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...


  1. Jamie, I was there last night, it was pretty crazy. Easily 100,000 people, it was like the World Cup at City Hall. The highlight was getting hit by fire extinguishers (after a bunch of people got up on a police bus) and the high-tech remote-controlled water cannons (two going at the same time) in front of Kyongbok Palace as everyone was trying to bumrush the Blue House. The protesters almost pushed over a police bus near Insadong but the cops managed to drive another bus behind it in time to stablize it. Unfortunately, the protesters were unable to get through the police bus barricade and make it to the Blue House so it became a standoff after a while. I also noticed the protesters dragged a policeman off the front line at one point and started whaling on him in a mad circle, but then calmer heads prevailed and they quickly let him go. Anyway, everyone I talk to says that Lee will not cave in on the beef issue, and the protests will continue until he caves in, so it's hard to see this thing ending any time soon. Carzy!

  2. Cool Scott,

    Thanks for the continued play by play. Oh, and now I understand your issues with the Hankyoreh after reading what happened to you. Too bad libel law isn't stronger, I suppose. Like I said before, I don't like the minjok nationalism and it leads to problems and contradictions which you are quiet aware of. Anyways, it is an old tension between civic and ethnic nationalism on the left as you know.

  3. Jamie, you should make it clear that the second picture in this post, at the bottom, is from Sunday night in Kwanghwamun, unlike the first one which is from Saturday night next to Kyobok Palace. On Sunday, they managed to pull three different police buses a good 100 meters or so away from the police bus barricade line which was impressive, but eventually all that did was create an opening for the police to march through and disperse the crowd. The interesting thing about Sunday was that I saw the police raise the water cannon a couple of times from behind the bus barricade, but in the end they didn't use it. Why not? For one, the protesters were prepared this time and had huge blue tarps that they held up over their heads, and then secondly, there were so many media observers that perhaps the police didn't want to harm their own image. At one point, the police tried to clear the tops of buses which had about 100 media members standing on them (in front of Kyobo), and I thought this would be in preparation for using the water cannons (i.e., to limit the media coverage), but in the end the police backed down from trying to get them off the tops of the buses. Anyway, there was a massive stand-off on Sejongno in front of the Seoul Finance Center until about 4am, when several thousand police again marched on the crowd and dispersed them to the sidewalks and into City Hall. I saw that a couple of people were bloodied but all in all the police seemed remarkably restrained considering that protesters were towing police buses and actually destroyed one pretty much (broken windows, trashed inside and they even managed to jump start it and back it up). Another intersting thing is that the most recent video on CNN of these protests describes them as "anti-US" which completely misses the point in my opinion. I think a lot of the Western media covering these protests are not actually on the ground and do not have a clear sense of what is really going on...

  4. Kyobok Palace --> Kyongbok

  5. Thanks Scott!
    I'll change that.


  6. Jamie--
    a Korean friend who's been involved in the recent protests prompted me to write the following response to a comment she made. From a purely anarchist perspective, is my defence of representative democracy below simply conservative, or defensible in your opinion? This whole thing gets more and more complex all the time...

    * * * * * *

    "Well, I'm afraid that this protest is spreading over other issues and anti-government movement. It's not only about U.S beef anymore."

    Hi H.W.--
    yes, I understand this point, and I agree that 2MB is terrible
    and people have a right to safe beef, but it seems that even if the gov't says they will renegotiate the deal, many protesters still won't be satisfied and they only want his impeachment. But I think this is kind of antidemocratic. Lee won by a landslide last Dec., and the GDP won a majority of seats in April, so the democratic choice of Koreans in the last elections was for conservative candidates overall. It seems, however, that protesters on the left want to reject the will of a majority of Koreans, so is this really democracy? Imagine if Chung Dong-young had won last Dec. and then for a month conservatives were protesting every night in the streets demanding his impeachment because they didn't like his Sunshine Policy, for example? That would also be anti-democratic, wouldn't it?
    Anyway, I don't like Lee and safe beef should be guarranteed,
    but it seems like some of these protesters are going too far. I
    don't like Bush, either, but after he won again in 2004, I had no choice but to accept that a majority of US voters chose him and have had to wait until the next elections to try to get a Democrat into the White House (Obama). That's democracy, isn't it?

  7. 'Another intersting thing is that the most recent video on CNN of these protests describes them as "anti-US" which completely misses the point in my opinion. I think a lot of the Western media covering these protests are not actually on the ground and do not have a clear sense of what is really going on...'

    Absoulutely correct. This is more about the president and the president's party more than anything else. The beef issue is being targeted because it's easy to make this whole thing look like 'anti-US' but the people are mostly 'anti-current president'.

    They resent the beef deal because there were no restrictions on it, and because the president didn't mention testing the beef. Koreans don't mind US, or US beef, as long as there are rules to keep mad cow disease at bay. After all, the US livestock is so big, they can't test all the cattle, and there have been two confirmed cases of US cows [not the Canadian one] having mad cow disease.

