[Viewpoint]The market will prevailLately, the candlelight vigils have fallen into a lull. As the rallies turned violent, more professional protesters were leading demonstrations than citizens, and all the rumors spread online have been shown to be lies. Controversy over the reliability of report of the “PD Diary” on mad cow disease on MBC also contributed to this.
For the last two months, the spirit of the candlelights has been fierce. It seemed powerful enough to burn away all law and order in the Republic of Korea, from the political establishment to public authority, the media and corporations. Moreover, the DNA of street rallies has been imprinted on young mothers with strollers and elementary school students. The protesters have become confident that if they step forward, they can destroy the establishment.
People have different interpretations of whether this phenomenon will be recorded as the best or the worst of Korean democracy. The Democratic Party and leftist intellectuals are praising candlelight vigil as an example of direct democracy. They are making a spectacular comeback from their presidential election defeat.
On the other hand, the Grand National Party and the rightist intellectuals argue that the rallies are not much different from the Cultural Revolution that ruined China. However, they are intimidated by the strength of candlelights and keeping their voices low. Every night for over two months, a scene was staged in central Seoul that reminded us of the confrontation between left and right after Korean independence in 1945.
It is not surprising that foreign reporters ask how such demonstrations can be held in a country where the per-capita national income is over $20,000 and there is an established democracy.
The candlelight vigils have defeated President Lee Myung-bak. Barely in office for three months, the president had already made two apologies. It is a unilateral victory for candlelight vigils. Now, the focus is on whether the demonstrations will beat the market as well. In other words, the question is whether citizens will consume beef imported from the United States. The progress so far suggests that candlelight is at a disadvantage. U.S. beef is enjoying great popularity nationwide.
What will happen six months from now? I cannot guarantee it, but if the current atmosphere continues, it is likely that U.S. beef will be selling well. After all, consumers move based on their interests. They are different from protesters who are driven by emotion.
Until U.S. beef imports were banned in 2003, Koreans ate it without a problem. U.S. beef did not taste much different from Korean beef but was much cheaper. Will consumers who ate U.S. beef in the past avoid it in the future? It is not likely. Consumers might reason, “Having eaten U.S. beef, nothing has happened to me. So what was all the fuss about?”
The civil groups that belonged to the Mad Cow Disease Committee and the Democratic Party better come up with an answer. Candlelight vigils first started in 2002 when a U.S. armored vehicle killed two middle school girls, Mi-seon and Hyo-sun. At the time, a rumor that the U.S. soldiers intentionally killed the girls spread among protestors. Photos of the dead bodies of the girls were passed around.
Meanwhile, Kim Dae-eop appeared and alleged that Grand National Party candidate Lee Hoi-chang’s son had avoided military service. This combination of events helped propel Roh Moo-hyun to win the presidency. But time passed and the truth was revealed. People realized that Kim Dae-eop’s allegations were false and the tragic deaths of Mi-seon and Hyo-sun were politically exploited. In the last presidential election, the Unified New Democratic Party concentrated on linking Lee Myung-bak to the BBK scandal. Circumstances were shady, but the public didn’t take the bait because they learned a lesson from the deaths of the school girls and the Kim Dae-eop case. For the last two months, the progressive faction and the Democratic Party acted as if they were putting everything at stake for the candlelight vigils. The biggest crowd since the June 10, 1987 struggle gathered in the candlelight rallies.
I am not the only one disappointed by President Lee’s politics and policies. Nevertheless, at least I know that calling for the president’s resignation and ignoring constitutional order are not examples of democracy. The candlelight vigils cannot be compared to the June 10 democratization struggle, when people resisted a government that came into power through a coup and called for a resumption of their right to vote.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
If you eat U.S. beef, will you fall victim to mad cow disease? Time will tell. In my opinion, time is not on the side of the Democratic Party and the leftists.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Chong-hyuk