Part 2: Sports nationalism in 2002: Through a video screen darkly
Part 3: Funeral processions from the Joseon Dynasty to the present
Part 4: The 2002 candlelight protests: A new form of demonstration
On June 13, three days after authorities had tried to channel street cheerers away from Gwanghwamun, where the U.S. embassy is located (out of fear that the street cheerers might react violently if the Korean team lost its World Cup game against the U.S.), a vehicle accident took place in Yangju, north of Seoul, which left two middle school girls dead. While this would usually receive little attention, the fact that the girls were killed by a U.S. military vehicle on training manouvers meant that it would be viewed in an entirely different light. The accident received little mention during the World Cup, but the efforts of those opposed to the U.S. military presence in Korea would help make it an issue in the months that followed.
The aftermath of the accident (or a re-enactment?).
For an account of the accident and how civic groups began to stir up anti-American feeling, ROK Drop provides a good overview, and usinkorea's website contains several articles and videos pertaining to the reaction to this accident (and other incidents). For months, civic groups organized via the internet and held protests, some of them violent, outside U.S. military bases, even breaking into them on several occasions. They called for the two soldiers driving the military vehicle to be turned over for trial in the Korean court system. Under the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) only soldiers who are off-duty when a crime is committed can be turned over to the Korean authorities. This led to condemnation of SOFA as being unfair and calls for apologies, ignoring the fact that apologies and compensation had already been offered to and accepted by the girls' families. The court martial of the vehicle's commander and driver, Fernando Nino and Mark Walker, for negligent homicide were scheduled for late November - a month before the 2002 presidential election. In the months leading up to (and following) the verdict, large posters of the girls' crushed and torn remains could be found in subway stations across Seoul.
On November 20 and 22, 2002, Nino and Walker were found not guilty, leading to an outpouring of anger against the U.S. military (for not providing the 'correct' verdict). A November 28 BBC article noted that the previous day US President George Bush had sent a message of regret for the deaths of the girls. It also noted that restaurants were banning U.S. citizens:
Some restaurants and pubs in the South Korean capital are refusing to serve Americans amid anger over the acquittal of two US soldiers for the road deaths of two teenage girls. "Americans are not welcome here," read a sign on the door and a window of Zeno, a restaurant in Seoul.Another BBC article noted that the "Pan National Committee", which had been staging protests since the girls' deaths, were continuing protests - some of them violent - at Camp Casey, where the court martial was held. The focus of the protests would soon turn from the gates of U.S. bases to the center of Seoul, where, on November 30, as the Joongang Ilbo tells us, several demonstrations took place, most of which followed the usual script for protests of this sort (which by this time included replaying "Fuckin' USA"), and also involved well-known anti-U.S. military activists (photos from this page):
"I don't want to give a drop of water to Americans," said Lee Chang-yong, the owner of Zeno restaurant which serves spaghetti and barbecued ribs. "The incident has seriously hurt our national pride."
[O]n Saturday, the Pan National Committee, an alliance of civic groups that have been protesting ever since the June accident, held a gathering of 1,000 students and other citizens in Daehangno in central Seoul. During the demonstration, the committee called on the U.S. military to void the acquittals and revise the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the activities of American military personnel in Korea. A group of 40 university students shaved their heads during the protest.
Note the 'unification flag' image of Korea.
While protests were held in Daehangno, Chuncheon, Wonju, Incheon and Jinhae, what attracted the most attention, however, was a candlelight vigil, as the Joongang Ilbo tells us:
On Saturday, more than 1,500 people gathered in downtown Seoul to hold a memorial for the two victims. Participants lighted candles in front of the Kyobo bookstore building, a block from the U.S. Embassy. Many of the attendees were junior high and high school students and their parents. After the memorial, they marched toward the U.S. Embassy with another group of 2,500 activists, but 8,000 South Korean riot police blocked their path. No violence was reported.
This was a rather different form of protest, termed as it was a candlelight memorial, which was a stealthy way to get around the fact that protests were typically not allowed to gather at Gwanghwamun due to its proximity to the U.S. embassy. In an essay about online grassroots journalism in South Korea, Rhonda Hauben describes the spark for this candlelight memorial:
A documentary about the trial and its outcome was shown on Korean television. A few hours after watching the documentary, an OhmyNews citizen reporter, using the name AngMA, posted a message on several forums on the Internet including one at OhmyNews, which read:This use of the internet to organize isn't surprising, of course. During the 'Ohno incident' in February, the U.S. Olympic Committee's website was shut down for 9 hours by 16,000 angry emails from Korean netizens, and boycotts of U.S.-made products were organized on the internet in the months that followed. The initial World Cup street rallies were also offline gatherings organized on the Red Devils' website, and here was a protest being organized in the same location where those street cheerers had first gathered, this time to remember the two girls who "were forgotten in the joy of June."
"We are owners of Korea. We are Koreans who deserve to be able to walk in Gwanghwamun. I cried when I watched the TV documentary broadcast of the event, because until now I didn’t understand those who struggle so strongly.
It is said that dead men’s souls become fireflies. Let’s fill downtown with our souls, with the souls of Mi-seon and Hyo-soon. Let’s become thousands of fireflies this coming Saturday and Sunday. Let’s sacrifice our private comfortable lives. Please light your candle at your home. If somebody asks, please answer, ‘I'm going to commemorate my dead sisters’. Holding candles and wearing black, let’s have a memorial ceremony for them.
Let’s walk in Gwanghwamun holding a lighted candle. Let’s commemorate the lives of Mi-seon and Hyo-soon, who were forgotten in the joy of June. Will the police prevent us? Even if they forbid it, I will walk in Gwanghwamun, even if the police attack me.
