[Viewpoint] Unlawful, violent protests divide

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[Viewpoint] Unlawful, violent protests divide

Seoul was quite a united, festive city in 2002 when it hosted the FIFA World Cup.

The entire world seemed to come together as one at the downtown intersection of Gwanghwamun, Jongno, and Cheonggye Stream.

It made us feel proud as a nation and a city.

But candlelight vigils, protests and rallies have transformed Gwanghwamun into a place of division and confrontation.

Last year, candlelight vigils lasted more than 100 days. Rallies got out of hand and violence ensued, tarnishing our entire society.

It’s unbelievable that people who share the same history, culture, government and language can think so differently on the same issues. Our society experienced extreme conflict and a great lack of communication.

On May 2, the first anniversary of the candlelight vigils, violence and confrontation erupted around Gwanghwamun once again

Disruptions and protests led to the cancellation of opening festivities for the high-profile Hi Seoul Festival, despite long and careful preparation on the part of organizers and others involved.

No one denies the right of the people to hold mass demonstrations. They can serve as a useful tool to highlight governmental and societal shortcomings. The voices of minorities, so often drowned out by the majority, can be heard. But violence is another issue.

No country in the world sanctions violence in rallies, but violence nonetheless can crop up.

When rationale for a rally is based upon conflict over ideology, it is more likely to become violent.

In Korea, ideological issues often are at the root of mass demonstrations.

Professor Lewis A. Coser, an expert on conflict, maintains that when conflict is about something concrete and solid, it is less likely to become violent.

But when the issue in question is abstract and unrealistic, like a conflict over ideology, a rally is more likely to become violent.

And when conflict centers on core values, it is even more likely to become violent.

In other words, when conflict is about personal convictions or values - such as “what is just and fair” and “which system is better” - it is highly likely to become violent.

Using this logic, last year’s candlelight vigils became violent not because they were about the simple matter of importing beef, but because they were based on conflict between ideological conservatives and progressives.

It is good that the police detains and hauls in disruptive protesters. The police in advanced countries such as the United States and England also gather information and record testimonies in efforts to prevent violence and keep tabs on instigators.

The police have no right to stop peaceful rallies.

However, authorities do have a duty to stop violent protests.

Enforcing the law and maintaining order is not a matter of choice. It is the duty, and the ultimate goal, of the police.

If you’ve ever been in a rally, you can easily see how one can turn violent.

Protesters do not respect the laws governing demonstrations. And that is why those who don’t follow the rules are detained.

It’s simple, really.

When the police stop or arrest citizens, they must have a reason.

So, if protesters don’t give the police a reason - i.e. if they abide by the rules - then there wouldn’t be any violence at these demonstrations.

It’s unclear where it all goes from here, but I have high hopes that it can change.

In May, when everything gets greener with each passing day, I hope that Gwanghwamun will be reborn as a plaza of peace.

*The writer is a professor at the Department of Police Administration of Hannam University. Translation by the JoongAng daily staff.

by Lee Chang-moo
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