18 Comments

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  1. Joe
    Joe July 1, 2008 at 10:58 pm . Reply

    Oh my god, that is the most awesome thing ever. I must read it.

  2. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 2, 2008 at 1:58 am . Reply

    Gord, good post, you seem inspired. I can only say that I was there on Saturday night and after seeing all that went down, I am considerably less anti-police than you are in this post. The protesters were seriously out of hand, jabbing long metal pipes through the windows of police buses trying to hit police, smashing windows with fire extinguishers and shovels and capturing quite a few policemen after the police came out at midnight. I saw a couple of police with bleeding faces, or getting mobbed on by protesters (as happened on Wed. and Thurs. nights, too). I don’t know, I would call it a draw in terms of violence and who started what first. The protesters were fairly extreme on Saturday night and the police responded in kind. Certainly the police did not just randomly crack down for no reason. Yes, the police used water cannons but then the protesters used two high-pressure fire hoses against the police for at least two hours as well. In some respects I admire the protesters for their courage, even as I am somewhat troubled by the way that some of the protesters seriously go ofter the police once they have been captured, especially the cowards who run up from behind and hit or kick the police in the back while the police have their hands pinned and can do nothing in response. I think the protesters need to accept the fact that if they are going to attack the police, they are hardly innocent martyrs of police violence, which is precisely what the left-leaning media here are trying to make them out to be. It’s just not that simple.
    I don’t know why, but at the end of the night on Sat. I felt sorry for the police, actually. Maybe it was because when I saw some volunteer medics leading four captured police to an ambulance to escape the crowd, some young punk asshole came up from behind and tried to pond one of the police on the back of the head. The other protesters peeled the assailant off, but then they just let him go without a word of reprimand. I really didn’t think that policeman, who barely was out of his teens, deserved that, and the look of shame and terror on his face made me feel quite disgusted by it all.

  3. Val
    Val July 2, 2008 at 5:26 am . Reply

    Amazing post. I appreciate the local insight, whatever caveats you’ve got. You’re trying to give info, not trying to opine, and that’s the important thing. But you know that.

    I always find it inspiring to see religious groups working for the common good rather than to brainwash folks in the interests of ideology.

  4. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm . Reply

    Gord, you are correct that the police-bus barricades escalate the violence radically. Whenever confronted with actual police, the prostesters generally disperse quickly. On Friday night, for example, in front of the Seoul Finance Center, there was also a big crowd but the police put up a line of policemen in front of the protesters and nothing really happened (besides an assemblyman clocking one of the police in the head). I actually think most of the protesters are not as tough as the like to pretend since they tend to scamper away when the police come out, yet they certainly put on a big show when pulling the buses and busting out the firehoses and whatnot.

    I also agree that they should have let them go to the Blue House.

    The 5th is a big day and my gut intinct tells me it will be peaceful. The 8th of June was pretty violent, and then on the 10th when hundreds of thousands turned out, a solid majority of people were against the violence and that held out. I imagine the protesters will think of something imaginative and symbolic to do (along the lines of the styrofoam staircase on the 10th), in place of the same old violence.

    But we’ll see, it’s been hard predicting this thing all along.

  5. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 2, 2008 at 1:13 pm . Reply

    Gord, I would say between 20-30% of the protests have been violent. The violence always happens later in the evening. Last week starting from Wed. was more violent because the government was in the midst of publishing the new import regulations for US beef, so people were pissed at that. They started pulling the buses much earlier and the police came out much earlier as a consequence. If you include pulling police buses, defacing them and whatnot, I would say the number of people actually engaged in violence approaches the thousands, since one of those ropes is like a hundred meters long and they sometimes use two or three ropes per bus and each one easily has a hundred peope on them; then multiply that by several buses per night and of course the people involved in the pulling constantly rotates. On Thursday night, I even met a hot young lady who was a grad student in Oriental medicine pulling one of the buses by Kwanghwamun; she was in high heels and wearing those blood-red gloves, which was oddly erotic. She agreed that what she was doing constituted “violent” activity.