We are not Americans who revenge [sic] violence with more violence. Even if only one person comes, it’s ok. I will be happy to say hello. I will talk about the future of Korea in which Mi-seon and Hyo-soon can take a comfortable rest. I’ll go on, this week, next week, the following week. Let’s fill Gwanghwamun with our candle-light. Let’s put out the American’s violence with our peace."
AngMA posted this at three different online sites on 28[sic] November 2002 at 04:00, five hours after he had seen the TV documentary. The next day he posted it at OhmyNews. Fifteen thousand people appeared at the first candlelight vigil for the two dead girls on 30 November. The rally was due to netizens and the Internet.
As for the date quoted above, according to this, it's wrong; Angma posted his comment at the Hankyoreh's website on the early morning of the 27th. Why does this matter? One more time: "I cried when I watched the TV documentary broadcast of the event, because until now I didn’t understand those who struggle so strongly." If you're wondering who broadcast the documentary on the acquittals of the U.S. soldiers, the Korean text of Angma's message gives us the answer:
"PD수첩을 보면서 울었습니다" - "I cried when I watched PD Diary."
Yes indeed, it was an episode of PD Diary which was broadcast on November 26 that moved Angma (Kim Gi-bo) to tears (a description of the episode is here; PD Diary first reported on the incident on July 16 (see here and here), and a description of another episode about the accident broadcast in August is here). Anyone aware of PD Diary's past - and how their biased and dishonest reporting set off the mad cow protests of 2008 - should not be surprised by this. At any rate, the idea of holding a 'memorial' - instead of a protest - near the U.S. embassy caught on quickly (an announcement here on the 29th passes on the meeting place and time (in front of Burger King by Kyobo Bookstore)). As promised, Angma showed up:
Photos of many of the protests are here.
A January 29 Joongang Ilbo article reveals more about him:
Many Internet users were angered this month to find that the originator of the candlelight ceremonies for the two Korean girls killed last summer touted his rally proposals on the OhmyNews online news service. Kim Gi-boh, a private institute lecturer and an amateur reporter for OhmyNews, reported on Nov. 27 that he had found the candlelight vigil proposal posted by a user known as “Angma” (devil). OhmyNews, known for its advocacy stances, hires some 10,000 amateur reporters in addition to its full-time staff. Mr. Kim’s report triggered the nationwide vigils and he became an instant celebrity. After another Internet user discovered that the originator of the vigils and the amateur reporter were the same person. OhmyNews and Mr. Kim apologized.So, did a duplicitous Ohmynews volunteer reporter used a sock puppet to help get his message to the people, or did a calculating netizen create a sock puppet reporter at Ohmynews to help spread his message?
If he thought this was the first candlelight memorial for the girls, however, he was mistaken. On June 18, five days after the accident, the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division base held a candlelight memorial and fundraiser for the two girls while the rest of Korea was fixated on the Korea-Italy World Cup match.
Despite the fact that Yonhap published the bottom photo, this candlelight memorial, which predated the 'first' Korean candlelight rally by 5 months, was rarely spoken of in the Korean press.
While the November 30 gathering at Gwanghwamun was a new offline manifestation of online organizing, netizens also tried to strike out in cyberspace as well:
Internet protesters tried flooding the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with e-mails but were unable to shut down the server.This page also mentions that "cyber terror" would be targeted against the U.S. embassy on December 1. If this internet attention directed at the White House wasn't enough, Korean activists were on their way to the U.S. to protest in several cities, including Washington.
The protests continued over the next week, and as they became daily occurrences, they got larger, drawing the attention all manner of people. As Joongang Ilbo articles on December 4 and 6 described it,
Anti-American feelings after the acquittals of two American soldiers charged with negligent homicide in the June road deaths of two Korean girls are spilling over from nearly every segment of Korean society. Singers, athletes, clergy and students have all joined the chorus of boos aimed at the United States.The Donga Ilbo describes a press conference held by entertainers at Gwanghwamun in the afternoon of December 6:
[S]ingers Lee Jeong-hyeon, Yoon Do-hyoun, Ahn Chi-hwan, Psy, Lee Eun-mi, Kwon Jin-won and Jeong Tae-choon have signed and circulated a petition [...]. Comedians Jeon Yu-seong and Kim Mi-hwa, and actors Gwon He-hyo and Chu Sang-mi also participated in the signature drive.
"Change the SOFA right Now! Bush, openly apologize to Korea!" singer Lee Jeong-hyeon chanted at a recent protest against the acquittals. [...] Yoon Do-hyoun, front man for the rock band that bears his name, extended his middle finger to a picture of U.S. President George W. Bush during a recent performance. Mr. Yoon said his next project will be an anti-U.S. song, tentatively titled "Nino and Walker Armored Vehicle Murder Case"[...]
The Korea Professional Baseball Player's Association said it too would announce a statement [...] Lee Seung-yeop, the Samsung Lions star, said, "I just cannot believe that the U.S. Army is treating their deaths like nothing." Monks of the Jogye Buddhist Order... held a traditional ceremony to pray for the revision of the SOFA.
In this day`s event, starting with movie directors Park Chan-wook, Rhyu Seung-wan, and Byun Young-joo, 16 people attended including movie actor Choi Min-sik, Singers Lee Hyun-woo and Gwon Jin-won, and entertainer Kim Mi-hwa.[...]On that day's statement, about 110 people, including entertainers Son Suk and Gwon Hae-hyo, and movie director [and future Minister of Culture and Tourism] Lee Chang-dong, expressed their will to participate."Haircutting ceremony" of course means they shaved their heads. Clearly, the candlelight vigils - protests repackaged in a kinder, gentler fashion for the World Cup generation - had caught the spirit of the zeitgeist and entertainers of all sorts wanted to jump on the bandwagon to generate some publicity. Professors and academic groups would add their voices to the protests a few days later, especially after a larger gathering on December 7, described here by the Joongang Ilbo:
The participants said through the statement, “People living in this land cannot suffer from the pain caused by the US Army any more,” and urged, “The Government should start amending the unfair Status of the Forces Agreement, and the US President George W. Bush must officially apologize to the bereaved family and Korean people.”
