[Outlook]Violence can never be regarded as legitimate.Our society longed for democracy for a long time in the past. The 1987 democracy movement prompted a revision of the Constitution and prepared a foundation for democratization.
It took countless people’s pain and sacrifice to plant the seeds of democracy.
To remember those who fell victim during the process, the government established a law in 2000 providing for restoration of the honor of democracy activists and providing them compensation. A commission was formed to attend to the task.
After the law was enacted, the names of many who had been adversely affected by their participation in the democratization movement were cleared.
In 2000, the commission ruled that the 1989 Dongeui University incident was in fact a part of the democracy movement, but this year the issue of a retrial of the incident has caused controversy.
The incident began with an issue inside the campus. During an outdoor protest, student protesters took five riot policemen captive in the school. When police tried to rescue them, students threw paint thinner and Molotov bombs at them, leaving seven police officers dead and 11 burned.
The students were found guilty in the Supreme Court.
But as times changed, so did the general perception of the tragic incident, and the commission ruled it was part of the democracy movement.
The families of the police officers who died filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court about the commission’s decision, but lost the case on the grounds that they themselves were not the victims.
The issue of a retrial raises two key questions.
The first is whether the students’ actions, which had originated from an internal problem within the university, can be regarded as a democracy protest.
The second is whether it was legitimate to throw Molotov bombs and kill people even, if it was part of a demonstration for democracy.
According to the special law, in order for an activity to be regarded as part of the democracy movement, it must have contributed to the establishment of a democratic and constitutional order.
It must have restored and expanded the people’s freedom and rights by protesting against authoritarian rule that disrupted democratic order and infringed on the basic rights of the people.
For an act to be classified as a protest, it must be aimed directly at the state authorities or against aggression committed by a third party, such as an employer, in the process of a crackdown against the democracy movement.
A protest against an employer who has nothing to do with state authority does not fit this definition.
In 1989 democracy was unsatisfactory in our society. Therefore, student gatherings or protests against the government had a certain degree of legitimacy.
But the Dongeui University incident was not a movement against unfair public authority. It was caused by an internal campus problem.
Even if the students’ argument is right, it is never legitimate to abduct riot policemen or to throw Molotov bombs at police officers, in this instance taking their lives.
Violence cannot bring about democracy. Democracy rejects violence. Violence cannot be sanctioned under any circumstances.
Moreover, if violence causes casualties, it can never be regarded legitimate.
Even if the goals and intentions are good, if the means are not legitimate, the act cannot be regarded as justified.
The honor of people who took part in the democracy movement was restored and compensation was provided because they were victimized by unfair exercise of state power. It can be accepted that they made sacrifices in order for our country to be democratized.
However, violent acts must not be filed under the democratization movement.
It is certainly painful to once again bring up unfortunate incidents from the past and reflect on tragedies from bygone eras.
However, democracy can only be truly meaningful when the truth is discovered, wrongs are righted and justice is established.
Even if a ruling was confirmed, if new evidence is found or if the law was applied in the wrong way, a retrial is allowed.
Even if re-examining a case from the past evokes uncomfortable memories, the truth must be brought to light.
That is true democracy.
Allowing wrongs to go unrepaired in the name of democracy can only harm our nation’s identity.
*The writer is a professor of Constitutional studies at Dongguk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sang-kyum