Sunday, October 28, 2018

ROKing in the Free World

Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Park Chung-hee, the dictator of South Korea from 1963 to 1979.  (Which qualified South Korea for membership in "the Free World" in those days.)  He was shot by the head of the Korean CIA, one of his own people. Park was the father of Park Geun-hye, who was elected to the Korean Presidency in 2013, removed from office in 2017 and imprisoned for numerous crimes in the following year. So it isn't surprising that there was a rather big rally today by Park's faithful supporters. (According to Hankyoreh, these "Taegugki" rallies, referring to the South Korean flag, have been happening every weekend.)  I wasn't expecting it, but I was out walking in the area and saw some of it.

First, in Jongno, I heard this truck's PA system playing military music. There were also numerous people walking with it, carrying South Korean and American flags.  But it was a tiny group of demonstrators, so while I noticed it, I didn't see it as a big deal.

The truck and the marchers, guided by police, proceeded to the forecourt of a Buddhist temple, where chairs and a sound system had already been set up.  The American flags waved along with South Korean flags gave me a clue to the occasion for the march -- I'd seen the same conjunction last year -- and this confirmed it:
That's ex-President Park, of course.  Still, it didn't look to me like they even had enough people to fill the seats they'd set out -- on a chilly, blustery day -- so I figured that this demo was a fizzle.  (On the same day, a protest had been announced near Hyehwa Women's College, by men aggrieved by a judgment against several men for sexual harassment of women.  Only about 50 or 60 of the promised thousands showed up, so after about an hour the police got back into their buses and left.)  I decided to move on toward City Hall in Gwanghwamun, my original destination.

This straggler, delayed by a traffic light, approached the temple as I was leaving.

Something bigger was happening in Gwanghwamun.  There were more PA systems playing a cacophonous mixture of military and other music, and a lot more police.  A few people were carrying conjoined ROK/USA flags.  But most people I saw had other things and destinations on their minds, it seemed.

I kept telling myself that this too was a fizzle, and I might as well enter the nearby subway station and head to my hosts' home.  But I dawdled around, curious to see what was happening.

I moved further down the sidewalks and looked down the street, where I saw that people were massed on the pavement, and approaching.

This struck me as odd, because usually the farmers' outfits and drums are associated with the student pro-democracy movement of the 1970s, when college students tried to build solidarity with farmers and factory workers, and to recover "folk" arts.  But apparently it's not always so.  Perhaps these people -- many of whom were old enough to remember that era and to have participated in the movement -- wanted to appeal to its prestige.

Speaking of which, I estimate that 90-95 percent of the marchers were fifty years old or older.  (Don't be fooled by the black hair -- many Koreans of both sexes dye their hair as they age.)  That was true of the smaller pro-Park demo I saw in Jongno last year.  There were a few token youngsters - fascists were young once, too - but only a few.

The marchers kept coming.

Some of the costumes were, erm, inventive:

But the message was not entertaining: release President Park from prison, restore her to the presidency, remove the communist Moon Jae-In, bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb NK.  The gentleman in first photo below obligingly (insistently) held his placard so I could get a good shot.)

I should have made a better note of when the parade started, and when the last group of marchers passed me.  Looking at the time stamps on the photos I took, it was about half an hour.  I presume they were on their way to the open space further down the street where the candlelight vigils usually happen.  I'm not good at guessing crowd size, but I speculate that there were a few thousand people on the street -- nothing like the hundreds of thousands who called for Park's removed two years ago, every week for many weeks.  Most of the spectators seemed merely curious, like me, and there weren't all that many of them.  Still, this was a fairly big demonstration.  Park's loyalists are a small minority, but they still can muster some numbers, as they did when some of them confronted a pro-diversity, pro-refugee demonstration in Seoul a few weeks ago.

So far I haven't seen any news reports on this event; I don't think the English-language Korean press publishes on weekends.  And I'm told by friends that there was also a demonstration in another location, commemorating the second anniversary of the candlelight vigils that helped drive Park Geun-Hye out of office.  But I missed that one.

Incidentally, a number of Korean churches participated in the demo.  I was gratified to find that one of their signs was translated into English:

Did you know that the Book of Revelation is about Korea, Christ's chosen nation?  Well, now you do.  And as the god-botherers like to say, you can't break Scripture!