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[Editorial] Who Threatens Democracy?

Posted June. 09, 2009 07:18,   


Korea University professor Im Hyug-baeg spoke yesterday at the discussion “What Is Democracy?” hosted by the Shidaejungshin (Zeitgeist) Foundation, “In democratic elements such as political freedom, equality, participation, competition and rule of law, Korean democracy is regressing under the Lee Myung-bak administration,” he said. Korea National University of Education professor Kim Joo-sung disagreed, however, saying, “There are no grounds to say democracy is retreating. When people don’t abide by the Constitution and the government controls them, then people can say democracy has retreated.”

Certain professors have ideas similar to Im’s, which is considered liberal. What they mentioned as grounds for a democratic crisis is the blockade of Seoul Plaza, the revision of media law, and the investigation into the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. But are these really reasonable grounds to declare a crisis in Korean democracy?

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea and other left-wing groups claim that blocking Seoul Plaza is a serious violation of freedom of assembly. Yet the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations banned large-scale demonstrations that were expected to erupt into violence. All protests ranging from the launch of the Korea Federation of University Students in May 1999; a demonstration in downtown Seoul held by four major carmakers in April 2000; a gathering at Bupyeong Station organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions in 2001; a Seoul Plaza protest hosted by the Korean Alliance against the Korea-U.S. FTA in November 2006; and a demonstration in downtown Seoul in March 2007 failed as police blocked and deterred them.

Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza and the pedestrian walk in front of Daehan Gate do not belong to a certain group. If an individual’s freedom is precious, so is that of others. Freedom of assembly needs to be guaranteed as much as possible, but the Constitution does not guarantee the right to violence that threatens public well-being and order and infringes on other people’s right to happiness. Last year’s candlelight protests paralyzed Seoul for three months with a group of masked protestors armed with steel pipes. This is not democracy Korea should pursue.

Protecting the privileged rights of leftist media that opposes revision of media law is also not protecting democracy. Korea’s media system carries the legacy of the authoritarian Chun Doo-hwan administration, which integrated the media in 1980. How does changing the broadcast system to meet the needs of expanding opportunities for new start-up broadcasters and increase competitiveness put democracy in danger? Reforming the media could help the industry flourish. In addition, both the ruling and opposition parties agreed in March to put the media law to a vote at the National Assembly this month.

When former President Roh Moo-hyun was investigated on bribery charges, leftist media urged for a rigorous investigation, expressing disappointment. It makes no sense to argue now that the probe was “political revenge” or “political murder.” They can complain of problems in the investigation but if they claim a former president is immune from prosecution for bribery charges, this is a denial of rule of law.

The majority of the professors who joined the declaration are members of left-leaning civic groups or the National Association of Professors for a Democratic Society. The recent series of declarations appears to have started from a political movement by professors sympathetic to a left-leaning government to suppress the conservative administration in the wake of Roh’s death and increase their power. As intellectuals, however, they failed to produce an objective, reasonable and balanced view in judging the situation. Ironically the self-righteousness, violent protests and denial of parliamentary democracy by such left-leaning groups are the factors threatening the country’s democracy.