After the press conference, movie directors Park Chan-wook and Rhyu Seung-wan had a haircutting ceremony, and movie director Kim Ji-woon cut his hair at the shooting location in Yangsu-Ri, Gyeonggi at the same time.
The streets of central Seoul were flooded again Saturday, not by red waves of the World Cup fans this time, but by candlelight protesters. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people rallied at the Gwanghwamun intersection of central Seoul[...] Several thousands more in 30 cities nationwide also staged demonstrations.The Donga Ilbo also mentioned that
On that night, memorial demonstrations were held in all over the country such as the Gyonggi Euijungbu Station Plaza, the rear gate of the US Camp Walker in Daegu, the Taehwa Shopping in Busan, Chungjang-Ro in Gwangju, Chungju, Ulsan, and Chunchon.The Joongang Ilbo continues:
The protest began around 3 p.m. at Jongmyo Park in Jongno, downtown Seoul. Thousands of people from civic groups and student associations rallied at the park, chanting such slogans as "Yankee go home," and "Bush apologize." The protesters then took to Jongno Street and marched to Gwanghwamun, where they were joined by thousands more protestors .
While mostly peaceful, there were a few outbursts, as some protesters hurled their candles and eggs at a nearby Grand National Party's presidential campaign car and pushed police officers who were occupying all of Gwanghwamun. But no injuries were reported.
As protesters took the streets, traffic around the Gwanghwamun intersection became paralyzed by 7 p.m. Protesters then marched to the U.S. Embassy, but the police prevented the protesters from entering the embassy compound by surrounding the compound with their police buses. Protesters remained near the embassy demonstrating, singing and shouting until 10 p.m.
Saturday's protest, although heavier in the atmosphere, resembled the rallies for the Korean soccer team during the World Cup. The ubiquitous "Dae-han-min-guk" cheer was modified to a call for a revision of the SOFA. [Emphasis added]I think that last sentence should make clear organizers and participants were self-consciously drawing on the experience - in the same space - of six months earlier to repackage their political message in a more festive manner. Though the message - that Korea is a helpless country victimized by foreign powers and its pride must be recovered - was the same as always, it was recast in the form of the pride-based sports nationalism of June. And both the street cheering and the candlelight protests had been organized online before media coverage drew larger crowds.
The candlelight protest, while supported by the Pan National Committee of civic groups, was mostly organized in a decentralized manner, mostly over the Internet at online bulletin boards and other digital communities. "I joined the protest to show that Korea needs to recover its national pride regarding the deaths of two girls," said Ju Jae-seon, an office worker in his late-30s who joined the protest with his 7-year old girl. He said he was notified of the protest while using an online chatting program.Well, as decentralized as its organization may have been, it had made the Pan National Committee members, who had been organizing anti-U.S. military protests since June, quite happy. The following quote, from the 6th, revealed that they were trying to appear as leaders of the vigils, and also gave a strong clue as to what their ultimate goal might be: "The Pan National Committee said it would continue its protests until Dec. 18, the day before the presidential election."
Though they wanted to have an influence on the election and wanted to move beyond a mere memorial vigil, not everyone else agreed.
Near the U.S. Embassy, protesters created a "free speech" stage where anyone could express their opinions. High school students, housewives and priests took to the stage and proclaimed their views. [...] But Kwon Young-gil, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party, was blocked from speaking, as protesters said it was a citizens' rally, not for politicians.This Donga Ilbo article shows how successful this week of rallies was in pushing SOFA and U.S.-Korean relations to the forefront of election issues:
Lee Hoi-chang, presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, in a press conference held in Daejeon, raised his voice that the two governments should take an immediate action to revise the SOFA in order not to repeat the same mistake that caused a lot of pain and humiliation to the Korean people because of the unfair pact. In addition, he said that the GNP and the MDP should hold a floor leaders’ meeting as soon as possible to take a strong action at the National Assembly level. He is planning to attend a vigil protest to be held near the U.S. embassy on Dec. 7. And also, it has been known that Roh Moo-hyun, candidate of the MDP, would meet persons from ‘The People's Counterplan Committee for the Death of Middle School Girls by the US Army Armored Car (People's Committee)’ at the early part of the next week.Unfortunately, no vigils for the loss of Lee Hoi-chang's dignity took place. Somehow I doubt Lee made it to the protest, especially seeing as it was "not for politicians." The organizers (or participants) who blocked the DLP candidate from speaking were not alone in believing that this was only a 'memorial' or 'vigil' and not a political protest:
Kim Gi-boh, who came up with the idea of a candlelight rally for two schoolgirls who were crushed to death by a U.S. military vehicle in June, said to simply call the 15,000 or so people who took part in the vigil last Saturday anti-American protesters would be to miss the point. After observing the gathering at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, Mr. Kim said he felt that it was not a protest but a sincere expression of grief.Others also felt that (at this point) the candlelight vigils were not Anti-American.
He first thought of holding the rally in an emotional moment after watching a television program on Nov. 27 [sic] about the road accident that killed the girls and the development of the case against the U.S. military personnel involved, who were recently acquitted of negligent homicide charges. He posted the idea on a few Internet bulletin boards and the first one was held Nov. 30. Since then, the idea has spread widely, with demonstrations being held in a small park away from the U.S. Embassy every evening at 6 o'clock. Weekday demonstrations are smaller, but on Saturdays huge crowds gather.
Mr. Kim, who is 29, said he imagined the "candlelight" part would bring out people who might be turned off by the idea of joining a protest. "But I had no idea that there would be so many people," he said. Mr. Kim, who works as a teacher in Seoul, said he grew up watching his own high school teachers fighting for the right to organize a labor union; he also took part in student movements in college.
