Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some photos from last night's rally has a number of photos and reports from last nights rally, in Korean. Seems like it was pretty big. Even the BBC reported 100,000.

Some video here at Daum, and here on youtube, some candid remarks from a police captain: "Police chief: Guys, when you hit people, try to avoid being filmed by people, journalists, and reporters. If you got pictured when you hit women and handicapped, cover up each other and try to identify who pictured you.." or so that's what one comment says.

[Update 1], a whole series of news stories here on youtube, and a vast collection of DIY video and others here.

[Update 2], Some more pics from Sunday's rally below and from Ohmynews and from Chamsesang, via Kotaji.

The gusts of popular feeling continue...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Mad cows, stubborn presidents

I've tried to stay away from the mad cow issue for a while now (both physically and intellectually) because you can read about it everywhere these days, but I thought I would post this article just for those of you who don't compulsively read the Hankyoreh like I do. I think the issue deserves a wider, critical reading which I don't have time to do. [Update: I've elaborated a little bit more on this issue in a reply to anonymous reader Scott on a previous post] Certainly there are those who want to pin it down to anti-americanism but I think the issue is much more complicated than that. Mostly it seems about the attitude of the president and ruling party both to principled negotiation and to protest. Theoretically I'm sure there are just as lax, or worse, safety regulations on some Korean or Chinese or Australian products but that doesn't seem to be the key issue, it's just that government seems so open about accepting a lower standard and repressing opposition to its position by brandishing the opposition as violent or leftists and arresting them. That the government has not realized that most of the people protesting come from a less institutionalized background than the unions or NGOs has really been one of their fatal flaws, nothing creates a generation of activists more than ideologically branding them 'communists' and them putting them in jail as seems to have happened to a number of people from high school students to housewives and retirees over the last few weeks. Oh well, that should provide a welcome antidote for Park Chung Hee nostalgia and further erode LMB's support base. Good work, and done in less than three months in office!

S. Korea resumes U.S. beef imports
Opposition parties still demanding that beef agreement be renegotiated

Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries Chung Woon-chun on May 29 announced the conditions for the importation of U.S. beef and apologized about the government’s handling of negotiations on the import sanitary terms. The beef agreement was reached with the United States on April 18.

In reaction, opposition parties, including the United Democratic Party, declared to stage outdoor protests to nullify the announcement. Civic organizations are also strongly against the announcement, taking the next step in their fight against the resumption of U.S. beef imports by renewing their protests and continuing to call for renegotiation of the deal.

Chung pledged to step up efforts to fully manage quarantine inspection procedures and beef distribution. The ministry also requested that the Ministry of Public Administration and Security publish the announcement under the name of the related minister via a government newsletter. The newsletter will carry the announcement sometime around June 3.

As a result, Korea will begin importing U.S. beef with few limitations on the age of the animal and the kinds of animal parts allowed into the country, including bone-in meat and intestines.

According to the new import conditions, all animal parts from cattle younger than 30 months old, except for tonsils and the end of the small intestine, will be imported. For beef from cattle older than 30 months, Korea will import all animal parts, with the exclusion of seven specified risk materials known to be at higher risk for mad cow disease, such as back bones.

These changes are quite different from the original rules, which stipulated that only beef from cattle less than 30 months of age would be allowed. South Korea has banned imports of bone-in-beef for four and half years since 2003. U.S. beef imports have been banned completely since last October when bone fragments were found in a shipment of imported meat.

The final announcement contains the full text of the ROK-U.S. beef agreement, with the exchange of letters denoting U.S. recognition of Korea’s quarantine sovereignty attached. The exchange of letters was signed by trade representatives from South Korea and the United States during an additional round of negotiations earlier this month.

In consideration of the people’s concern about the safety of U.S. beef and the effect of the resumption of imports on South Korean livestock farmers, the ministry announced that all of the nation’s restaurants will be required to inform customers of the country of origin of all beef dishes.

