Monday, June 2, 2008


The protests in Korea continued yesterday, even under heavy rain. (Photos from OhMyNews.)

I wish I could link to individual articles at the Korea Herald website. Here’s an important bit from “Lee’s Trouble Deepens, Undermining Mandate”:

But the tide began to turn in mid-May as the wave of protests against the beef trade deal escalated in Seoul and major cities. Embarrassingly, the bulk of demonstrators were teenagers who share concerns on the internet on the safety of their school meal. …

The first thing Lee and aides did in the face of the protest was to try to uncover the "leftist forces that were pulling the strings."

Coming next were violent crackdowns highlighted by video clips showing police shooting water cannons directly at protesters and kicking a grounded woman in the head. …

Fresh from his China trip last week, he ordered his aides to investigate who bought the candles used in the rallies and who financed and maneuvered the demonstrations. His remarks changed the antibeef campaign into a anti-government movement. …

His government is in for more trouble in the politically sensitive month of June.

Local by-elections are scheduled for tomorrow. June 10 marks the 21st year of a 1997 democratic uprising. June 13 marks the 6-year anniversary of the tragic deaths of two girls crushed by a U.S. military vehicle - which prompted a wave of anti-American protests before last presidential election.

Labor unions are also set to intensify struggles against his planned reforms of the blotted public sector.

The streets may turn into a battlefield of ideology later in the month as anti-communists may recall two deadly naval clashes between the two Koreas in June of 1998 and 2001.

With that knee-jerk anti-leftism, it’s no surprise that George Bush likes Lee.

But here’s the thing: the protesters won – this round, anyway. From “Beef Imports Shelved Among Public Uproar”:

The government again postponed the resumption of U.S. beef imports yesterday, bowing to growing pressure from all sides - including the ruling party.

The new import terms were scheduled to come into effect today as soon as the government published them in its gazette.

The Agriculture Ministry said it asked for the plan to be on hold at the request of the ruling Grand National Party. Public Administration Minister Won Sei-hoon ordered a halt in the binding of the government publication, officials said.

Lee has had to back down on other grandiose plans, like building a canal across the peninsula. “The plan was Lee's key campaign pledge but it faced opposition from civic groups and the majority of citizens for its possible damage to the environment and unproven economic feasibility. … He said all the preparatory events may be canceled.” But it would have allowed Lee to funnel so much money to private contractors!

Another headline: “Police Under Fire for Violence Against Beef Demonstrators.” Here’s a link to pictures at OhMyNews, and here are some of the video clips that the article refers to. (Props to Siegfried's Blog for these images.)

Compared to state violence in other places, or in South Korea itself under the dictatorships, this is fairly mild stuff. But it came as a salutary shock to Koreans after twenty years of democracy. What it makes clear, given President Lee’s immediate move to try to track down the Reds who were “manipulating” the protests, is that he’d like to go back to the bad old days – as long as he’s the new boss, same as the old boss.

Beef imports are only one of the problems South Koreans face, but now they know – especially the kids too young to remember the days when tear gas and water cannons and beatings with clubs and shields were routine -- that the government has to listen to them. A new generation of pro-democracy activists has cut its teeth in Korea, and rebuffed their government's attempt to slap them down and send them home.

For now, today, there’s good news: the people won.