He says the Gwanghwamun demonstrations are different from the protests of his youth and bristles at depictions of the participants as anti-American. "You can't just label these people 'angry anti-American protesters.' You have all these people coming together and there's no trouble."
Mr. Kim describes himself as "just a normal guy working as a teacher," but admits he enjoys dabbling in activism. Yet he brushes aside any credit for the peaceful outpouring of emotion, saying somebody else would have thought of it if he had not.
Why such strong support for candlelight protests? The protests are expressions of regret for the two girls who were crushed before they bloomed into young women. The protests are manifestations of respect for lives and human rights. Thus, the events are not necessarily anti-American protests, but protests toward America, which is different.Even the Joongang Ilbo seemed to feel the same way (though they may have just been waiting for the right moment to pounce on the movement), writing in an Editorial on December 13 that "Despite the positive change that the candle-lit protests have brought, we feel anxious about today's rallies. We are concerned that the gatherings might turn into anti-U.S. demonstrations."
Also on December 13, more people showed support for revising SOFA,
300 people from 60 religious groups held a peace and life convention at a park near Gwanghwamun and called for a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States.December 14 was to be the height of the movement, and no one missed the new symbolism of holding it in front of city hall, with the Joongang Ilbo writing that "more than 100,000 people are expected to join a candlelight protest in front of City Hall, the spot where waves of red-clad World Cup fans congregated last June." In another June connection, "the demonstration [was] arranged by the Pan National Committee, an alliance of civic groups that has staged demonstrations ever since the girls' deaths in June." Most of the photos below are from here.
"Minbyun," the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, also demanded a revision of the SOFA yesterday and handed over a statement and a revised version of the SOFA worked by the lawyers and professors of university law departments to the U.S. Embassy.
As the Joongang Ilbo reported,
Anti-American sentiment reached a new height around Korea Saturday afternoon. An estimated 300,000 persons nationwide rallied in what was billed as memorial ceremonies for two Korean teenagers killed after being struck by a U.S. military vehicle last summer.
The rally began at about 3 p.m. [...] An estimated 45,000 people gathered in front of Seoul's City Hall to hang "Yankee go home" banners, chant slogans like, "Revise the SOFA," "Bush apologize" and "Bring Mi-sun and Hyo-son back alive."
They also sang obscenity-laced anti-American songs and tore several huge U.S. flags to bits before unfurling a Korean flag to shouts of "We will recover our national pride."
The use of large flags at this protest clearly comes from their use by the Red Devils to cheer the Korean team at international soccer matches, and is another World Cup touchstone, as is this boy's costume:
As much of a 'new style' of protest this may have been, it certainly wasn't above the exploitation of grieving parents for the sake of emotional manipulation.
As the article continues,
[A]t 6 p.m. protesters began marching toward the nearby American Embassy, some hurling eggs and candles at the headquarters of the Chosun Ilbo newspaper along the way. They shouted that the newspaper, which has a conservative editorial voice, is unfairly pro-American.Another article points out that "more than 50,000 leaflets vilifying Lee Hoi-chang, standard-bearer of the Grand National Party, were distributed." Trashing the Chosun Ilbo headquarters and vilifying the GNP candidate may remind one of the 2008 mad cow protests.
The image above should bring back memories of the World Cup cheering.
Near the embassy, more than 23,000 riot police were arrayed to stop protesters from approaching the compound. There were shoving matches between demonstrators and police.
The protesters, mostly young adults, also included housewives, priests and students.I'm sure such 'national pride' went through the mind of the photographer who took this:
Some parents brought their children; one man with his seven-year-old daughter said, "I wanted to show my children what is going on. I want my children to have national pride."
Seoul wasn't the only place where these demonstrations took place, however:
[D]emonstrations also attracted about 6,000 persons in Daegu, 5,000 in Busan and 1,500 in Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province. In Daegu, two students broke into a U.S. military base, climbed a water tower and chanted anti-American slogans.The anger directed at the US during the two weeks of candlelight vigils (and indeed, since the acquittals) began to manifest itself in disturbing ways. On December 17, Stars and Stripes reported that army Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, chief spokesman for 8th U.S. Army, had been attacked at knifepoint outside Yongsan Garrison on December 15:
When he was attacked, Boylan was wearing blue jeans, a button-front shirt and casual jacket. The suspects, described only as Korean males in their early to mid-20s, approached him from the other direction and began cursing at him.As the Joongang Ilbo reported,
Boylan did not respond, Pierce said, and walked past the three when from behind he was punched or shoved between the shoulder blades, driving him face-first into a wall and causing a minor head injury.
The three then fell upon Boylan, who tried to get to his feet and push them off. It was then that one of the assailants thrust a knife toward Boylan’s torso. The blade was about 5 inches long, Pierce said.
Seeing the assailant lunge, Boylan twisted his body, but the knife went through his coat and shirt and opened a small cut along his left side just below the rib cage.“He did not require stitches but it still opened him up pretty well,” Pierce said.
The United States Force Korea locked down its GIs for the week after a U.S. Army officer was attacked Sunday by three young Korean men on a street. [...] "South Korea's National Defense Minister Lee June telephoned General Leon LaPorte, commander of the United States Force Korea, to convey regret about the attack on a U.S. officer," the Defense Ministry said Thursday.I seem to remember another confrontation taking place between 'concerned citizens' and an american soldier at Seoul Station. In addition to physical attacks like this, years later entertainer Deanna Kim, the daughter of a USFK member and a Korean mother who grew up in the US, admitted that she was ostracized and harassed by classmates at a Korean school after the tank incident, so much so that she considered suicide.
