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Civil Movements: Unchecked Power

Posted March. 09, 2005 22:38,   


There are growing concerns over the fact that civic movements are increasingly becoming a political power. In particular, many are reflecting and criticizing on the emergence of some civic groups as an "unchecked power" since the inauguration of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

Adding to the concerns, a civic group leader was recently arrested for having staged a picket protest in return for bribes that he requested for the alleged solution of a legal complaint, and a group under the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement pushed companies under watch to purchase environment-friendly products.

Under the circumstances, there is increasing criticism within academic circles following the actions of Lee Pil-ryul, a professor at Korea National Open University, who accused extreme environmental movements through hunger strikes and protests in the Spring issue of the quarterly: Changjak-kwa-Bipyong (Creation and Criticism).

Criticism of the Transformation of Civil Movements into Behemoths of Political Power-

Park Hyo-jong, a conservative National Ethics Education professor at Seoul National University, criticized the situation in his written statement, titled, "Analysis and prospects of the flow of Korea`s civil movement" to be announced at a symposium for the third anniversary of the foundation of the "Citizens United for a Better Society." The statement will say that the civil movement started to display an orientation towards power while focusing on "politics of influence."

Professor Park, in particular, commented that civic groups are becoming a power that is not limited by laws and policies, while quickly increasing their political influence because they share the same political leanings as the incumbent government.

He pointed out, "Civil groups have become a Goliath who can stipulate what is morality, the public good, and should be on the reformative agenda. They are preoccupied with a "punitive agenda" which blames economic, social and political players who they consider against their standards."

A progressive law professor, Lee Kuk-woon of Handong Global University, also argued for the dissolution of political civil movements in his article titled, "Preparing for the withdrawal of civil movements on the stage," that ran in the Spring issue of the quarterly, Dangdae-Bipyeong.

Professor Lee said, "Political civil movements which started out under the banner of anti-political parties and anti-media groups have gradually become semi-political parties and semi-media organizations," adding, "If political parties play the part of actors on the stage of the parliamentary politics, and the media has taken the role of critics of the stage, civic groups have became the producer in the main control room."

What is the alternative?-

Kwon Hyuk-cheol, director of the Cyber Law and Economics division of the Center for Free Enterprise, who made a presentation with Professor Park at the March 10 symposium, put forward six alternatives in a written piece, titled, "Problems and challenges of the civil movement".

As alternatives, Director Kwon proposed the further specialization, neutralization, overcoming of ideological bias, observance of the rule of law, and shift of focus of civil movements from politics to issues related to civil life.

Professor Lee Kuk-woon pointed out that it is time for political civil movements centering on the so-called "Big 4,” meaning the People`s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Citizens` Coalition for Economic Justice, Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, and Green Korea United, to choose whether to appear on the stage by joining a political party or be seated as an audience by returning to the original mission of civil movements. Professor Lee proposed specialization in a particular sector, segmentation into region-specific civil movement, and the expansion of international solidarity.

Stance of civil groups-

In a response, Kim Hye-jeong, vice-secretary general of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movements, said, "We don`t agree on the point that we have become something of a political power in that we have maintained the most critical stance of the incumbent government. But we humbly accept the recommendation to focus on improving substance of what we are doing."

Lee Tae-ho, chief policy coordinator of the People`s Solidarity for Participatory Government, said, "Objection to academic criticism is something that a scholar who majored in the civil movement should put forward, not a field activist (like myself)."

Chae-Hyun Kwon confetti@donga.com