Opposition parties and civic groups have renewed their protests against the government’s enforcement of the beef notification and are planning to take further steps to nullify it. The UDP issued a resolution on the same day the ministry made its announcement, saying that the only way to resolve the current crisis and satisfy the people’s demands is for the government to abandon its plan to enforce the notification and immediately begin renegotiations. “If the notification takes effect, we will stage all-out protests to nullify the beef deal,” the UDP said.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Politicized Policing

Yet another post from the Hankyoreh (as you can see my free time has been limited lately). This one comes after yesterday's crackdown on LMB's beef agreement with the US. Lot's of stuff happening which can catch up on through most Korea-related blogs and websites. The crackdown on the protests seems set to provoke a large reaction from the public, but what is perhaps most disturbing about them is the way in which the policing involved reminds many observers of the role of the police in previous dictatorships. Since LMB's election to police have seemingly been reintegrated into the governments political strategy and have been monitoring and interfering with civic groups. The crackdown yesterday signifies the first time that they have shown their face in this new role vis a vis civil society or speech related protests (if one accepts that the authoritarian policing of labour and especially migrants was never fully eliminated).

[Analysis] Lee administration reversing democratic achievements
Infringement on media freedoms tops list of troubling changes made since Lee Myung-bak took office

»[PICTURE] Police drag away citizens who participated in a two-day, sit-in candle vigil to protest the resumption of U.S. beef imports when they try to march toward Cheong Wa Dae at dawn on May 25.

There are growing concerns that the administration of President Lee Myung-bak, who marked his first three months in office on May 25, has reversed some of the democratic progress that Korean society has made. For the first three months, law enforcement authorities, including the police, the prosecution and the Board of Audit and Inspection, have been mobilized to ingratiate themselves with the government’s initiatives. Regular meetings on public security with the National Intelligence Service, which were common under the military-backed government in the early 1980s, have been revived. The terms of the directors of public entities, which are guaranteed by law, have been ignored and an advisory opinion on the rights of migrant workers given by the National Human Rights Commission was overturned by a remark made by President Lee.

In a clear sign of a setback in progress toward democracy, riot police beat protesters and forcefully arrested them in the early morning on May 25 and 26 to disperse a street rally after a candlelight vigil was held to oppose the planned resumption of U.S. beef imports. Democratic achievements, obtained by the Korean people since the pro-democracy uprising in June 1987, have gradually been undermined. Human rights have been suppressed easily enough by intelligence authorities resuming investigations into members of the civilian population. With the government-controlled economic system showing signs of revival, the road to economic democratization has become rockier. Where the law ends, the politics of intervention begins.

Kim Ho-ki, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, who described the government of President Lee as “neo-liberal authoritarian rule,” said it is characteristic of the government to use “neo-liberalism to handle education, employment and welfare policies under market principles, while trying to control civic society and social movements with an authoritarianism similar to that employed during the Yushin (revitalizing reform) regime and the fifth government.” The Yushin regime and the fifth government, which date back to the 1970s and 1980s, constitute one of the darkest chapters in modern South Korean history. At the time, South Korea was ruled by military generals with most the basic rights held in abeyance. “Such a way of ruling is fundamentally opposed to the pluralism brought by the democratic era, so will amplify social unrest and discord,” Kim said.

Of the setbacks democracy has suffered, what’s most worrisome is the government’s attempt to control the media. The Board of Audit and Inspection, the Korea Communications Commission, and other government agencies are engaging in a full out attempt to force Jung Yun-joo, the president of the Korean Broadcasting System, to resign from the post. It is becoming clear that the government is trying to appoint people who are considered as “yes-men” to serve the administration of President Lee at posts in broadcasting, at news wires and media institutions, where the government has an influence on personnel appointments. Nevertheless, conservative media outlets, which had trumpeted the idea that they would protect media freedoms under the liberal governments of the past decade, have kept mum. The cozy relationship between powerful politicians and the conservative media, which put democracy into limbo until the 1980s, has returned.

Kim Hyeong-gi, a professor of economics at Kyungpook National University, said, “During the administration of former President Roh Moo-hyun, (the government) weakened the privileges of the major law enforcement authorities. But the government of President Lee Myung-bak has tended to strengthen its authoritarian rule while promoting the idea of a market economy. This phenomenon has occurred because the country turned conservative before the monitoring of law enforcement authorities by the National Assembly and civil society had taken root, and amid a lack of democratic maturity.”


I found this recent article in the Hankyoreh terribly disturbing:

The Hankyoreh launches campaign to support S. Korea’s foreign brides

More foreign migrant women are getting divorced, only to be bought and sold on an increasingly large domestic marketplace

» Southeast Asian migrant women relax at a shelter in North Gyeongsang Province in early May. An increasing number of foreign brides are getting divorced, only to be sold and purchased for remarriage.