On December 19, Roh Moo-hyun was elected president. This would appear only to have been one aim of the protests, however, because plans were afoot to continue them. The next day, it was announced that "Nationwide protests will be launched again on 21, 24, 28 and 31 December in cities and towns." According to this blog, the December 21 protest was really swell:
Every Saturday many more people are protesting in the place. December 21st almost ten thousand people participated the protest, surrounding the US Embassy with candles. It showed the heart of the Korean people who want to save their dignity and build peace in the Korean Peninsula and all over the World.The above might have been more bearable if 'all over the world' were removed. When millions of people around the world protested Gulf War 2.0 before it even began, Korea's protest was tiny. Preserving 'world peace' in Iraq only became important once it became clear Korean troops would be sent there.
The Joongang Ilbo described one reason why the protests were continuing:
Pan National Committee Secretary General Choi Hui-byeong said the committee would continue its demonstrations. Korean and U.S. military officials are working on a package of changes to the SOFA, as the bilateral agreement on U.S. troops is called, most of them seemingly more symbolic than substantive. That effort has failed to impress the demonstrators.The same article described the protests on Christmas eve and Christmas Day:
On Tuesday [December 24], 1,500 people joined a rally organized by the Pan National Committee, the leader of the protests. Similar events were held in other major cities. [...] The Christmas day protest in Seoul was small; about 80 persons gathered in a park near Gwanghwamun in central Seoul.
Above is the Christmas Day protest. Seeing the pictures of the girls' faces on the cross, it behooves me to remind the protesters - crucifixion is at Easter.
As the Joongang Ilbo notes,
At a meeting Saturday [Dec. 28] with the Pan National Committee, the organizer of recent "candlelight memorials" protesting the deaths of two young girls struck and killed by a U.S. military vehicle, Mr. Roh said, "I sincerely ask the public to restrain their protests. We should not ask the United States to surrender."The protests continued that day,
But the protests showed marked change, moving away from anti-Americanism and toward an expression of anti-war feelings and pro-human rights sentiments. The change seems to have resulted from criticism by both foreign and domestic media and from Mr. Roh's appeal for restraint.According to Ewha Womans University economics professor Chun Chu-song,
Until last week, Internet bulletin boards were flooded with such messages as "Yankee go home," but a growing number of online messages have expressed sentiments like "Memorials for the girls should go on. But they should be transformed into a human rights movement and not express anti-Americanism."
"The reason that the deaths of the girls reverberated so deeply in Korean society," wrote one member of an Internet community that discusses current affairs, "is because of the patriarchal anger that chaste daughters of Korea were trampled down by the U.S. military." The message said that the protests should not merely express Koreans anger.
Some protesters also criticized their own protests. "Some politicians and the Pan National Committee seem to be exploiting anti-American feelings for their own purposes. Not all of the protesters are asking for the withdrawal of U.S. troops," said Park Mi-young, 28, who joined the demonstrations.
The recent candlelight protests are not anti-Americanism; they are an expression of our desire to live independently. We must be more powerful; as a first step, we must correct the thoughts of some Korean opinion leaders about sovereignty and openness.A vendor at Gwanghwamun talked about how it had changed:
For Mr. Lim, the streets around Gwanghwamun are not just a place where he earns his living. "At first I just thought Gwanghwamun is one of the best places in Seoul for a street vendor like me because a lot of people pass by. But now I think that it is a place where citizens voice their opinions. It is an exuberant place."On December 30, an opinion piece in the Joongang Ilbo examined a comparative study to find clues as to why the protests had occurred:
Mr. Lim said he hopes to see Gwanghwamun remain a place where public opinion is freely expressed.
In "Honor, Dignity and Collective Memory," two sociologists, Barry Schwartz and MiKyoung Kim, found striking differences in the way young Americans and young Koreans judge their societies' pasts.When asked what made them proud, Koreans gave such answers as "the 1988 Olympic Games; the 2002 soccer World Cup (which was three years in the future when the students were polled); Hangeul", etc.
Asked to name events that brought "dishonor, disgrace or shame" to the United States, a group of American college students listed events in which Americans victimized others: slavery, the Vietnam War, the treatment of Indians, racial segregation, the wartime internment of Japanese.
To the same question, Korean students produced a list in which the Korean people felt themselves victimized: Japan-ese colonial rule, the IMF emergency loan in 1997, the Korean War, the wrongdoings of Presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge and of the Sampoong Department Store.
Here are some of the reasons the students gave: Hangeul "proves our excellence to the world." Economic growth "demonstrated our excellence." In the Olympics, "the world came to see us," "the world now knows we exist" and "we are not weak anymore." The answers show a striking lack of national self-confidence and a touching sensitivity to others' opinions of Korea.Plans were afoot for a protest on new year's eve, which would begin at 6 p.m. at Gwanghwamun and then move to Jonggak Station for the ringing of the bell at 11 p.m.. It was organized by the Pan National Committee, who expected 10,000 people and had 400 volunteers "to maintain order."
This is the background to the recent wave of Korean hysteria. "Hysteria" is not too strong a word; some schoolgirls wrote a protest letter in their own blood; some restaurants refuse service to all Americans. "We will recover our national pride," crowds of demonstrators chanted. Like last winter's outrage over the "stolen" Olympic medal, these protests are a Korean psychodrama that will not be affected by anything President Bush or any other American does or doesn't do, because they are about how Koreans view themselves. Koreans I have talked to call the national convulsion a "coming-of-age phenomenon." "We are outgrowing our adolescence," said a leading academic figure. [...]
Even though most Koreans continue to believe that U.S. forces should remain here, their presence is a constant humiliation for Koreans, a reminder that they have not been able to order their affairs on their own.
The event, which the group called a "candlelight peace march," will be watched closely by the police. The National Police Agency said it will leave the protesters alone as long as they do not make a move on the U.S. Embassy, which is in the area. The police said if the crowd moves toward the embassy all traffic would be stopped along Sejongno, central Seoul's main thoroughfare, and the protesters would be contained.The are several photos of the 'peace march' here.
