Protests in South Korea

May 29th, 2020

I don't know if a violent protest is good or not. I don't know if violence in protest can be justified or not. It's not a 0/1 problem. We just do whatever we think is best at the moment.

On 18 May 1980, in Gwangju, South Korea, people were so mad about the dictator butchering the democracy who also led a coup in 1979. University students initiated the protest. The dictator sent special force including tanks, choppers, and machine guns. The people fought against the army with whatever they can use as a weapon. Can we say these protesters were violent? It's not easy to say either way.

For a long time, the far-right wing party has ruled South Korea. All the big companies are government-friendly for benefits. Naturally, all the media is aligned with all of them. A very few independent media gives up the advertisement revenue from the big companies and relies on a subscription model.

So whatever happens against the government, the media in on the side of the government. Never on our side. Whenever there is a labor strike, they are depicted as purely greedy workers putting the rest of people's life in inconvenience, asking for more salary. And usually, the media put the headline with their average salary. Of course, "average" is something they can always manipulate for a certain purpose.

In 2002, two 14-year-old girls died. A US military armored vehicle ran over them. As always, the US is a super-powered country and the US military refused the subpoena. The Korean court didn't have authority for the trial. And in the end, the US court in South Korea declared not guilty. There was no proper investigation at all. This wasn't the first time. There have been many crimes by US soldiers in Korea but in most cases, they got out of jail for free. People were mad. But this time, people somehow didn't protest the way they did. There was a candlelight vigil. It was at the same time a protest and a memorial service.

Since then, candlelight vigil became the main way to protest in South Korea. The biggest candlelight vigil began in October 2016. The president committed too many crimes. I'm not going to list them all here. Every Saturday hundreds of thousands of people went out to the street with candlelight. They marched peacefully. At this point, we knew how the media can write things at a very bad angle. And we knew those articles could harm the movement.

People prepared the march on many different online communities during the weekdays, and they went out on Saturday. They iterated this every week and it got better and better. They encouraged each other to behave right, for example, to clean up the street afterward (We know how the media will react). Whenever someone got too angry and tried to take action to police, the people around stopped the person and tried their best to prevent it.

This candlelight vigil continued until May 2017. I repeat, it started in October 2016. Every single Saturday, people went out. On 26 November 2016, 1.9 million people participated. Accumulatively 16,894,280 people participated during the whole period. And the president finally got impeached and she is now in jail.

It teaches us many things. People knew how the media would try to manipulate public opinion. So people tried hard not to provide any cause of trouble like violent events, etc. Many celebrities performed concerts in a big square in Seoul where people are protesting. It helped to keep the protest calm and peaceful. Even some people thought candlelight could unintentionally cause fire, so many of them switched to LED candles. They improved the details through iterations.

I have no insights or knowledge to say "The candlelight vigil will work for you", "Protests need to be peaceful" or "Keep doing what you're doing now". I truly have no idea. I'm just telling you what happened in South Korea, how the political atmosphere was, how people acted, etc. It may not apply to other countries or cases. And even if I think I know, I shouldn't say, because I don't live in the US and I might not know exactly how things are going on.

I just hope the best result in the end. I hope this article can be helpful in any way.


I'm Eunjae -

A software engineer
focused on web development.
I'm working at Algolia, in Paris.
Feel free to connect!

© 2020 Eunjae Lee