[Viewpoint]Trashy protests a shameful problemStarting next year, organizations and groups which hold a large gathering or protest in Seoul will be responsible for getting rid of the trash that gets produced.
If the organizer of the gathering does not comply, a maximum fine of 1 million won ($1,074) will be imposed.
That system is already in place in Jongno-gu, where many assemblies and protests are held, and it is considered a success.
The system which will apply to all of Seoul, is part of the “polluter pays” principle, a fundamental tenet of any environmental policy. It is a belated regret, indeed.
According to that principle, the polluter should clean up the pollution and pay the cost of the garbage disposal.
The volume-rate garbage collection system, which applies to the regular garbage from households and industries, and charges for emissions are based on the “polluter pays” principle.
However, no one has taken responsibility for the trash from mass meetings. By default, the local government where the meeting site is held has had to take care of the garbage.
Starting next year, that won’t happen anymore.
What we need to consider is how desperate the city of Seoul must have become to set up such a measure.
Before announcing the new rule, the city reportedly researched similar legislation in countries around the globe. However, a similar example could not be found anywhere.
Certainly, the demonstrations and protests in Korea are different from other countries. As we have seen on television, most protests are staged peacefully in other countries.
There, the protests hardly ever turn violent and the sites are rarely left full of trash afterward. Therefore, there is no need for a law in developed countries asking the organizers to clean up.
We need to think about why group demonstrations and gatherings have become an issue in our society.
Although there are far fewer protests that turn violent, every time there is a large-scale assembly, it almost always turns into a dump afterward.
If we call this problem a byproduct of our protest culture, we are insulting the noble word, “culture.” Throwing trash away on the street is undoubtedly illegal.
How can we justify such an anti-cultural act in the name of culture?
Of course, the problem can be found in the mob psychology of the participants. Individuals are likely to obey the law when by themselves. but tend to be swept into a mob psychology and act wildly when they form a group.
Koreans are known to be affected by mass psychology, perhaps partly due the fact that proper demonstrations were banned before 1987.
In response to democratization, different social classes have expressed their various desires, and the gushing of demands has led to protests and demonstrations.
Outdoor assemblies and protests have also had cathartic effects.
And the trash produced in the course of these demonstrations and protests has been accepted as a social cost.
However, the country has been democratized for more than 20 years, and it is about time that the demonstrations and protests change. The recent protests are showing signs of improvement.
That’s why the city of Seoul had to come up with this measure.
Of course, the city government is right to apply an economic motive to the garbage disposal rule.
Still, it is truly shameful that we need to introduce such an unprecedented measure in the world to deal with the trash problem.
*The writer is a professor of law at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Sang-don