[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Road links rival cities; student group bannedJune 27, 1984
A highway linking two major cities in two “confronting” provinces opened on this day. The highway, called the “88 Olympic Expressway,” directly connected Gwangju in the western part of the peninsula (in the Jeolla provincial area) and Daegu in the eastern part (in the Gyeongsang provincial region).
It runs for 175.3 kilometers (109 miles), making it the shortest route for travel between the two cities. But the highway’s significance lies in the fact that it became the first road to link the two rival cities.
The plan to construct the highway was decided on in 1981, during the administration of President Chun Doo Hwan. It was the year after he seized power in a military coup and he wanted to achieve something meaningful to gain public suppport, particularly in the Jeolla provinces, following the Gwangju massacre of 1980, which claimed over 2,000 lives, according to civic groups’ estimates.
So, in October 1981, the Chun administration broke ground for the highway, and it was completed two years and nine months later. It was named the 88 Olympic Expressway to celebrate the International Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
Sadly, the road could not properly be called an expressway, since it had only two lanes and no median strip to divide the curving road.
Due to the poor conditions, the death rate from auto accidents on the road soared. A 2001 study of all highways in Korea found that the 88 Olympic Expressway had 1,394 traffic accidents in the prior 10 years and that 442 people died. The death rate was twice the national average.
The expressway now has four lanes, a median strip and CCTV cameras to watch the road.
June 30, 1989
Two years after the first nationwide organization of student government leaders at Korean colleges was formed, the Supreme Prosecutors Office on this date designated the group as one “benefiting the enemy (North Korea),” thereby banning it.
From then on, activists, or student representatives found to be involved in movements led by the Jeondaehyeop (National Council of Student Representatives), were detained on charges of violating the National Security Law.
Jeondaehyeop has significance for many of those who are now in their late 30s. Aside from the fact that hundreds of college students who went to school in the late 1980s were arrested or were added to the wanted list, the group of 60,000 was involved in numerous symbolic incidents, including sending one female member to North Korea in 1989, when the relationship between the two Koreas was icy.
The group was formed two months after the death of a sophomore at Yonsei University. In June 1987, a student named Lee Han-yeol died after he was struck with a tear gas grenade by riot police while taking part in an anti-government protest.
After his death, the heads of the student governments gathered to discuss what they could do for his funeral and to find ways to unify the scattered protests that had been taking place at the universities.
An organization was formed among schools in the Seoul area first, and then it was expanded to a nationwide group with 183 colleges as its members in August 1987.
Despite what Jeondaehyeop said about its goals, which were to restore democracy, the government and conservative newspapers called the group’s members “pro-North Korean lefitists seeking opportunities to turn the South into a communist nation.”
One reason was that Jeondaehyeop constantly held anti-government protests during the administration of former President Noh Tae-woo, as well as trying to hold joint meetings between students from North and South Korea.
The pro-unification group disbanded in 1993 as it felt that democracy had been restored to the nation, at least to some degree. Another group called Hanchongryon (Federation of All-Korean University Students) succeeded the Jeondaehyeop legacy, but that’s another story.
Many of the student members of Jeondaehyeop are now in their late 30s and 40s. Many became National Assembly lawmakers for the governing party, another reason we could assume why some people still criticize the “democratized government.”
by Lee Min-a
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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