June 1964, 1987 and 2008, <i>by Kim Chang-kyoon </i>

      June 04, 2008 09:53

      There is something like a 20-year cycle of significant clashes between government and the people, each time in June. In the spring of 1964, college students started demonstrations against Korea-Japan diplomatic normalization pushed by the Park Chung-hee administration. The protests peaked on June 3 when their ranks, joined by ordinary citizens, swelled to over 10,000. At 8 p.m. on that day, president Park declared martial law over the entire capital. The protests were suppressed when four divisions of troops were deployed. That is known as the June 3 event, and the student activists who led the protests as the June 3 generation.

      President Lee Myung-bak was then student association chairman of the Business College at Korea University, one of six ringleaders, and served a four-month term at Seodaemun Prison in the aftermath.

      In 1987, president Chun Doo-hwan's endorsement of Roh Tae-woo as his chosen successor under the so-called Fifth Republic's constitution, adopting a seven-year term for an indirectly elected president, caused resistance. On June 10, the opposition and activists formed a public movement aimed at securing a democratic constitution. Office workers joined the daily protests. The situation calmed down when Roh made the June 29 Declaration, whereby the president is elected by direct ballot. The student activists who led those protests are known as the 386 generation, who formed the core of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

      The Cheonggye Stream protests in June 2008, opposing the resumption of U.S. beef imports, resemble the June 3 event. The Park administration railroaded Korea-Japan diplomatic rapprochement through in order to secure financial resources for economic development. The Lee government concluded the U.S. beef import deal in an effort to create an atmosphere favorable for the ratification of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, essential for boosting the Korean economy to the rank of developed nations. A public sense that we have sold out our national pride to a stronger power ignited both protest movements.

      The Park administration invested the US$600 million it won in claims against Japan in infrastructure such as POSCO, expressways, railroads and power generation. That infrastructure was the basis for the “miracle of the Han River” in the 1970s. The June 3 generation that spearheaded the protest then noted only some problems in the negotiation, and acknowledged the inevitability of diplomatic rapprochement between the old enemies. In the U.S. beef issue, too, concerns about public health raised by hasty negotiation ought to be criticized, but it is difficult to take issue with the decision itself to resume importing American beef. If our country, which produces no petroleum whatsoever, insists on eating and using only what we produce, we have to give up on national prosperity.

      The energy driving the June 2008 protests is not confined to morbid fear of mad cow disease. The citizens are angry at a CEO president who treats them as if they were his employees. That is why they rushed out into the streets and reminded the president that he is employed by the people, not the other way round. And although presidents usually enjoy imperial powers in the early period of their term, Lee had to surrender to the angry public on his 100th day into office.

      It is in this respect that June 2008 has something in common with the June 10 struggle. The citizens in 1987 scuppered the machinations of military forces bent on sharing out power among themselves. The June 2008 protests represent a sense that the public can no longer tolerate a president who mistakes government for running one's own business. It's not coincidental that a call for a constitutional amendment is being raised in both the ruling and opposition camps amid the beef controversy.

      Democratic movements against the flow of globalization may offer psychological pleasure but harm the future of the country. The process of devolving power from the one to the many, on the other hand, is well in line with the flow of history. We will see which way our republic turns.
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