Saturday, June 7, 2008


There was more violence last night in Seoul as police tried to control and disperse the protests against US beef imports. I don't have much information yet, but from the pictures I've seen it appears that the fighting has ramped up a step, with protesters attacking the police transports. I'll post again when I know more. There's a good article describing the genesis and progress of the protests at English OhMyNews and another on why ordinary Korean citizens oppose Lee's program of privatization. The latter also contains this chilling bit:

On June 6 President Lee Myung-bak had a breakfast meeting with religious leaders at Chung Hwa Dae. They discussed various issues, including the FTA, beef imports and the privatization of public sectors, such as water and health care. During his conversation, Lee mentioned that the recent candle light demonstrations seemed to have been backed by North Korean Communist supporters who had been inactive during the previous president's regime.

It's possible that Lee believes this paranoid nonsense. The sympathetic Korea Herald had already indicated that Lee's first reaction to the protests was that they were manipulated from behind the scenes by murky "leftists." But although many Korean Christians are involved in the vigils, the Korean Christian leadership includes a lot of batshit-crazy reactionaries who'd get along well with John Hagee. I don't think that Lee was simply making a 'wild guess,' as the OhMyNews writer calls it: I think he was trying to incite anti-Communist Christians to attack the protestors, much as the Korea Herald editorialist I quoted a couple of days ago was disappointed that the ex-military men hadn't interrupted their Memorial Day remembrances to beat up grandmas and high-school kids while the riot police looked on. Then Lee could deplore the excesses of patriotic Koreans, without having to take responsibility for them.

This sort of thing is a familiar tactic of the Right everywhere. When Rome's first gay pride celebration was being planned a few years ago, for example, the Vatican warned that decent people might react to this disgusting display with violence, hint hint nudge nudge. As things turned out, there wasn't much violence: even the neo-Fascists didn't have much stomach for queer-bashing that year, merely issuing a few threats that fortunately were not carried out. John Paul II must have been so disappointed.

On Tuesday there will be another big rally to commemorate the overturning of South Korea's dictatorship twenty-one years ago. This would have taken place even if the anti-import vigils had never occurred, but now it will be in continuity and solidarity with the vigils.

Images above from OhMyNews, as usual; click on the link and scroll around to see more. I've tried to avoid posting many of the more inflammatory photos, because I'd rather people focused on the predominantly nonviolent mass-based approach of the vigils. But as Lee continues his crackdown on dissent, trying to save his staggering administration, I know it's necessary to make people aware of everything that's happening. Is the whole world watching?

Update: According to Monday's Korea Herald, the conflict broke out when the demonstrators began to move to Cheong Wa Dae, the President's mansion ("Beef Protesters Scuffle With Police").

Some demonstrators smashed a police bus with steel pipes and hammers. Riot police were seen hitting protesters on the ground with their shields.

About 20 protesters and 30 policemen were hurt, according to both sides. No serious injuries were reported.

Again, despite the size of the crowd (40,000 or so) and the high emotions involved, the violence was relatively mild. I could wish for even milder.

I've seen a photo of Lee Myeong-bak's meeting with the religious leaders. Several of the leaders, as I should have guessed, were Buddhists, so it wasn't just Christians he was talking to. Buddhism has long been embattled in Korea, from severe persecution under some of the Confucianist kings to attacks on temples by Christians in the 20th century. I'm not sure, but I kind of doubt that Buddhist leaders would be all that receptive to Lee's attempted Red scare.