The police were apparently not impressed with the protest:
"The candlelight protests are transforming into political rallies," said Lee Dae-gil, chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. "If the protests are twisted away from their original meaning, which is cherishing the memory of the girls, we will regard them as unapproved rallies."[...]More details about the protest and the police reaction to it are here:
The police forcibly dispersed the protesters who rallied around Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, on New Year's Eve. The protest went on past midnight and two companies of riot police were sent in to break it up. It was the first occasion in which the police forcibly ended one of the candlelight protests, which have been staged since last November.
"It was an overnight protest, which is prohibited by current laws," another police official explained. "We had no choice but to disperse the protesters."
"The forcible break up of our protest is equivalent to using government power to block the demands of the public," an official of the Pan National Committee said [.]
They also argued that during the Dec 31 candle light vigil, about 100 citizens threw 100 eggs at Chosun Ilbo building. Two police vehicles and equipment were damaged and about 10 citizens and police officers were injured.On January 4, two separate demonstrations were held at Gwanghwamun, with the split encouraged, it seems, by the person responsible for the candlelight protests in the first place, Kim Ki-bo:
From Jan. 3, 'the candle light vigil in protest' in Sejong-ro intersection in Seoul will be banned [...]
“The candle light vigil in protest regarding the death of the two schoolgirls is changing from the pure memorial event to the anti-US violent demonstration. From now on, we will sternly apply the regulations such as the bans on rallies at night and within 100m of foreign embassies and street occupation. We will no longer allow rallies under the pretext of memorial service.”
The [Pan National] Committee held “Gwanghwamun candlelight march against forced demolition of commemoration demonstration tent” with 300 citizens at the rear of Gyobo Building at 6 p.m. on Saturday.Seeing as the Pan National committee planned a "large-scale candlelight protest," a total of 430 protesters between the two protests seems a little less than planned.
At that time, another candlelight demonstration led by Kim Ki-bo(31• Internet ID “Angma”) was held with 30 citizens and students. Kim announced a plan for independent candlelight demonstration on Friday, saying “I would like to choose different way from the Committee.” Kim explains the reasons for separation, saying “It was difficult to show various kinds of opinions because the protest led by the Committee reflects only one opinion.” He also explained that he decided to hold it separately because the commemoration ceremony changed into Anti-U.S. protest
On January 3, the Joongang Ilbo published a "letter to a daughter" which contains facts about the accident:
The truth is that U.S. military commanders visited the parents of the girls after the accident to apologize and paid compensation of 190 million won ($158,000) for each girl. You grew angry when you heard the details I gave you because they were so different from what you had been told before by other people.Other opinion pieces wondered about the significance of the election:
Since the accident, the commanders of the U.S. military in Korea, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and even the president of the United States have apologized to Korea, and efforts are being made to revise the Status of Forces Agreement.
My concern is that at this minute, there are those who post gruesome posters of the mangled bodies of the girls on the Internet and on walls without any detailed explanation of the accident. They are trying to play with your emotions.
One of the most prominent aspects of this year's presidential election was the online activity. On the afternoon of the election day, the stories go, young people were called to the polls by online war cries. They say the World Cup street cheering, the candlelight rallies and Roh Moo-hyun's upsurge in popularity were all due to the Internet.An article on January 6 mentioned the US response to the protests:
In Seoul, only the two highest-income districts of Gangnam and Seocho voted more for the Grand National Party's Lee Hoi-chang than for Roh Moo-hyun. These two districts seemed like two isolated islands in the middle of Seoul. What does that tell us? Is this not a symbol of the isolation of Korea's affluent class?
"First, begin withdrawing our troops from South Korea," William Safire, a New York Times columnist, wrote on Dec. 26. "Because the U.S. is not an imperialist power, it does not belong where a democratic nation decides America is unwanted."More on the response in the US is here. On January 8, Kim Dae-jung offered this opinion of the protests:
"Candlelight vigils are not an anti-U.S. protest, and it is wrong simply to address it as such," said President Kim Dae-jung yesterday at the first cabinet meeting of the year. President Kim said that recent polls clearly show that the majority of South Koreans oppose a pullout of the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.On January 11, the Youido Full Gospel Church organized a rally at city hall (and promised more the next weekend):
"It is only logical that demands for the revision of the SOFA are based on the fact that U.S. military is stationed in Korea," Mr. Kim stressed.
"Oh God, thank you for the presence of the U.S. Army here," chanted about 30,000 Protestants in a prayer meeting that almost looked like a pro-American rally Saturday afternoon in front of City Hall. "We reject those anti-American bands."Another Christian, pro US demonstration took place in Pyeongtaek that day as well. As the Joongang Ilbo mentioned later,
Instead of the anti-American protesters' candlelight, they held green balloons, on which such words as "peace, penitence, and reconciliation" were written.
A couple of hours later, a small number of candlelight protesters gathered around the Kyobo building, 100 meters away from City Hall. They protested the deaths of the girls killed by a U.S. armored vehicle and demanded that the U.S. forces in Korea leave the country. Their numbers, which reached about 100,000 at the peak of the protests, had dwindled to a couple of hundred by Saturday.
The JoongAng Ilbo chose two photographs for the front page of Jan. 13. One showed about 50,000 people gathered in the square in front of Seoul City Hall to protest North Korea's decision to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to support U.S. military presence in South Korea. The other showed an anti-American mass rally held in Pyeongyang on the same day. The Seoul rally, held in the same place where hundreds of thousands had massed as the "Red Devils" to cheer Korea's soccer team, seemed like another festival as thousands of green balloons were released.The previous article mentioned the split between the two candlelight groups, saying that the leaders of the two groups were playing down their differences.
