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Bulldozing Asia’s best democracy

A reportage from South Korea (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Seoul, 05 July 2009

“This is what had happened 22 years ago when I was a university student. Now my son is 20s, one generation has passed. But the violent crackdown is being repeated now. Still the same! How come!”

As police forces were smashing down shields and baton charges on peaceful demonstrators, one middle-aged man bitterly wailing in the middle of chaos, in which tens of thousands people were screaming and running to all directions to avoid shields, batons and ‘tear water’. It was late night of June 10th 2009.

Minutes later, one man was seen to be taken by several policemen by force. Then a woman Lawyer, whose mission was to monitor human rights violations at protest site, rushed to follow the arrestee and asked the police ‘why arrest?’ She kept requesting policemen to allow interview with the arrestee to give him a legal service. The poor man visibly had a mental problem, but the legitimate request by the lawyer was not accepted.

What’s happening now has reminded people in Korea of what was happening during the ‘June Uprising’ in 1987, although it’s not technically same. Today was the 22nd anniversary of the Uprising, which was triggered by a death of Lee Han-Yeol, a student killed by teargas in a protest against the then military dictator Chun Doo Hwan. The death had become a catalyst of the Uprising, irritating hundreds of thousands people to the street to chant out, ‘Get out Chun Doo Whan!’, ‘Down with Dictatorship!’ Today’s slogans were not different from the ones of 1987, except the name of ‘dictator’.

Down with Dictator’, Again

South Korea is a country, which never missed a street demonstration no matter what it is workers’ strike, farmers’ protest, anti-war march or various street campaigns, including the right wing-organized ‘anti-North Korea’ protest. 

In terms of ‘violence in a street’, however, it has been quite missing during Kim Dae-Jung government (1998-2002) and his successor Roh Moo-Hyun’s (2003-2007), which many called ’the 10 years liberal regimes’, while the then opposition Grand National Party (or the GNP) - now in power- has called ‘the lost ten-years’. Police crackdown was less violent without teargas during the ‘lost ten-years’. Molotov cocktails and sticks had been nearly disappeared accordingly. Freedom of expression with highest broadband internet on earth has championed in Asia, where hardly any country has been enjoying genuine or stable press freedom and democracy. The well-learnt lesson from the Kwang-Ju Uprising of 1980 and the democratization onwards have been admired by many and inspired many in Asia.

Things have turned over since early 2008, when Lee Myung-Bak (or Lee MB) was inaugurated as a President. People, including many of those who voted for Lee MB with illusion that the former CEO of Hyundai Corporation - the monopoly company - is a moderate conservative and could revive the economy, have been out crying that they’re suffocated with worsen freedom of expression. Six people have lost their lives in Young-san neighbourhood in Seoul as a consequence of violent oppression while protesting against an imminent forced eviction on 20th January. 1,500 special task police forces were dispatched to disperse about 50 protesters at the time. Justice system is being used to retaliate political woes, such as the late President Roh Moo Hyun, who had tried not to intervene Justice System. It is tooled for silencing critical media as well, for instance, the popular documentary programme ‘PD Notebook’ of MBC TV.

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