Today marks the second anniversary of MBCs airing of an investigative report on U.S. beef over fears of mad cow disease. Spurred by the report and groundless Web rumors about the disease, groups of female students took to the streets on May 2, 2008, holding candles. A coalition of leftist groups opposing U.S. beef imports came to the fore four days later and organized the protests. The movement escalated into a campaign to oust the Lee Myung-bak administration, which had recently been inaugurated. The protests plunged central Seoul into violent and lawless chaos for more than three months.
At the time, the protesters seemed to believe the argument that consumption of U.S. beef would instantly cause mad cow disease and that 94 percent of Koreans were genetically vulnerable to the disease. American beef, however, accounted for just 26.5 percent of imported beef sold in the Korean market last year, a figure that grew to 33.3 percent in the first two months of this year. Despite the lingering aftereffects of the beef protests, fears over U.S. beef are rapidly disappearing.
Where are those who lauded the protests as agora democracy and direct democracy? The protests that shook Korean society two years ago have been forgotten too easily without thorough research and analysis. The demonstrations, through which certain leftist groups drove the country into madness for political purposes, remain a sore memory. Time is needed to calmly reflect on the incident to achieve true democracy.
The Lee administration hid itself throughout the protests. Rather than standing up against the ungrounded agitation and false information in a dignified and cool-headed manner, it went as far as to kowtowing to the violent and illegal activities of the protestors. The government simply did nothing about the anarchic situation for 106 days until the protests lost steam in mid-August 2008. Prosecutors published a white paper on their investigation into the illegal and violent disturbances last year to mark the first anniversary of the incident. That was not good enough, however.
The government should humbly reflect on what lessons it learned from the experience and how it strengthened its ability to overcome a crisis. Britain, which suffered from an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s, issued a report on BSE in 2000. The Korean government should consider publishing a BSE candlelight protest report this year to hand down the lessons to future generations.