Category: musings

30th Anniversary of the June Democracy Movement in South Korea

Democratic consolidation: The process by which a new democracy matures, in a way that means it is unlikely to revert to authoritarianism without an external shock. – Wikipedia

Today marks the 30th anniversary of protests in South Korea, today known as the 6월 민주항쟁, or the June Democracy Movement, that ultimately led to democratic consolidation in the South Korea. While so crucial to the identity of Korea today, my understanding of its significance had been limited until I started digging deeper into contemporary spread of democracy itself, and its influence on the human condition. I remember the protest movement being mentioned in history classes in Korea and in the U.S., and in brief during an online course I took on democratic development.

The background of the protests are fascinating and worth reading (I won’t go into them here), but ended with concessions from the then-authoritarian government to rewrite the Constitution and established the Sixth Republic of Korea, leading to the following promises being implemented:

  • Direct participation in upcoming presidential election for all citizens over age 20
  • Freedom of candidacy and fair competition
  • Amnesty for Kim Dae-jung and other political prisoners
  • Protection of human dignity and promotion of basic human rights
  • Freedom of the press and abolishment of the restrictive Basic Press Law (see: Media of South Korea)
  • Educational autonomy and local self-government
  • The creation of a new political climate for dialogue and compromise
  • Commitment to enact bold social reforms to build a clean, honest, and more just society.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korean_presidential_election,_1987

I had just turned 2 at the time, so I have no recollection of the actual protests, but my parents do remind me that it was only months before we moved to the U.S. in late 1987. By the time we moved back in 1995, it had only been a few years since the events, but indeed, at least what I observed and felt like a functioning democracy.

Through the eyes of history, these events are seen as the Asian component of the Third Wave of Democracy, which also includes similar movements in Philippines and Taiwan. As most of the world knows, these transitions from an authoritarian rule to democracy are often messy, with the principle characters being young people (students) against the various proxies of authoritarian regimes.

And not all of these movements succeed or remain peaceful, as sadly, we we’ve seen recently in the Middle East after the much anticipated Arab Spring, and when things go wrong, horrible things can happen like the ongoing tragedy in Syria.

And with major disruptions in stability, the temptation pf authoritarianism when facing crises real, or amplified by the political climate is ever present. One notable rollback of liberal democratic norms has been in the Philippines, which despite their history of democracy, we are seeing with the current administration, a steep decline in the rule of law, and a sharp rise in populism, supporting a distinct shift toward an authoritarianism. For someone like me, who focuses on trends, this is not encouraging, and across the world, we’ve seen with a rise in those willing to fan the flames of populist resentment. Not in Korea though, and with the newly elected center-left president, Korea’s execution of democracy moves forward.

Still, advocates for democratic development can take hope in the one more recent event in South Korea: the overwhelmingly peaceful civil protests that ultimately led to the impeachment of President Park (a constitutional process that hasn’t even (yet) happened in the U.S.). With this and the subsequent peaceful transition of power to an opposition party president, it is clear that despite the chaos, it was a test and a win for the rule of law, democracy as a principle, and the people at large.

I actually remember when I was younger, seeing a US official address a crowd of students in Korea. Referring to the idea of “national stability” — he said something along the lines of, “In Korea, if you had an impeachment, the country would tear itself apart.” Glad to see that wasn’t true.

Politics aside, kudos to Korea for demonstrating how democracy is done! It is something the country should be incredibly proud of. What had been still on formation while growing up, as of today, I’d say that it is one of the few true democracies in East Asia, along with Japan and Taiwan.

Looking back at the last 30 years, I think it’s important to remember the active role the citizenry must play in fighting for and preserving democratic norms and values. The global push and pull of nationalism and internationalism has never been so readily apparent, and in this joined mission, we must realize that the universal principles and norms of liberal democracy must be fought for and the battles, and heroes, remembered.

The specific date of the anniversary does celebrate one particular incident — a democracy movement protester that was killed by a police tear gas grenade. That event is considered crucial to bringing public awareness to the authoritarian regime’s violent crackdown of the protests and is considered a pivotal moment in public sentiment. From that shift, ultimately, the government conceded to the demands of protesters seeking democratic reforms.

Today, Korea remembers this day to remind itself of how freedom from authoritarianism must be won, and to remember those who fought in that struggle.

Election 2016 Aftermath

It’s been little over a month since the election; yet the world pre-election day world seems so far away. “Shocked” and “stunned” echoed on all through the week, even from folks in the president-elect’s camp.

Echos

A photo posted by Alexander (@skyrien) on

The populism-derived movement of the president-elect certainly is a disruption of the status quo. I frequently think of how the present will be written in history, and this administration certainly will have an interesting chapter.

With President Obama’s first post-election press conference, I’m reminded of how stark of a contrast these administrations will be; as much as he tries to reassure that the federal government is “like an ocean liner” in that it’s not very nimble; I suspect that rule only applies to those that understand and respect the institutions’ history. That said, I’m all for moving the country forward in the right direction, with so much yet unknown, we’ll just have to see how things go.