  6. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 2, 2008 at 3:05 pm . Reply

    “Hmm. 20-30% of the protests, or of the protesters? (Is that a typo?)”

    Not a typo. I meant protests.

    The bus pulling involves a lot of logistical violence. They first tie the ropes on the wheels, then the police try to cut the ropes from the backside or underneath so there is a lot of hitting or pipe wielding going on back and forth (defense and offence). Then the police use fire-extinguishers to try to disperse the bus pullers, which in turn prompts the protesters to start attacking the police to try to stop them, or throw rocks at them, or hit them with pipes through the windows or whatnot. After a while, it gets pretty crazy. And of course, once a bus has been pulled away, hundreds of protesters rush forward and there is direct conflict with the police which can often get extreme since that’s when police get pulled off the lines and whatnot.

    In the end, though, it does have a large element of ritualized violence to it since in general things seem pretty well contained. I agree that the protesters could get to the Blue House if they were more determined and really wanted to get there.

  7. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 4, 2008 at 12:39 pm . Reply

    Gord, well, for the sake of argument, if it’s illegal to jaywalk here, certainly blocking the entire width of Chongno from 9pm to 6am so that no cars, buses or taxis can get through is not exactly legal, is it?

    Many of the protests have been legal and sanctioned by permits (such as at Chonggye Plaza or City Hall), of course, even as they have usurped other cultural events pre-planned at the same locations.

    Anyway, violence as political dissent and illegally blocking roads are not something I necessarily disapprove of under the right circumstances, but we need to at least be honest about describing what’s really going on here.

  8. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 4, 2008 at 9:39 pm . Reply

    Gord, I should clarify why I am so troubled by the exploitation of the violence meme amongst the protesters.

    After talking to many protesters and observing things first-hand almost nightly, I can safely say that violence is intentionally being used by a certain hard-core segment of the protesters in order to provoke a reaction from the police and thereby increase sympathy amongst the greater public for the cause.

    I remember on a Thursday night in late May watching several ajosshis hurling themselves at a police line in front of Kwanghwamun Post Office for like an hour straight, and the police did nothing but absorb the blows and gently push them back each time. I later recognized one of those ajosshis as one of the main organizers of the protests when he helped lead the building of the giant styrofoam staircase in front of the MB Castle on the 10th of June.

    So I think that on that Thursday night in front of Kwanghwamun PO, he was playing a cynical game of trying to provoke the police, and the police were too smart to play into his hands, especially since there were quite a few media cameras following every move up close and waiting for something “exciting” or “dramatic” to happen. In the end, nothing did happen and after an hour, that ajosshi and the others gave up and walked away.

    You and I have both discussed how the protesters seem less than fully committed to going to Chongwadae, and I think they actually don’t want to go to Chongwadae — at least the hard-core element who are dictating the mood of the crowd later at night. I think that many of them want to just provoke the police enough to have the police crack down hard and thereby create pictures of “police brutality” to circulate in the left-leaning mediasphere, such as Hankyoreh, OhMyNews and MBC.

    Last week the police had announced that they were going to start cracking down on the organizers of the rallies through investigations and whatnot. Things were looking desperate for their movement, so what could they do? Well, they provoked the police repeatedly on Sat. night until the police finally came out. Sure, the police hit and kicked a few people but mainly those were people who were throwing things at the police first. But this kind of protester instigation or provocation is often edited out, as are any scenes of protesters beating up cops (remember I saw prostesters beating up cops myself on Sat. night), and then videos and photos of “police brutality” are circulated and the leftist media start making comparisons to Chun Doo-hwan and Kwangju. Since most ordinary people were not there, they believe this version and suddenly the religious groups are outraged and lend their support to the movement — giving it much needed wind in its flagging sales.

    Again, to be perfectly clear, there are people in this movement cynically using the police violence meme as their own kind of propganda weapon, and look how well it works — even you were moved by what you saw on Monday night, right? (Consider the title of this post for starters.)

