Plaza not for protestersNumerous people tied to political parties and civic organizations were arrested by police at Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul earlier this week for allegedly having staged an illegal rally. The action came just three days after the plaza opened to citizens.
The Seoul branches of four opposition political parties and representatives from civic organizations held a press conference to urge city government and police to rescind their decision to effectively ban rallies at the newly opened public square. The police considered the press conference itself an illegal rally, arresting 10 people out of roughly 20 who participated. During the press conference, the opposition parties and civic organizations maintained that banning assemblies and rallies at Gwanghwamun Plaza amounts to restricting freedom of speech. They declared that they would take any actions necessary to ensure that it became a plaza “for the citizens.”
Their arguments and threats were groundless. By a plaza “for the citizens” they seem to mean a place where people can hold protests and similar types of gatherings. As Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon has said, Gwanghwamun Plaza must symbolize our history and represent our country. The plaza should be a place of history and culture, a place to rest and enjoy free time - not a place of chaos and unruly protests. It is disturbing to think that Gwanghwamun Plaza could go the way of Seoul Plaza, which is increasingly becoming known for sometimes-violent gatherings.
The city therefore must ban rallies and assemblies at Gwanghwamun Plaza, as it cannot be left in the hands of violent protesters. The moment protesters break the plaza’s pavement and hurl pieces of it into the air, the moment they trample the grass and flowers, is the moment they will destroy the very meaning of the place. There is no system or equipment in place to stop rallies or assemblies at Gwanghwamun Plaza. It is an open place that protesters can theoretically occupy if they want. There is a limit to the physical power that law enforcement can use to protect the plaza. It is the public’s job to protect it, and citizens must make sure that illegal and violent rallies do not take place in the space.
A social consensus that Gwanghwamun Plaza should be used for leisure activities and to display Korea’s history and culture must be formed to prevent protesters from using the space. Only then will the plaza become a place for the people in the truest sense of the words.