This election is one that prompts some introspection, about what my role in this democracy is, but also what kind of America we’re living, and sometimes fighting for.

As one that’s only lived in reliably blue states of Illinois, Washington, and California, and even at that, mostly close to (sub-)urban metropolitan areas of Chicago, Seattle, and the Bay Area, it’s been all too easy to fall into a bubble mindset about to what extent progressive values are shared.

Despite this, having grown up in a largely conservative environment, I considered my now-adult views relatively balanced, While I feel I can understand the motivations behind the Trump phenomenon, upon inspection, the balance of risk-reward did not seem to measure up.

I am starting to understand though, that underneath his strategy’s blatant appeal to populism — which perhaps suggests the president-elect will be able to leverage this bias to advantage — lies a sensibility about disruption and chaos and the ability to land successfully (and even better) than others around him.

This is a mindset I share, and though I probably wouldn’t risk the world order for a chance at disruption, I am cautiously optimistic that the results will be a net positive.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/24397320205

Election 2016: Some Thoughts

In November, for the first time, I will cast a vote for the head of state! Exciting! I’ve voted in every election I could since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2013 and the election of this year will be the first with one for POTUS. (Non-presidential years are important as well, particularly those involved in state, county, and local governments!)

Having grown up in the United States, and being one that’s long been a fan of US History, it’s impossible to ignore the weight of history evident in the long road it’s taken for citizens to fight and win the right to vote and participate in their governments. The history leading up to the independence of the 13 colonies, to the twisting tortured road within American history itself of  the slow spreading over two centuries of the right to vote across to more and more of the living human beings of this country, all of it is powerfully in memory as I think about the upcoming decisions for November.

But what an election season…

After the past two years of ever-increasing media blitzing, election fatigue finally hit me earlier this month, and it’s clear that it’s not just me. Though to take a optimistic note, I note that democracy is messy and I think this election will teach us to treat our republic with a little more care.

We’re finally coming down to the last few weeks of this election cycle, and while I await the first the sigh of relief after election day (when normal media life, which seems so far away, may resume), this being such a significant election in the terms of my life and America’s future, I feel more like a marathoner at the end of a long race, and in a way, I think we’ll all remember it for the rest of our lives. Maybe we’ll even miss it when it’s over. Not necessarily in the nice kind of way, but more like a shell-shocked flashback to an alternate universe, where a ridiculous caricature of America almost became president. (And ridiculous is being nice!)!

I take the responsibility very seriously. Many have asked me who I intend to vote for and while the right decision seems ever so clear on every possible measure, I’m going to take in all the information I can until election day before I mail in my ballot (also while I try to decipher California’s 17 statewide measures).

But let me take a break and look back at these past eight years. I’ve had my own criticisms, but I’m going to miss Obama as president after he’s gone. While not perfect, I think he’s done a great job as anyone could as president in a challenging time. But democracies and presidents are human, and I’ve considered him authentic to critical values that represent a more inclusive America. Obama represents more than just the first black president; his upbringing and activist empathy is critical in how he accepted the responsibility and of the presidency; I feel that for the first time, we’ve had a president that was able to understand cross-racial issues in a way that shows the true power of American diversity.

This is cool too:

Can’t believe it’s (only+already) been three years! #usa🇺🇸

A photo posted by Alexander (@skyrien) on

The mid-21st century is going to be a very interesting time, and with the rise of the right in Europe, I can see that part of the world turning inward; it seems inevitable, as social media and populism combine to form coalitions on “making xyz great” again, which in code terms mean going back to nationalism and a tribal mindset about the world. This has other consequences, which I mentally associate with a devaluation of the individual and a reinforcement of in/out markers such as race, creed, color of one’s skin, or life choices.

It may not be the America that everyone wanted, or one that was going to wait until everyone was on board. But without a doubt, despite the problems, old and new, that have come up through these past eight years, as a society, as a people, as a world, we have moved forward. This is in stark contrast to the darker elements of society that have risen during this time; starkly evident in the coarsening political discourse in America and across the world.

It almost seems inevitable that diversity (in Europe) will take blow in this shift to the right, as the center of gravity in Europe certainly seems to tend toward less diversity, even in the 21st century after decades of European Union:

Americans more likely to say growing diversity makes their country a better place to live
Rather than be depressed by this, I consider it an even stronger mandate for those of us in the New World to reject these Old World notions of racial nationalism and fight for a more inclusive society. We say today that to become American is to accept a set of values (and of course, meet plenty of legal criteria). Of those values, many of which were taught, generally include a validation of intrinsic value of the individual; enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and reinforced through the American story over the past two centuries. I love great stories and the America that I’m proud of, the America that I feel compelled to help move forward is the one of freedoms and citizenship to one’s community and fellow neighbor, a respect for the strength of our diversity, and the innovative drive that I still see all over the country.

We have many challenges that we’ll need to overcome in the next eight years and we need a president, party, and political platform that has a rational eye toward the real world and what can be accomplished via the limited levers of the presidency; one that believes in the strength of the individuals and welcome all to better the American spirit.

 

 

AND GO VOTE!!! =)