A Case Study: Peaceful Resistance In South Korea

The ideologies of both Gandhi and Savarkar continue to resonate in the modern world today. This is usually in the form of protests, whether they be civil

How to send a message (at South Korea)

or not so civil…

How not to send a message (at UC Berkeley).

Following the theme of this blog, just last week, on March 10th, the Constitutional Court of South Korea upheld the decision to impeach President Park Geun-hye. In today’s blog, I will discuss the events surrounding President Park’s impeachment while examining the nonviolent ideologies of Ghandi in relation to those events.

Now its time for another history lesson! Last year in October, news broke that revealed President Park’s previously private relations to a woman named Choi-soon Sil. Sil, who held no official government position was found to have been closely advising President Park. Sil was connected to the Park family through her father Choi Tae-min, who served as a mentor to President Park Chung-hee (Park Geun-hye’s father) when the family was grieving over the assassination of the First Lady. Choi Tae-min was a found of a small religious sect called Church of Eternal Life. Tae-Min approached Ms. Park claiming he could speak with her dead mother, and established ties with the family. The government intelligence agency, named KCIA at the time reported that Tae-min used his relationship with the family to secure bribes. After Park Chung-hee’s assassination in 1979, Park Geun-hye continued to maintain close relations with the Choi family, even after Park became President in 2013.

Park’s time as President garnered criticism and suspicion over her lack of communication with parts of her own government as well as the press. So when it was revealed that President Park gave Choi-soon Sil access to classified documents and information, as well as closely confiding with Sil, the public wasn’t too happy about it. Then even more information was released, as if it couldn’t get any worse. Choi and other senior staff under President Park used their influence to extort hundreds of millions from “chaebols”, or large family owned business conglomerates (wow that’s a mouthful). They embezzled that money by setting up media and sports related foundations. Choi also abused her powers in other shady ways, including using the embezzled funds to pay for her daughters equestrian training and rigging her admissions into Korea’s top private women’s university. With so much political pressure, President Park publicly acknowledged her personal ties to Choi and fired numerous members of her cabinet, including the Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

To no one’s surprise, mass demonstrations would erupt in Seoul, the capital of South Korea calling for President Park to resign.

Protesters wearing cut-out of South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil attend a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
Some protestors got pretty creative with their demonstrations (they made cardboard cut outs of Park on the right and Choi on the right). 

The protest movement was referred to as Emergency Citizen Action for the Park Geun-hye Administration’s Resignation. This protest is what I would consider to be one of the best examples of using Gandhi’s nonviolent principles in a civil demonstration. Gandhi believed in using nonviolence as the greatest political weapon to be wielded. Though Gandhi was never the founder in practicing non-violence, he was the one who propelled the ideology into new social and political levels. He proved that it was a viable tactic that could be use to change political and social structures. What started in November of 2016 as up to 100,000 protestors, grew to over 2 million participants in the December 6th Candlelight Vigils. Despite the fervor of the protests, it remained relatively peaceful for months, with few minor clashes in between.

Finally, on December 3rd, 2016, the protestors got their way as members of the National Assembly voted on starting the impeachment process of President Park. In the end, 234 of 300 members approved of starting the impeachment process, which was over the two-thirds majority required to pass it. The impeachment was moved to the Constitutional Court of Korea for review and was estimated to take 180 days to complete. The protests for her removal from office continued in the ensuing months, before the fated day finally came. On March 10, 2017, the court ruled unanimously in an 8-0 decision that she would be removed from office. Ironically, the protestors in support of President Park turned violent after the ruling, calling for the “destruction” of the Court. Regardless, the massive non-violent demonstrations since the start of the scandal played a major role in President Park’s impeachment, proving once again that non violence can be used as a powerful tool in fighting for a just cause.



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