An increasing number of foreign women who have come to Korea as brides are getting divorced. Many of these women are just one step removed from experiencing the same fate as other foreign women before them who have become the victims of violent acts committed by their Korean husbands committed suicide. Their lives are at stake. Sadly, this is just another portrait created by the barbaric acts committed in a society that buys wives for Korean men. In response to this crisis, The Hankyoreh, in conjunction with the Women Migrants Humanrights Center, has launched a campaign to support foreign women living in South Korea. The campaign will run for a month beginning on May 12.

The campaign aims to highlight the lives of migrant women who have come to be divorced in Korea. A considerable number of foreign women who have come to Korea through marriage usually do not return to their home countries and are forced to lead unstable lives, before and after their marriages fail. Many of them get remarried via the services of middlemen looking for a broker’s fee or find work in nightclubs or other places offering low wages.

The story of one 21-year-old Cambodian woman is representative of the increasing number of foreign women who are traded for money. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, first came to Korea in July 2007, when she was greeted by her new 93-year-old father-in-law, an apple-grower in North Gyeongsang Province, and her 51-year-old husband. Before long, her hopes for a new life turned to despair. Her husband’s shabby house was full of piles of garbage that gave off a disgusting odor. She soon learned that her husband had a mental disorder and he behaved badly whenever he drank, which caused her to flee to a neighbor’s house to escape his drunken tirades. Her father-in-law expressed his regret about the situation, but said he could not let her go because he had paid such a huge sum of money to get his son a wife. He had borrowed ten million won (US$ 9,551) and paid it to a matchmaking service.

One day, a neighbor visited the house and advised the father-in-law to sell the woman for 5 million won. The father-in-law agreed. Another village resident, looking back on the time, said, “As the rumor that the woman would be sold for 5 million won spread, there were many volunteers who offered to take her cheaply.”

A pastor from a neighboring area introduced the father-in-law to a man in his 40s who wanted to take her in, but the clergyman said that the man could not pay more than 500,000 won for her. The woman’s father-in-law demanded a payment of at least 2 million won, but when his offer was rejected, he attempted to take her to his house. The woman panicked and sought help at a center for foreign women in North Gyeongsang Province and in April, she was finally granted a divorce.

Now that she is free, she is getting more marriage proposals. She is in high demand because there are no additional commissions to be paid. The woman, however, still feels uneasy about remarrying in Korea. Han Guk-yeom, a representative of the Women Migrants Humanrights Center, said, “A fundamental problem is that Korean society thinks of migrant women who settle in Korea through marriage as ‘goods.’” They remarry for cheap commissions or get jobs in “places of entertainment.”

Gwon Mi-ju, an official of the center, said, “Many migrant women can be seen at massage parlors or noraebang (singing rooms) in local areas and I think that most of them are divorcees.”

situated authoritarianism

The government continues its history of completely repressing the MTU and migrants in general. Here is a letter from the latest MTU president, Torner Rimbu, to be arrested and deported by the government in a coordinated crackdown. From the Hankyoreh:

Are migrant workers disposable?

Written by Torner Rimbu, the president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, from the Cheongju Detention Center

My respected Koreans and migrant laborers! I greet you in struggle! They say if you want to be a great person you need to meet great people, and I have met great people like you. I have been unable to become a great activist, but I did my best.

I came to beautiful Korea to escape poverty. But as discrimination towards, and exploitation of, the weak exist everywhere, I gave all my youth wandering about during my difficult life in Korea hoping to realize my Korean Dream, but at no time was I happy.

Korean society changed as time went by, but the oppression and discrimination towards the weak did not. I was unable to receive proper treatment for injuries to my waist, neck, and disk. Once, someone made use of my legal status as an “illegal alien” to commit fraud against me, and, instead of getting legal help, I suffered more. I have worked hard for the sake of the migrant union since that time in 2003. But the biggest crisis for me came when I was fired from my company because of the “employment permit program” that began in August 2004. I had no money and could find no work; the crackdown was intensifying and I had nowhere to go. I came to think that something was wrong, and I thought migrant workers would have to raise their voices. I followed my seonbae (elders) to a sit-in at Myeongdong Cathedral. The slogans at the time were “Stop the deportations!” and “Fully legalize undocumented migrant workers!” During the 386-day sit-in struggle I learned more about Korea, and learned more still from the fine Korean seonbae I met, and their determination to struggle was handed down to me as well. A great many Koreans joined in strong solidarity, giving us much needed strength.

