중앙데일리

Activist generation sparked a move toward democracy

Feb 17,2003
[First in a series] “Lee Chul, sentenced to die, Yoo Ihn-tae, sentenced to die, Kim Ji-hah, sentenced to die.” The military judge went on and on, reading the same sentence for the student activists convicted of conspiring to overthrow Park Chung Hee’s military regime.
In early 1974, President Park declared a state of emergency to hunt down the members of a nationwide student union that he said was trying to spark a revolution. More than 1,000 college students were arrested and on July 13, 169 were convicted of some form of treason. Many were sentenced to die, but later had their sentences commuted to prison terms. They were eventually released by later regimes. So where are they now?
Yoo Ihn-tae, Lee Gang-chul and several others sentenced on that day are close aides to President-elect Roh Moo-hyun and are preparing to work with him at the Blue House. Lee Chul and six others have served as lawmakers. Yu Hong-joon, Suh Joong-seok, Soh Kyung-suk and many others have achieved success in academic and religious circles. Yoo Kun-il, Lee Keun-sung and Kim Hyo-soon work as journalists.
Today, they are not seen as Communist agitators, but as the founding fathers of student activism in Korea.
Yoo Ihn-tae, who is expected to be named Mr. Roh’s senior secretary for political affairs, was the undisputed brains behind the student movement. He participated in the demonstration against what became known as the “1969 reform”, which extended President Park’s term. He also took part in the massive, and for many fatal, pro-democracy protests in Gwangju in May 1980. Throughout the 1970s, he was in and out of prison. He won a seat in the National Assembly in 1992 just as President Roh Tae-woo, the last of South Korea’s military presidents, was on his way out. After losing his re-election bid in 1996, he met Mr. Roh.
Lee Gang-chul led a group of student activists at Kyungpook National University. He spent seven years in prison. Mr. Roh calls him “comrade,” in reference to their work together at a nonprofit organization run by the president-elect since 1991.
Despite all the common issues they fought for, the former student leaders do not necessarily agree today. “We all fought against the oppression of the military regime, but now many walk different roads,” says Chang Ki-pyo, a former Millennium Democratic Party official. “We try to avoid talking politics when we meet.”
Student activism spread from Seoul National University to other campuses during the Park regime. Sul Hoon championed the student cause while studying at Korea University. Now he represents the MDP in the National Assembly. Kang Sam-jae, who also led protests while at Kyung Hee University, now sits on the opposite side of the aisle from Mr. Sul as a Grand National Party lawmaker.
The 1970s also marked the start of Korea’s labor movement. The workers were joined by students, who decried the way the Park regime exploited labor. Kim Moon-soo, who was active in the student movement while at Seoul National, went to work in a factory at the Guro Industrial Complex in Seoul to make contact with workers there and spread the anti-Park word. He is now with the GNP.
Lee Tae-bok, a student leader at Kookmin University, is perhaps Korea’s best-known labor activist. He organized an underground group to advocate labor rights and was sentenced to death in 1982. He served in the outgoing Kim Dae-jung administration as senior presidential secretary for welfare and labor and later as minister of labor.
Bishop Tji Hak-soon spoke out against the government in 1974, starting the church’s opposition to the military dictators. Eventually, Myongdong Cathedral in central Seoul became a safe haven for student leaders.
While few deny the role the student activists played in bringing democracy here, not everyone sees them in a favorable light. “The fight against oppression continued, but the activities were limited in the sense that they were led by a group of elite students, mostly in Seoul,” said Cho Hi-yeon, a professor at SungKongHoe University.
“The first-generation acti-vists ended up becoming hungry for political power. Some of them now find themselves accustomed to what they spoke out against in the past,” said professor Shin Kwang-yeong of Chung-Ang University.


by Special Reporting Team


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