Professor leads fight to retain the natural surrounds of villageIn a mountainous village in North Chungcheong province, 44-year-old headman Gang Su-dol is quite famous to his neighbors. A business administration professor at Korea University’s campus in Seochang, Mr. Gang made his name after he led a protest by villagers against the construction of a high-rise apartment.
Previously Mr. Gang was just a lecturer on labor issues and world economics who tried to find a solution for a better world in books. He wrote an education guidebook, “Educational Revolution, Beginning with Myself,” which was published in 2003. Since 1997, he has been living in a log cabin in Sinan-1ri, Jochiwon-eup, which he built in order to live in natural surroundings.
A plan to build a 15-story apartment in front of his house changed all that. He became village headman after he led the protest against the construction, which he and other villagers thought would destroy their environment.
In 2003, the government-permitted use of the area where he lives was changed to allow the construction of high-rise buildings. The change was made without the consent of many residents who already lived there.
“That was when I took up the matter myself,” Mr. Gang said. “If a high-rise apartment was going to be erected in front of my house, it would ruin the view and lead to poorly planned development of the area.”
Mr. Gang consulted other residents in the village and, based on their opinions, filed a complaint with the county office. He also began a petition, with the help of civic groups against unorganized development and held a general meeting of village residents. After the meeting, he came across what he described as a “fraudulent” document that appeared as if all residents had agreed with the development. The document represented only a small number of residents who had agreed. Mr. Gang then began demonstrations in front of the county office and filed a lawsuit against the North Chungcheong provincial office, which issued the permit for the development. He also filed obstruction of duty charges against those residents who had signed off on the plan.
Mr. Gang was elected village headman in May 2005 with more than 90 percent of the vote.
“Everything began all of a sudden, but I personally realized the importance of ‘grass-roots democracy,’” Mr. Gang said.
His legal battle is still going on. The court found the residents who signed the plan not guilty and the provincial office states there is no reason not to allow the development.
Mr. Gang said he is already tired of fighting apartment developers and the regional governments.
“I feel exhausted and think about quitting everyday, but I started the fight and cannot give it up now. This case is already well-known as an example of unorganized development and an endeavor to fight it. I want to make it a good precedent so that the efforts can bear fruit,” Mr. Gang said.
“True development is not to build high-rise buildings and roads but to develop the community and raise living and educational standards,” he added.
by Park Won-soon