The Korean Ministry of Justice, however, was always out to crush the migrant union and would not let me be. On May 2, 2008, at 8:30 p.m., I fell victim to a targeted arrest operation by more than ten Seoul Immigration Office employees on my way to a candlelight protest against imports of American mad cow beef.

Why does the Korean government want to arrest and deport us? There are some 230,000 undocumented migrant workers in Korea; does it want to deport them all? Are the police and the Ministry of Justice on a joint crackdown operation from May 1 to July 31 because the president ordered it to reduce the number of illegal aliens to zero? (Editor’s note: President Lee Myung-bak said, “We should protect legal foreign laborers, but ban illegal foreign laborers from walking freely,” at a Labor Ministry briefing on March 14.) How many of our migrant worker friends are going to be hurt or killed in the course of this crackdown? If undocumented migrant workers have done anything wrong, then their only sin is having come to Korea and worked hard to achieve their dreams.

But there is still hope. There is hope because of the solidarity of many Korean citizens and migrant workers. Someday, we will meet again and struggle together and work for more ultimate things, for the abolition of all discrimination. I would ask that you afford more proactive interest in our effort, that you support us and offer your solidarity.

They say cowards kneel. They say betrayers betray. But those who are courageous struggle. All of you who have stood with us migrant workers are fine comrades. And you are courageous comrades. I may already have been deported by the time you read this, but I wish you good health. May we meet again.

Torner Rimbu, the president of Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, was deported to Nepal on May 15.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More on the latest MTU arrests

From today's Hankyoreh

Migrant Trade Union leaders arrested for holding demonstrations
Latest arrest could be the start of sweeping crackdowns on migrant workers

» Migrant workers hold a demonstration to protest government oppression in the Jongno district, Seoul, on January 20.

The Ministry of Justice announced on May 5 that it had arrested two leaders of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, including its president Torner Rimbu, for organizing demonstrations against the government. The MTU is protesting the arrests, saying that the incident is the beginning of a sweeping roundup of foreign workers.

According to the ministry, the two MTU leaders led demonstrations against government policy. The MTU, with the cooperation of other civic groups, have held demonstrations to demand that all immigrants without visas be given legal status and the employment permit system, which allows companies to hire migrant workers only when Korean citizens cannot be found, be abolished. The ministry announced that it would deport the two MTU leaders, both of whom had overstayed their visas. Torner Rimbu became the MTU president after the group’s former president, Kaji Man, was deported in November.

The ministry formed a task force on May 1 and launched the first crackdown on all migrant workers without visas since the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak in late February. The ministry plans to continue its crackdown for the next three months, and says that it will prevent illegal foreign workers from making inroads into the domestic labor market.

“The target of crackdown is our leaders, the fact that two of our leaders were arrested as soon as the crackdown began proves it,” representatives from the MTU said.

Lee Jeong-won, an MTU official, said that they saw the crackdown coming after the new government began stating that there should be stricter enforcement of the law. The government wanted to remove the MTU leadership ahead of the crackdown on migrant workers, Lee, the MTU official, added.

The MTU also said that dozens of immigration authorities ambushed Rimbu, the MTU president, in order to catch him.

Monday, May 05, 2008

MTU leaders arrested

The MTU is courageous, but it seems that the frequency with which the government is attacking their leadership is frightening: three sets of leaders in 6 months. The new government seems to have sped up the political repression against politicized migrants even faster than the previous one.

KCTU - Repression against the Migrant Trade Union leadership continues

Repression against MTU Leadership Continues!

The South Korean government has attacked MTU (Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union) once again. On May 2, only one day after workers around the world celebrated May Day, MTU's newly elected president and vice president were forcibly arrested by immigration officers, the president in front of the union office and the vice president at his home. We are deeply enraged by this act of repression against MTU and migrant workers' organizing in South Korea!

Description of the Incident
At roughly 8:20pm on the night of May 2, President Torna Limbu and MTU's vice general secretary were walking out of the MTU office when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, at around 9:00pm the same night, union officers become unable to contact MTU Vice President Abdus Sabur. When a union officer and a Korean supporter went to check on him, they found his house empty. A neighbor informed them that immigration officers had been their shortly before. At 12:30am it was confirmed that the vice president had also been arrested and that both men were being transported to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul.