    Because mad cow disease is fatal and incurable, people want to be careful, but the president accepted all cuts of all ages, when in US from 2009 pets won't be eating cattle older than 30 months to prevent the disease spreading.

    Lee is also unpopular because of other things as well. The protests are protests against Lee, not the beef deal. He's privatizing water and health care, and making them more expensive, along with building a huge canal. CNN describes the protests as anti-US? Maybe they were told to do so by Lee, and were paid a lot of money by him. I wouldn't put it past him.

    Nobody is anti-US, just anti-Lee and anti-possibly infected beef which hasn't been tested. That's all.

  8. BTW, an interesting development tonight (Wed.): A couple of pro-US beef demonstrators in front of the Seoul Finance Center around 8pm or so. One guy was holding up a sign that said something to the effect that only 5% of US beef imports into Korea will be over 30 months old. The two youngish guys were surrounded by heaps of people arguing with them and of course a bunch of media types. Later we went to City Hall and after both my Korean friend and I politely refused an offer to hold a candle, the demonstrators kept insisting over and over again in a rather pushy way. Finally my friend took one just to get rid of the guy, but not very "peaceful" I'd say.

  9. Scott,

    As for representative democracy. That's a complicated issue you mention. If his approval ratings are sinking and people try to impeach him I don't think that it will be merely the result of demonstrations but a serious of other political machinations. It seems however, that a number of reforms could avoid such a situation. Certainly if these reforms don't assuage the population then protests will continue, really it is a matter of how much he alienates his own supporters including the wider public. Certainly if 95% of the demonstrators go home and a die-hard bunch continue they might be pushing on without gains, but that would not be undemocratic in terms of speech-acts unless you were talking about some kind of obstruction of policy, even then to what degree. Certainly there is no hard and fast rule to these things even in the case of minority protests. I think you have to ask which kind of institutions they are targeting and what they are trying to replace it with. As for the idea of giving the guy in office time to make his own mistakes while an alternative is built up, I think that is more a matter of calculation. Certainly, the GNP and old MDP didn't mind impeaching Roh Moo Hyun but the fact that their attempt went beyond the popular will was shown in the overwelming support given to URI in the 2004 general election. That said, there is nothing necessarily democratic about majority opinion as such, neither about purely procedural mechanisms, I guess politics is a substantive game where you have to fill in the blanks, to an extent. So, while I guess I can see why you might feel like some protestors might go too far, taking the issue beyond specific sets of greivances, that might seem the best path for them. I guess we can only look at the results. Certainly, demonstrations, even if they don't mean to, can have democratizing effects in that broader consultation and transparency might be encouraged even directly through radical claims. Certainly, Lee has outraged people enough to make them call for his head, perhaps he will have to set an ambitious reform agenda to assuage their feelings. but we'll see.

    As for your candle holding experience. It seems like a collective protest that though horizontally organized has some unified criteria for joining and showing solidarity. You can decide how much range you would like in a protest action. But there certainly are merits to homogeneous versus heterogeneous expression.

    To the last comment. Yes, it is an anti-Lee thing. I agree. Certainly perceived and real global imbalences of power inform the event to some extent, the question is really how much emphasis is put on this. I agree that it would be illegitimate to call it strictly an anti-US protest.

  10. Jamie, thanks for your comments. I still find myself troubled by certain aspects of this current phenomenon. Hankyoreh's article, for example (in the most recent post above), seems to be romanticizing the demonstrations without looking into deeper issues involved: The most recent article you linked to does not differentiate between arrests for blocking streets and arrests for political expression; all the arrests seem to be the former but you wouldn't know that reading the article which merely implies that they were pro-democracy supporters, and hence has a rather sentimental thrust. The anonymous poster here is going too far in some claims since the privatizing health care thing is just a proposal so far and the grand canal is on hold as well, so they're hardly set in stone; and I think beef is what the main issue for most people who are coming. I've met several people at the demos who voted for Lee and while they are concerned about beef they do not want to see him impeached; other people come one time just because they're curious, not because they want a social revolution or whatever. Indeed, I've met quite a lot of people who support the FTA, so I do not see a broader consensus forming amonst people who are opposed to the neo-liberal globalizing policies of Lee and which helped get him into office ("to help improve the economy"). In any case, when I was teaching at Hongdae last Fall I taught 5 classes in which we debated the forthcoming elections and it was shocking how indifferent and apathetic the students were over the whole process (and many supported Lee, actually, without really knowing why except that he would "improve the economy). So that's why I see this current wave of protests as slightly reactionary, when just a few months ago so many people refused to even enegage in the political process when they had a chance to register their own political voice at the institutional level. And I see Hankyoreh, for example, as slightly complicit as well since they seem to prefer to push propaganda (recently attacking Vershbow over his comments about mad-cow disease by distorting his comments) rather than educating readers about the broader issues and making them a more informed and critical citizenry overall; indeed, to what degree is Hankyoreh educating people about neo-liberalism and tensions of the so-called "third way" (a la Bill Clinton and Blair) which you yourself say they seem to support? Hankyoreh is complicit in the present capitialist regime as well, which may be one reason why they seomtimes seem to prefer to score cheap political points instead of offering a more sustained analysis of the present order.

