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[Op-Ed] Night Protests

Posted June. 12, 2009 07:28,   


The National Assembly under the structure of a minority ruling party and a majority opposition party unanimously passed a bill on public assembly and demonstration on April 29, 1989. The bill guaranteed, among other things, freedom to hold a peaceful rally and demonstration but banned gatherings that could damage public safety and order. Night protests are a case in point. Kim Kwang-il, chairman of the third subcommittee under the Special Committee on Legislation and Revocation at the National Assembly, said, “The remaining issue is the consolidation of a culture for democratic and peaceful assemblies and rallies.” Kim Dae-jung, then head of the Peace and Democracy Party, also demanded in 1990 the preservation of the Assembly and Protest Rally Act in urging the execution of the June 29, 1987 declaration.

Han Kook-hee, an adviser who helped review the act at that time, said, “If a group has a track record of taking part in violent demonstrations more than twice, it constitutes grounds for a ban on its assembly in advance.” The Pan-Korean Coalition for National Unification, or Beomminryeon, and the Korea Truckers Union, which spearheaded a “national convention for the inheritance of the June 1987 uprising and recovery of democracy” Wednesday, are veteran demonstrators who have conducted violent protests numerous times. The main opposition Democratic Party joined them to stage “mat politics” at Seoul Plaza for two days from Tuesday night to keep the momentum from the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun going.

Democratic Party Rep. Kim Chung-jo, who reportedly left his will when taking to the streets in the 1987 uprising, said, “I went to Seoul Plaza to avoid others from criticizing me as being passive for a five-term lawmaker,” but added, “The Democratic Party should not construe the present situation as being the same as that 22 years ago.” Even lawmakers within his party have urged calm. “Korea is no longer under a military dictatorship (Rep. Kim Young-jin).” “To try to use the late president is not politics (Rep. Kim Sung-soon).” “To lawmakers, the ‘plaza’ is the National Assembly (Rep. Park Jie-won).” The lawmakers made a series of comments reflecting on their party’s outdoor rallies.

When violent youth demonstrations erupted in Greece late last year, the Washington Post said they seem to be saddled in the spirit of revolution that toppled their military regime in the 1970s. Even after a democratic government was set up after the democratic uprising led by university students in 1973, political forces as well as students still consider breaking the law and violent demonstrations to be natural and justified, the U.S. daily said. If politicians are incompetent and political parties hopeless, democracy can collapse even if it is an advanced democracy. The Democratic Party should recall who legislated the act banning night protests 22 years ago.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)