"I respect the other group's opinion. The two groups' views agree in principle," says Chae Hee-byeong, a committee leader. Kim Gi-boh, who came up with the original idea of candlelight protest and is now the organizer of the second group, says, "We are not against the committee. We just wanted to talk more about peace."As if they hadn't gone 'anti-American' already. On January 13, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy released a statement calling 2003 "The Year of Independence and Peace." Another candlelight vigil took place on January 18, followed by a massive pro-American protest on the 19th:
Internet bulletin boards are flooded with messages discussing the direction the protests should take next. In a survey by the Pan National Committee of 4,000 Internet users last week, there was sharp division between those who said the committee-led protests are desirable and those who said they were not. But more than 80 percent of those surveyed said the protests may go anti-American if their demands are not met.
Literally at the city's crossroads, Seoul's City Hall Square has long played center stage for Korean history's dramas. In the 1980s, tear gas filled the plaza as thousands of student activists protested the military regime of Chun Doo Hwan. Last summer, the Red Devil soccer fans imbued the square with a crrimson tide. And since December, it has glowed with the candlelight of mass anti-American rallies.Oh, and remember this sign?
But a new movement has reclaimed the square since Jan. 11, with a decidedly more pacific message than its predecessor. A sea of green balloons filled the square around 3 p.m. Sunday as more than 50,000 people, mainly Christians, gather for a demonstration.
English slogans read: "Korea and U.S.A are blood brothers," "We want the U.S. military," "We reject the anti-American movement" and "Lord, give us real peace on the peninsula."
While the square has been a dither with rally fever, a small Asian fusion restaurant located in a nearby underground arcade experienced its own form of protest over a controversial sign that appeared in newspaper photographs worldwide.His rationale for removing the sign - "the sign is making Korean-Americans' lives harder in the U.S." - is reminiscent of Rhie Won-bok. The article continues:
The owner of Zeno, Lee Chang-yong, was once determined not to serve a drop of water to Americans, and hung out a board that stated in a bold, Roman font: "Americans are not welcome here." The sign no longer appears on the restaurant's glass wall, however; the most visible wall decoration is a giant poster of the American musical "Chicago."
Mr. Lee changed his mind after receiving a moving letter from a Korean-American in Los Angeles. "It said that my feelings are all understandable, but that the sign is making Korean-Americans' lives harder in the U.S.," he said. "After I read the letter, I took off the sign right away."
Mr. Lee's Web site, www.e-zeno.co.kr, became paralyzed with both hate mail and supportive letters from all over the world after the sign hit the news wires. A manager said that most of the staff had opposed the sign, but Mr. Lee was adamant. "Many American customers who didn't know about the sign flared up when they saw it," the manager said. "Some even had quarrels with their Korean girlfriends over the sign."
Although Zeno's sign is gone, anti-American signs on 10 nightclubs around Hongik University -- better known as the Hongdae club district -- survived. One big bright yellow sign, reading "Due to previous bad experiences, GIs are no longer permitted to enter Hongdae clubs," still claimed space at the door of the Hodge Podge club yesterday.In other words, 'We'll continue to take your money when there aren't many Koreans around to see it."
Club owner Chae Hee-jun, who initiated the policy, conceded that enforcement has loosened a bit -- at least during weekdays. "GIs are a sizable part of our customer group and many clubs have voiced their concerns over this policy," he said. "These days, some clubs let in GIs who have been steady enough visitors to become our friends. But that's limited to weekdays. On weekends and on Club Days, we stick to our principle to check ID cards of all the customers."
This article looks at the young generation, the duplicity of Kim Ki-boh, and the hounding of a newscaster who criticized the protests:
It was in the cyber world that Korea's 2030 generation -- consisting of people in their 20s and 30s who had been considered political outsiders -- gained confidence in their ability to convene and express their thoughts. Over the past year, they mobilized nationwide cheering rallies during the soccer World Cup and candlelight memorial services for the two girls killed by the U.S. military vehicle.Feb 15 vigil “ attendance has “dwindled”
Many Internet users were angered this month to find that the originator of the candlelight ceremonies for the two Korean girls killed last summer, touted his rally proposals on the OhmyNews online news service. Kim Gi-boh, a private institute lecturer and an amateur reporter for OhmyNews, reported on Nov. 27 that he had found the candlelight vigil proposal posted by a user known as “Angma” (devil). OhmyNews, known for its advocacy stances, hires some 10,000 amateur reporters in addition to its full-time staff. Mr. Kim’s report triggered the nationwide vigils and he became an instant celebrity. After another Internet user discovered that the originator of the vigils and the amateur reporter were the same person OhmyNews and Mr. Kim apologized.
Cloaked in the anonymity of the web, users frequently post emotional and one-sided notices on Internet bulletin boards that can inflict severe damage on individual persons. Last month, a television news announcer, Hwang Jeong-min, was hounded off a Korea Broadcasting System program after she made a slip, saying that anti-American rallies made her feel “ashamed.” She tried to explain that she meant she had been ashamed of the standoff between demonstrators and riot police, but Internet sites were filled with angry denunciations of her. Whether these users represented the public remains questionable, but broadcasting companies rely heavily on feedback posted on the Internet.
This article looks at the former activists that were to become a part of the Roh administration.
On February 15, demonstrators in Seoul took part in anti-war protests prior to the Iraq war that took place around the world.
More than 2,000 people gathered in Seoul to join anti-war protests that swept the globe on Saturday. The rally was organized by a coalition of more than 700 civic groups in the country, and began at the Marronnier Park in central Seoul and continued with a march through the streets of Jongno.I don't know how much this says about Korea's engagement with the rest of the world - while some cities had hundreds of thousands or even millions of people attending the demonstrations, Seoul managed only 2000 people. Attendance at such anti-war rallies wouldn't pick up until April, when the national assembly began deliberating whether to send troops to Iraq. On the internet, boycotts against US companies were once again organized (much as they had been in the wake of the Ohno incident at the Olympics a year earlier).