  11. PS: Here are results on local election voter turn-out in Seoul and Kyonggi yesterday (from Korea Times). 23%? This is what I was talking about in my previous post. I wonder how many of the thousands of people at City Hall yesterday for hours on end actually bothered to vote themselves?

    "Voter turnout stood at 23.2 percent, the second lowest recorded in local elections, the National Election Commission (NEC) said ― the lowest was 21 percent in June 2000.

    To raise the voter turnout, the NEC extended voting by two hours until 8 p.m.

    However, the election watchdog's tactic was of little help in raising the figure.

    Campaign watchers said bad weather probably contributed to discouraging voters from exercising their right to vote."

  12. Hey Scott,

    Good points. I agree with you on the Hankyoreh issues. From what we read here it seems the canal is not totally on hold but being experimented with through some waterway renewal project that involves substantial dredging. Finally, isn't lack of a an substantive alternative a source of apathy. If you know by voting you are just going to get more of the same, then why vote? I agree with much of Choi Jang Jip's analysis in his Democracy after Democratization that a big problem for Korean political party competition is the narrow ideological spectrum within it operates. Therefore anti- or pro- US becomes a surragate for what is in fact little ideological difference when it comes to neoliberalism, except for the UDP and URI had more transparency, less attitude, and engaged in a longer procedural process than the GNP.

  13. Jamie, I was out there at Kwanghwamun again last night (Thursday) and if Korea is going to ever have its "Woodstock" this may be it. There were several large drum circles with like 30 drums, people dancing in the center and hundreds looking on; several other folk-type bands playing Crying Nut or Deli Spice songs (with the odd anti-ChoJoongDong ditty thrown in which was kind of incongruous but whatever); and another band with an accordian player and even a foreign drummer, along with a violinist and guitar player. The mood was much more festive and there was a sense of joy or juissance as the French say: All the college kids were out in force and mostly in their own circles, either drinking around a fire or even more funny, the girls from women's schools doing their sort of cute little cheerleader synchronized dancing ("Bring it!"). So there was a variety of people and styles (even quite a few red devils in their glowing red horns) but the dominant mood was much more festive despite the highly decentered assemblage of people, and since they are going through the weekend we'll see if this turns into a full-scale Woodstock-like cultural event that really flips this society upsidedown (it was also notable that the police did nothing to break things up even though about 10,000 people were still occupying Kwanghwamun when I left at 5am). I did meet a cool (Korean) activist/NGO guy who came up to me because he had read my last book and recognized me and we had a good long talk: I asked him if this was a movement (undong) or revolution (hyongmyong) and he said he had no idea what to make of this thing yet but he seemed rather ambivalent about its future or long-lasting potential as am I (at one point he pointed to people putting anti-gov't stickers on the police buses and said "They're just playing, they're just having fun."). Oh, and he also said a lot of people he knows on the left are attacking Hankyoreh these days. Anyway, the big day is next Tuesday where they're hoping for 1 million people; alas, given the dearth of drugs here and seriously crowd rocking bands, any comparisons to Woodstock or true cultural revolution may only be superficial at best. The jury's still out on this thing.

  14. Korea Beef Import Protests

    Asian Politics is a Strange Commodity.

    Particularly when your up around Japan and Korea.

    The Question we should be asking is. .

    What will it take in terms of U.S. Trade Concessions toward Japan and Korea .
    Or Possibly Political Guarantees in the North to turn the "Tide of Popular Opinion" in Korea over Beef Imports.

    Japan been doing it for years.

    It seems that as long as we are prepared to meet Japanese Car Imports quotas.
    Then the Live Exports of Cattle to that country will continue.

    Is Korea all that different?
    Or are they simply Posturing for a stronger "bargaining position" Korea's place on the Global Stage of World Trade?

    Paul Sullivan

  15. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment. Once again, I think it is an internal issues about how the negotiations were held, which appeared to be an example of cronyism that got most people upset about the president and his general attitude to politics.

    Secondly, in terms of fairer trade, I'm a big fan of reciprocal trade but I think the type of policies needed to really benefit an equal flow of trade between those countries would be too heterodox judging by the standards of current agreements. This is perhaps why Korean farmers, for example, tend to protest the FTA altogether. Perhaps this is also why global trade negotiations have broken down in recent years: one size doesn't fit all.

    Certainly, however, politicians can leverage public discontent to get better bargaining power. But the flames of these rallies were not stoked up for that reason, though it may be a consequence.