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.”