[Viewpoint] Protests part of life in a democracyDo you remember the British actor Bill Nighy, who played the role of burned-out rocker Billy Mack in the 2003 film “Love Actually”? He sang “Christmas Is All Around” in the movie.
“Oh. Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!” he said in the movie on a live television show.
Nighy showed up in Toronto, Canada, last weekend, where the Group of Eight and Group of 20 Summits were held one after another. This time, he played the role of an advocate for women and children in poor countries. He is a global ambassador for Oxfam, an international relief group. He raised his voice to pressure the G-8 not to divert assistance earmarked for other projects such as education to protect mothers, as the group has planned to do. Nighy said it made no sense to stop sending children to school to support mothers’ health, demanding more help in those areas from the G-8 nations.
In Toronto, a wide range of nongovernmental organizations, including Oxfam, made various demands. A Korean activist from the international relief group World Vision made an appearance in Toronto. Some demonstrations were creative and innovative. Photos of a performance in which protesters dressed up as pregnant mothers wearing masks depicting the G-8 leaders’ faces spread worldwide through news wire services. The protest aimed to pressure the G-8 leaders to keep their promises to reduce the child mortality rate as soon as possible.
The global campaign 1GOAL, which seeks to improve education in poor countries through the power of football, also joined in. It said the G-8 nations have failed to keep their promise that children from around the world would benefit from better education programs by 2015. They handed out yellow cards during the rally, as if penalizing the G-8 leaders for ignoring the reality that more than 72 million children were not able to attend school worldwide.
The Canadian government allowed the protesters to make their demands in public. An official media center was set up for the press at the Direct Energy Center inside the convention district in Toronto. In front of the media center, an alternative media center was opened to allow NGOs and bloggers critical of the governments to participate. At their media center, NGOs handed out fliers and held press conferences. The Canadian government also created an official protest venue near Huntsville, north of Toronto, where the summits took place.
The precedent set by Canada may be a source of reference for Korea, which will host the G-20 Summit in Seoul in November. Although it was a government event, civic groups were actively engaged in it, and such an attitude is worth emulating.
Because the summit will take place at the heart of Seoul, there may be some space restrictions. But the government should provide room for NGOs and civic groups to make their voices heard.
Korean civic groups are competitive in communicating their arguments to the public in creative ways. The early stages of the candlelight vigils last year were peaceful, and clearly had characteristics of popular culture and entertainment. Cooperation between NGOs and the government ahead of the G-20 Summit in Seoul will be a great opportunity for Korea to erase the images of violent protests that have been associated with it in the past.
The peaceful rallies in Toronto, however, turned into violent protests shortly after the G-20 Summit, and that is regretful. Protesters torched police cars and smashed glass windows of stores. For the first time in Toronto, the police were forced to use tear gas. The residents were shocked by the violence used by “Black Bloc” protesters. Local media reported on the situation as their top story.
The Black Bloc may also show up in Seoul. Fortunately, Korea’s police have a world-class ability to handle violent demonstrations. There is no need to explain the historical and social reasons. While the path to peaceful communication should be wide open, Korea must prepare for violent demonstrators. We have a diversified culture of public assembly, from the anti-beef protests to the street cheering during the World Cup, and we must show the world what that has taught us.
In addition to concluding the G-20’s agenda smoothly, showing the energetic and dynamic culture of Korea’s protests will also be a way to improve Korea’s prestige. The protests of Toronto must never prompt Korea to beef up its security measures in Seoul too much. In a democracy, protest is a vital part of life.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.