[EDITORIALS]The back door for Mr. RohAn angry crowd of Hanchongryun students blocked the May 18 Cemetery in Gwangju, barring President Roh Moo-hyun from attending a ceremony commemorating the 23d anniversary of the democratic movement. The protest by some 1,000 students of the outlawed student group made the president and his suite use a rear entrance and delayed the ceremony nearly 20 minutes.
It is regrettable that a government ceremony attended by the head of state could have been disrupted. The incident should not be dismissed as a simple snag. The students were there to demand legalization of their organization and to protest the president’s “pro-American, humiliating diplomacy.” Whatever their cause, it does not justify such behavior. The students should have had at least the decency to respect a ceremony honoring the souls of the May 18 victims. For the first time, moreover, the ceremony was an official event attended by the president. The students had no right to use it in this way. It is exactly the kind of behavior that makes us doubt Hanchongryun’s claim to have changed permanently to moderation, inviting the president to its reinauguration ceremony and dumping its “pro-North Korea” charter.
The government said mildly that the demonstration could have happened anywhere. It is precisely such a lukewarm, toothless reaction that causes these incidents to happen again and again. No matter how democratic a country is, it should have the sense to react firmly when a government function is disrupted by an illegal demonstration.
The ceremony’s organizers were also at fault for not taking proper precautions even though the demonstration was expected. President Roh had shown understanding and tolerance for Hanchongryun, having discussed the possibility of calling off the search for students wanted by the authorities and legalizing the organization. It is ironic that he got such treatment from the students. We must consider this incident in the ambience these days, when one can get away with illegal demonstrations without restraint or penalty. That is, unless the president would like to continue entering by the back door.