    I think that the beef issue is so flimsy (especially after all US beef over 30 months was banned from importation weeks ago) that the anti-2MB organizers needed more issues to push their anti-government agenda. And the fact of the matter is that the left have no one but themselves to blame for being asleep at the switch last year and letting an idiot like Lee waltz into the Blue House. So violence is a crucial progaganda tool that the organizers have exploited to the hilt, in the absence of other credible issues. I mean, the GNP won a plurality in Parliament just in April, so even two months ago the left was too lame to have enough voters feel that they represented them adequately. That’s why they lost. So I don’t buy this whole thing about “democracy being denied,” since the people’s democratic will was accurately expressed just last Dec. and again in April (just to be clear, I certainly don’t like Lee, but I am blaming the left here at this point, and see what they’re doing now as a shameless power grab that is trying to mask their recent failures at the ballot box here). So, basically, violence is a crucial issue in this movement: That was the main theme of the speech you heard on Monday night, and that is one of the main things you hear people chanting against at the demonstrations. People complain about the “violent police” almost as much as they do about 2MB, and certainly less than they do about the need to renegotiate the beef deal.

    The funny thing, however, is that it is almost taboo amongst many protesters to suggest that the protesters are cynically exploiting the violence meme by intentionally trying to provoke the police. Last Friday night, I had a young woman in front of the Dong-A Building get extremely upset when I suggested that some of the protesters had started the violence first. She insisted that the police had started all the violence so far and that the protesters were simply innocent victims. I told her that one of my Korean friends was actively involved at the protests and had told me himself that he thought it was necessary to use violence as a tool at the demonstrations. She refused to believe it, although it was absolutely true. I then told her that one of the main organizers had told me last Thursday night that it was good news that someone had had their finger seriously cut that night because it would mean more people would turn out to demonstate the following night (as far as I recall, I think it turned out to actually be a self-inflicted wound). He at least was honest about the media game that he was playing, but that women again refused to believe me because I had violated the ultimate taboo by mentioning one of the dirty unspoken secrets of this movement: Many protesters are cynically exploiting the violence issue and are not as innocent as they like to claim. No doubt, if she only read Hankyoreh and OhMyNews, she probably would not have an objective view of what’s been going on at the protests in terms of violence on both sides. She was a conservatively dressed office worker and I had never seen her before after dark at the demonstations. Anyway, there were other people there who had gathered around me in a circle, and some of them admitted that what I was saying was true — that some of the protesters had initiated the violence as well — but there were others there who were also upset and rather worked up that I had violated one of the key taboos of this movement. I had wounded one of their most sacred cows: That the police have started all the violence, and that the protesters are but innocent victims of a heartless, authoritarian regime.

    Well, fuck that shit. It is pure hypocrisy to twist and distort reality while at the same time attacking the government for “not being honest” and “not being believable.” And the fact of the matter is that if you take away the whole violence issue, this movement would have probably died already. Certainly the religous groups would not have turned out this week and given new life to this thing.

    Tonight I walked to City Hall at around 7:30pm and was disgusted by what I saw. A group at Ch’onggye Plaza was protesting human rights abuses in China, but all of 5 people were stopping to listen to a speech that was being made. Nearby, on the corner by Seoul Finance Center, another group was protesting against global warming and advocating green living and vegetarianism, but again nobody was even listening. Then I went to City Hall, and it was flooded by people listening to a monk give a speech about the need to renegotiate the beef deal. I’m sorry, but why is a vegetarian monk promoting eating beef at all? Shouldn’t he be calling for outright cancellation?

    I left after a few minutes and spoke with the anti-global warming people once again. They had a large-screen TV showing how cows produce methane which in turn increases global warming. I spoke with the nice halmosi there for a while and asked her what she thought of the beef issue. At first she said she didn’t care because she was a vegetarian, but then after some prodding, she said, “Those people have low consciousness” and went on to talk about how traditionally Koreans didn’t even eat much meat, and that the cattle industry in both the US and Korea was harming the environment in serious ways. I agree with her completely. She ended by saying, “Those people don’t seem to really understand what going on in the world we live in. All I want to do is give some information about the Earth.” Too bad nobody really cared about what she had to say, because they were all too busy protesting their right to cram their faces with beef at City Hall.