The arrests of both MTU leaders were clearly pre-planned. Immigration officers had followed the president since the previous day when he participated in May Day activities. The vice president recognized a person who had sat nearby him at a fundraiser the week before among the officers who arrested him. That President Torna heard the officers in the van carrying him communicating consistently with those stationed near Vice President Sabur’s house and in other areas in Seoul also shows clearly that the arrests were coordinate with one another.

Long-term Attack on MTU
This outrageous act of repression comes only several months after the targeted crackdown against MTU leadership on November 27 of last year in which the former president, vice president and general secretary were all arrested. In the wake of that attack MTU, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and supporters from the labor movement and civil society carried out a 99-day sit-in protest calling for an end to the oppression against migrants and migrant organizing and at the same time rebuilt MTU. On April 6, MTU elected a new leadership, with President Torna at the forefront, and moved forward determined to fight the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and win migrant workers' labor and human rights.

The new conservative government of Lee Myeong-bak, however, has only strengthened the policy of repression against migrant workers. A mass crackdown against undocumented migrant workers has again begun and Lee Myeong-bak has stated that he will not tolerate undocumented migrant workers' unionizing.

Supreme Court Case
Lee Myeongbak’s statement is a direct reflection of the attitude the South Korean government has taken towards MTU since its founding in 2005. At that time the Ministry of Labor rejected MTU’s official union status, claiming that undocumented migrant workers do not have the right to freedom of association and union activities. MTU carried out a legal battle against this decision and eventually won in the Seoul High Court on 1 February 2007. However this verdict was appealed to the Supreme Court, where a decision is expected to be reached by the middle to end of this year. The Ministry of Labor bases its appeal on the claims that the right of undocumented migrant workers to freedom of association is not protected in the South Korean Constitution or stated clearly in international law. However, we know that workers are workers, entitled to the same labor rights, no matter what country they reside in under what visa status. This was clearly shown in the High Court decision, which ruled that undocumented migrant workers are the subjects of equal labor rights under South Korean law and in rulings of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (UGT [2001], AFL-CTM [2002]) and the Inter-America Court of Human Rights (17 Sept. 2003), which show that international law protects the union rights of undocumented migrant workers.

Stop the Repression!
The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition to oppressive policies towards migrant workers. This repression is not only against MTU, but against migrant workers’ organizing in general and, indeed, the entire labor movement.

Despite the attacks, MTU stands unwaivering in our opposition to the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers and in our position that migrant workers, regardless of their visa status, are entitled to equal labor and human rights. We therefore make the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!

Call for Solidarity
Ours is a fight not only for migrant workers in South Korea but for migrant workers all over the world. Therefore, once more, we ask for your support. Please show your solidarity in the following ways.

1. Organize a solidarity protest in front of the South Korean embassy or consulate in your area.
2. Send a protest letter in your organization’s name to the South Korean Ministry of Justice and Commissioner of Korea Immigration Service. (See the example letter below, please send to all the fax numbers given)
3. Encourage your members and networks to sign the online petition at this link:
4. Please send us a copy of protest letter and a word of any actions you take and pictures if possible. ,

Let’s struggle together for the rights of all workers!

Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions

Sample Protest Letter

Ministry of Justice, Republic of Korea
Building 1, Gwacheon Government Complex,
Jungang-dong 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do
Republic of Korea
Fax: 82-2-2110-3079

Commissioner of Korean Immigration Service
Fax: 82-2-500-9059, 82-2-500-9128, 82-2-500-9026

To the South Korean Minister of Justice Kim Gyeong-han:

We, the ___________(organization’s name), write to express grave concern and outrage at the recent arrests of the President and Vice President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU). We see this attack as an assault not only against MTU but against the migrant workers movement and labor movement worldwide.

On the evening of May 2, only one day after May Day, MTU President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur, were arrested at separate places between 8:20 and 9:20pm. The President was coming out of the MTU office with the MTU Vice General Secretary when they were suddenly confronted by 10 to 15 immigration officers who were waiting hidden around the corner. The officers surrounded the president and without presenting a detention order violently forced him into a van waiting nearby. When the vice general secretary attempted to protest he was physically restrained by officers who shouted at him not to interfere with public affairs.

