea and elsewhere (including in political actions I have been involved with in Berkeley and elsewhere), I have come to expect little or no allowance for "autonomous" voices in such debates and political struggles. In political engagements in Korea, those who are conspicuously non-Korean are generally lumped together as "Americans" or "foreigners," and not taken very seriously--unless they reiterate the nationalist cause.
And "Doesn't the South Korean government itself claim to welcome the development of contemporary South Korea as a "multicultural society"?"
Surely, we cannot take this at face value--LMB Inc. is playing lip service to "multiculturalism" as a means of putting a positive spin on its neo-liberal programs and agenda.
Scott: "I understand why certain Western intellectuals would be disposed to defend last year's protests here, and even serve as apologists for them in extreme cases, but I wonder how useful or productive such an approach really is. In order for South Korea's progressive social movements to advance forward and further develop here, surely they should welcome debate from all sides and address inconsistencies were they are pointed out. For example, a central trope of the protesters was to safeguard "democracy" and "freedom of speech," and yet those with differing viewpoints were often silenced either verbally or physically by these same progressive groups."
Having attended the candle light demonstrations last June and having followed Korean politics for some 30 years now, I must say that I count myself among those "certain Western intellectuals" and "apologists" who are "disposed to defend" those political actions. I have seen dissenting women students' voices being drowned out by the majority at a womens college in the late 1980s. And I in the Anti-Apartheid divestment campaign of the mid 1980s in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, I myself was drowned out as a "dissenting voice." This is the nature of political actions and movements. It is unfortunate, but it should not be the basis to discredit the movement as a whole.
Having seen the effects of confrontation between police and citizens in the late 1980s, I was in fact hopeful during the candlelight vigil that "something would happen." That is, some action (by demonstrators or the riot police) would take place that might lead to change of or within the ROK government. This is because I, like most of those in attendance at the vigil, do not regard the present administration to be representative of the needs or will of the people.
Scott: "Meanwhile, Lee Myung-bak was repeatedly attacked by the protesters for being "deceptive" and "dishonest," and yet the protesters often had a difficult time living up to their own standards of honesty and truthfulness."
Even if there's a double standard, it's apples and oranges. Private citizens do not have the same burden of responsibility that government officials have, because they do not hold power and control the purse strings of government. Further, does anyone believe that LMB is honest and honorable?
Scott: "As for the issue of "police brutality," the main reason I think it is important to critique that aspect of last year's (and this year's) protests is because I consider it to be a huge distraction, quite apart from it being a largely fake, manufactured controversy. Last year's protests became so focused on the issue of "police violence" that I feel they lost focus and dissipated the energy of their movement, energy which could have been used in more positive, productive ways."
Yes, but historically in Korea, many of the major gains of the movement came after revelations of police brutality, abuses during interrogation, police torture, etc. which completely discredited the government.
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