Demonstrations were held simultaneously at Busan and Daegu and three other cities.
Protests continued in the evening with activists rallying against the U.S. military presence in Korea by holding a candlelight vigil for the two schoolgirls who died in a road accident involving a U.S. armored vehicle in June.
More than 500 Web sites posted calls to shun U.S. products and services, especially high-profile businesses like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.Candlelight vigils were used to mourn other deaths, as well, as was reported on February 24:
[But,] since Coca-Cola Korea started producing a range of products here in 1968, a spokeswoman for the firm said, it has staged numerous charitable events and sponsored sports teams and a soccer school.
Daegu residents kept a candlelight vigil outside the Jungangno subway station, the site of the deadly fire, which was open to the public yesterday for the first time since the incident last Tuesday. Candlelight vigils have also been held each night since the accident at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul.On March 1, a large rally took place at city hall, where there was a "crowd estimated at 70,000 by police, shouting anti-nuclear and anti-North Korean slogans and calling for peaceful reunification."
Meanwhile, Web users here are encouraging each other to use black ribbon emoticons ― online symbols used to express various emotions ― in front of their screen names. The same emoticons were used to mourn the deaths of two local girls who were crushed by a U.S. armored vehicles last June.
More than 100 conservative groups, including the Korea Freedom League, Korean War Abductees’ Family Union and Christian groups and war veterans associations sponsored the rally. Eighty-three Grand National Party lawmakers who recently issued a statement opposing a withdrawal of U.S. troops attended, as did ministers, Chung Won-shik, a former prime minister, and Park Hong, the former president of Sogang University here.It certainly seems like pro-American demonstrations were being attended far more at this point than the anti-American protests (taking into account the Joongang Ilbo's obvious bias towards the former). These demonstrations were commented on here:
The participants, mostly middle-aged and older, shouted, “We love the United States,” and waved Korean and U.S. flags. Placards with slogans like “Do away with pro-communists” were hung. Massive Korean, U.S. and United Nations flags were unrolled over the heads of participants, who sang the U.S. and South Korean national anthems. [...]
An anti-American rally was held later that afternoon nearby; police estimated that crowd at about 2,200. The bulk of the participants were university students protesting against U.S. war preparations against Iraq. That rally was sponsored by a claimed 250 civic groups, including the Pan-National Committee, which sponsored candlelight demonstrations earlier for two girls crushed by a U.S. armored vehicle last summer.
Those demonstrators called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and an apology from U.S. president George W. Bush for the deaths of the two girls. They shouted their opposition to Korean support for U.S. war plans against Iraq.
“It is my firm conviction that the U.S. military presence is the source of war, but the older people believe they serve as deterrence against North Korean attacks,” said Kang Mi-gyeong, a senior at Hongik University. “The older people must have terrible memories of the war, but their way of thinking is not following the changing times.”
Rallies tinged with pro- and anti-U.S. sentiment continued in Seoul Saturday evening.
One sponsored by the Christian Council of Korea was staged at the Han Riverside Park at Yeouido. Another 100,000 persons, by police count, prayed for better moral values, national development and economic growth, more human rights in the North and refuge here for more North Korean defectors.
March 1, the anniversary of nationwide demonstrations against Japanese colonial rule in 1919, has always brought its share of political demonstrations. This year, however, the demonstrations took an unusual turn as anti-American and pro-American gatherings took place within kilometers of each other in the center of Seoul. Together, the demonstrations show that views of the United States remain a potent force in political mobilization in Korea.And here:
The anti-American demonstrations follow the success of the candlelight vigils at the end of 2002 and are rooted in the spread of anti-Americanism among the younger generation that began in the early 1980s. The groups that sponsor these actions will find a reason for them as long as the United States is an important nation. To do anything else would undermine the rationale for their existence.
“In Korean society today,” said Kim Ick-han, a historian, “Invisible social movements are developing in cyberspace. While conservatives are widely dispersed, former student activists and those in their 20s are systematically organized through the Internet. I think this trend will go on for at least 10 years. Those former activists will eventually command all of society.”The anti-war protests would continue with numbers around two to three thousand in March (see here, and here, picking up when it became known that Korean troops might be sent to Iraq.
Protests against a bill to authorize the dispatch of Korean troops to assist the United States in the war in Iraq intensified yesterday as the National Assembly prepared to vote on the measure. In a vote yesterday led by Seoul National University’s student association, more than 87 percent of the 10,054 students who voted agreed to boycott classes, starting today. The association said some professors will join an anti-war protest, which will take place at 4 p.m. today in front of the National Assembly. Ewha Womans University will hold a boycott beginning next Wednesday. Korea and SungKongHoe universities are currently discussing boycotts.[...] More than 1,000 members of civic groups, including labor unions and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, staged a candlelight rally yesterday in front of the National Assembly.Finally, on May 14 it was announced that the candlelight vigils were going on tour:
A month-long tour of candlelight vigils in front of U.S. installations throughout Korea was launched yesterday near the U.S. Embassy in downtown Seoul. The organizer is the Pan-Korean Committee of civic groups, which staged last winter’s series of vigils to protest the deaths of two Korean girls killed by a U.S. military vehicle.And here ends our tale of recasting the demonstrations of old into a new form, using as a mold the same space, organizational strategies, chants, and even clothing as the street cheerers did during the World Cup six months earlier. In both cases, it was said that what was occurring in the streets wasn't an example of negative nationalism (or in the case of the candlelight protests, anti-Americanism), but merely a form of patriotism, showing support for their team or grief over the deaths of two innocent girls. This protest that is not really a protest has proven to be a useful weapon against the right ever since.