Independent Work Module, Article: Development of Democratization Movement in South Korea

Development of Democratization Movement in South Korea

I happened to find this article whilst browsing through website of Freeman Spogli Institute, center for international studies in the Stanford University, in hopes of finding reasonable articles concentrating on South Korea. Written by professors Jung Hae Gu and Kim Ho Ki, the article concentrates analyzing the democratic movement in the Republic of Korea; its development, demonstrations, the state and socio-political circumstances behind the democratization process.

After the Korean War, agrarian country was rebuilt and urbanized whilst youth enrolled in to the universities, thus creating with demand of newspapers a new kind of intelligentsia. U.S. Military government, de facto ruler of the southern part of subcontinent between 1945 and 1948, established a strong political system to repel communism. However, the prolonged rule of Rhee Syngman, the dictator of R.O.K, caused criticism and new opposition party, Democratic Party, was established in 1955. Student-led demonstration which turned up to revolt, forced Rhee to withdraw after rigged elections in 1960.

However, General Park Chung-hee took the advantage of incompetence of Democratic Party-led government and took power with coup 1961. Students organized in 1967 demonstrations against amendment that would allow Park to continue his presidency. Militarizing the universities in the early 1970s established deep rooted unsatisfactory. 1973 rioting amongst students started again, after a murder of union worker and self-immolation of a factory worker Jeon Tae-il in 1971; social problems related to rapid industrialization and martial law in 1972 with Parks Yushin amendment to prolong his dictatorship enraged people. Park enforced the Yushin system during 1970s. The students also protested against Parks policy towards Japan which they considered humiliating to Korean people. Suicide of Jeon had secured students support to workers, and in 1979 after forcing the expulsion of Kim Young-sam, New Democratic Part President from National Assembly, massive demonstrations were broad. Situation finally escalated when leader of Korean Central Intelligence Agency murdered Park. Economic rise had guaranteed Parks legitimacy, but tightening grasp on power inevitably led to unpopularity of his regime, forcing it to resign.

General Chun Doo-hwan took power from interim government with a coup in 1980, which led to massacre of Gwangju; suppression of riots in the city enraged people, which took rapidly over police stations and army supply depots, after which armed forces crushed rebellion bloodily.  Chun regime purged rapidly officials and journalists critical towards the new regime, as well as establishing “Education Troops” to ”reform” population, resulting casualties in hundreds. In 1983, Chun regime decreased the control to polish its image for Seoul Olympics in 1988. Decrease of control resulted in activation of dissident movement again, and expelled politicians formed Council to the Promotion of Democracy. Blue-collar workers in large conglomerations had for the first time courage to go striking. Jung and Kim are making statement that massacre of Gwangju in 1980 and enragement caused by it was the key element for the new rise of democracy movement; however, they don’t justify their statement. After repressive operation following Seoul student demonstrations and death of student Park Jong-cheol 1987, Jung and Kim state that “citizens had no choice but […] street protests to bring democracy”. In1987, mass demonstrations lasting for 20 days, Chun regime had no confidence of suppressing demonstrations using military and declared amendment, which included e.g. direct election of president, a major victory to National Movement Headquarters to Win Democratic Constitution which, according to professors, eventually led to the democratic transformation.

Article written by professors Jung and Kim are analyzing quite well the situation, as well the socio-political changes (urbanization, industrialization and its problems) as well as birth of intelligentsia, thus taking look at longue durée effects of events. However, their statement about the direct effects of Gwangju massacre seems a bit too farfetched, especially without reasonable justifications; even when May 18th 1980 has generally been considered to be one most important days in history of Republic of Korea and caused outrage, the statement is revoked when considering evidence of all other events during 1980s. I’d also like to know the effects of possible North Korean infiltrations to the democratic movement; considering they bother to mention attack by North Korean Special Forces to presidential residence in January 1968 which needed significant military intelligence preparations, I’d like to read whether the northern political factor had anything to do (attempts of infiltration, funding, anything) with the movement, especially considering the opportunity of taking advantage of radicalized, disillusioned students.

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