[Viewpoint]The sound of protest

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[Viewpoint]The sound of protest

I was having a drink at a bar when I heard people singing “Morning Dew” from a corner. I thought the song had become a memento of the past, but the lyrics felt fresh and real. “I am now setting off, leaving all my sorrow in the wilderness. I am now setting off.”

A half dozen were already tipsy, and their sad voices immediately broke my heart.

What led them to sing that song? I could not help trying to overhear their conversation. The drunken group was talking about virtually anything and everything, from President Lee Myung-bak to American beef and mad cow disease to their aged relatives raising chickens in their hometowns to the international dispute with Japan over what to call the Dokdo Islets. So they did not sing Morning Dew just to make the drinking more fun. I went to the bar to simply have a drink, but suddenly, I grew as unsettled as a May breeze stirring a barley field.

Kim Min-gi composed and wrote the lyrics for Morning Dew. It was a favorite song among students and activists in protests and rallies from the 1970s. The song was banned both during the Park Chung Hee regime and Chun Doo Hwan administration, but it has managed to survive those ordeals and put down deep roots. It is no exaggeration that it was the origin of countless protest songs that were popular in the 1980s. But one day, Morning Dew started to fade away. It must have disappeared during the Kim Dae-jung administration. In the Roh Moo-hyun administration, it was considered a song of the past. During the lost decade that a certain political faction feels so negatively about, people forgot the song as well.

While the song was forgotten, once dominant protest songs, literature and art slowly faded away, too. No one talked about the “group in the wilderness.” Everyone was only interested in the “individual in the back room” and fell silent as if it were a natural conclusion of history. Those who once insisted the populace was a camouflage for the communist idea that people had lost their argument.

So what has happened now? Young elementary, middle and high school students who had been confined to classrooms are now pouring into the open squares, and more and more people are again singing Morning Dew. Is the clock turning backwards?

Lately, “Lee Myung-bak’s Retirement Countdown” has spread through cyberspace among those who want to see the time arrive sooner. Should we just consider it a game played by some Internet users?

The president has emphasized servant-leadership and humbly accepted the criticism that he failed to understand the hearts of citizens concerning U.S. beef. He acknowledged a lack of communication with ordinary citizens. Communication is not a mere understanding of the other party. It should aim at touching hearts. Such a sensation cannot be staged.

It is truly disgusting to see people pretending to help farmers. These days, rice is planted by machines. However, we see politicians planting rice by hand and holding lines marking rows of rice seedlings for a photograph during rice-planting season. They should know that such a staged show makes the farmers even more furious.

As long as the government thinks young students are protesting by candlelight because of groundless mad cow scares, avoids the core issues, blames behind-the-scenes conspirators, and considers the vigils a nuisance, the candles will never go out.

More and more students will come out and light their candles. We must never see their candles become torches, and then Molotov cocktails. There is no guarantee that Morning Dew won’t return from our memories and become a song again signaling the beginning and end of protest rallies.

These days, the Lee Myung-bak administration seems to be riding a roller coaster. The government is experiencing thrills and poor citizens are patting their empty pockets outside of the amusement park, thinking they will never be able to have as much fun as those in government. We have had enough and cannot help but sing Morning Dew.

I hope that not too many people get hoarse from singing the song’s refrain too often.

*The writer is a poet and a professor at Woosuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ahn Do-hyun
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