Soon after, 10 to 15 immigration officers banged on door of Vice President Sabur’s residence, entered and forcibly arrested him. Both men were transported that night to Cheongju Detention Center 2.5 hours south of Seoul. These arrests were clearly preplanned and carefully carried out in an attempt to stop MTU’s rightful union activities. Even more maddening, they come only several months of a similar attack against MTU’s leadership in which the previous president, vice president and general secretary were arrested and later deported at the end of last year.

We are aware that this targeted crackdown against MTU’s leadership coincides with the pending Supreme Court Case concerning MTU’s legal union status. We are concerned that despite a Seoul High Court Ruling on 1 February 2007 in favor of MTU, the Supreme Court decision, most likely to come out in the middle or end of this year, may deny South Korean migrant workers’ right to freedom of association, in contradiction with South Korean and International Law. We wish to assert that all workers, regardless of their visa status or the country in which they reside, are entitled to equal labor rights, including the right to form and participate in trade unions.

The arrests of President Torna, Vice President Sabur and previous union leadership, and the South Korean government’s refusal to recognize MTU’s legal union status are clearly an attempt to break MTU's opposition oppressive policies towards migrant workers. We see this not only as repression against MTU, but as repression against migrant workers’ organizing and the labor movement worldwide.

We therefore make of you the following demands:

1. Stop the repression against MTU and release President Torna Limbu and Vice President Abdus Sabur immediately!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!


(name, title, organization)

Lee Changgeun
International Executive Director
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Tel.: +82-2-2670-9234 Fax: +82-2-2635-1134
E-mail: Web-site :
2nd Fl. Daeyoung Bld., 139 Youngdeungpo-2-ga, Youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul 150-032 Korea

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Opportunity amidst division?

My good friend Cho Hee Yeon was in today's Hankyoreh;

Reform and reconciliation top agenda of progressive party forum
Progressive parties are tasked with finding new ways to reignite voters’ desire for social change

The Korea Labor and Society Institute hosted a forum on April 30 to mark the 13th anniversary of its foundation. The forum was aimed at assessing the achievement and future development of Korean-style progressive party politics, and officials from both progressive opposition parties attended. The Democratic Labor Party and the New Progressive Party split in January, just before the April 19 parliamentary election. The DLP won just five seats in the election, whereas the NPP was unable to gain any seats in the country’s unicameral 299-seat National Assembly.

In his keynote speech, Park Sang-hun, the chief executive of the publishing company Humanitas, said the two progressive parties had poor results in the April vote because of their lack of leadership and the perception that progressives were ignoring politics altogether. Citing Max Weber’s remark that democracy without leaders would result in a domination of certain factions within political parties, rather than strengthening the power of the general public, Park said, “The reason why the political influence of the progressive parties has faded away is not because of factions, but an unlimited tolerance of factional feuding due to a lack of strong leadership. South Korea’s progressive parties have insisted on rejecting the model of leadership in which a political party is represented as a person. For the progressive parties to become more politically powerful, it is urgent to build a leadership that responds to social demands.”

In addition, Park said, progressive politicians have only pretended to have kept their distance from power politics, though they have actually been involved in such politics. As they have continued to do these things over and over again, it has prompted them to think about “who should take more moral responsibility.” As a result, it has forced the progressive parties to continue to lose supporters, Park said. “In that sense, it’s a natural consequence that the progressive force was recently split in two and reported poor political results.”

At the forum, Cho Hee-yeon, a sociology professor at SungKonghoe University, said there is a window of opportunity for progressive politics against the regime of neo-liberalism, after the landslide win by the ruling Grand National Party in the April election. Cho encapsulated “anti-neo-liberalist politics” as “radical politics for livelihood protections,” saying the progressive parties should present alternative proposals on housing, public health, medical service, education and life after retirement. In the April election, many low-income people voted for GNP candidates mainly because of campaign pledges related to “new town” apartment construction projects. Cho called low-income voters’ support of the “new town” plans an expression of a “desire for imitation,” explaining that voters wanted to copy the success of those who became rich during the 1970s-80s, when military-backed governments put the economy ahead of democracy. “The task for progressive politics is how to turn the desire for imitation into a desire for livelihood protections,” Cho said.

Cho also proposed that the DLP and NPP forge a “non-hostile relationship of conflict.” Cho, who opposed the split, said, “I hope the split will be an opportunity for the two factions to find a way to appreciate each other’s agenda. I think that the progressive party split should bring internal reforms that were difficult under the factional divisions of the past.”