    Well, if they are really as radical as they fancy themselves to be, they should simply announce that they will stop eating beef entirely and start actually giving a fuck about the enivironment for a change. I mean, I cannot even begin to imagine how much trash has been generated by two months of daily protests.

    I have to say that while 2MB certainly sucks, this movement is starting to look more and more morally bankrupt the closer I look at it.

    Perhaps the strangest thing is that as I was walking home and going past the Seoul Finance Center, one of the police captains who was sitting there with some other police called out to me in English with a smile and a friendly wave, “Hello!” I’ve been a borderline participant at these demos almost every night and wondered if he recongized me and was simply trying to say, “No hard feelings.”

    I’ll never know for sure, but for now I like to think that he was.

  9. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 6, 2008 at 7:13 pm . Reply

    Gord, as I predicted at the top of this thread, last night was largely peaceful and there were no reports of serious violence or clashes at the demonstration.

    Without the violence meme, the media here lack a compelling narrative to work with today as they did last Sunday. What they are left with is the reality of the actual issues, whether they or the protesters want to face them honestly or not. The fact of the matter is that Lee has made significant concessions and even apologized twice to the nation, despite the protesters’ claims that Lee “refuses to listen” to them or compromise. Thus, the only lasting message I can take away from all this is that the progressive forces here are simply sore losers, and have no one to blame but themselves for their recent loses in the December and April elections. Everything else is just distraction.

    I just made a pass-through at City Hall at 6pm tonight after grabbing a bite to eat, and there were all of 75 or 100 people milling about here and there in the entire Plaza. The police had cleared all the tents and the only organized group that seem to remain was the “Candlelight Church,” and they were a rather sorry sight: Their “church” consisted solely of a small flag and a banner reading “Ch’otbul Kyohoi,” on which a half dozen people were sitting forlornly. I asked them if they expected a large turn-out of demonstrators tonight and of course they said yes, although when I asked a nearby KBS camera crew the same question they said probably not. The largely empty Plaza was evidence enough for me.

    Indeed, for the first time in weeks, the police buses that had been protecting the Kwanghwamun intersection are now all gone, and the police buses that had been lining Taep’yongno for the past week are also all gone. That suggests to me that the authorities feel reasonably confident that things are starting to cool down.

    It’s been hard to predict the direction of this movement over the past two months, but at this point I think it’s safe to say this thing is nearing the endgame. There may a few largish weekend demonstrations throughout the remainder of the summer, but I think that last night was a final face-saving hurrah for the protesters, and that the candlelights of this movement already starting to flicker out.

    What remains for the progressive forces here is to articulate a proactive and compelling agenda for the future, rather than relying on reaction and negative to attract the citizenry to its cause.

    A year ago I wrote that Korea will never have its own “Summer of Love.” Let us hope that the bitterness and anger here subside quickly, so that 2008 is not remembered as Korea’s own quite bizarre Summer of Hate.

    But perhaps it’s already too late for that.

  10. King Baeksu
    King Baeksu July 7, 2008 at 5:55 pm . Reply

    Gord, good points, and I agree except for the Summer of Love bit at the end. Sure, it’s been mythologized as have the ’60s in general, but it represented a real crystalization of social currents that had been coming together at the time, and helped make them mainstream for a while. And apart from the Scott McKenzie song that advertised the Summer of Love, they played some great music at the time as well. At the protests here, I swear they played the same three damn songs 90% of the time, over and over and over again, including a super-heavy NK-style workers’ song from the ’80s and some cheesy song about how “South Korea is a democratic nation!” If they’d had some seriously good live music, maybe even organized a few raves, and of course had more drugs, this thing would have been a whole lot more interesting and potentially revolutionary.

    My own take is that this entire phenomenon will be remembered as yet another instance of the famed easy-to-boil, easy-to-cool “tin pot character” of the Korean people.

    Somehow, it already seems quite far away.

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