Flash mobs: Protests or street happenings?

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Flash mobs: Protests or street happenings?

Korea is facing a perplexing question - when is something simply a flash in the pan and when is it civil disobedience?

A flash mob of about 50 men showed up on the lawn in front of the National Assembly in Yeouido at noon earlier this week in honor of World Refugee Day.

The event, co-organized by several human rights groups, drew participants who were in their 20s and 30s. The participants danced to the song “Black or White” by the late American pop singer Michael Jackson.

After the song ended, the flash mob - a group of people that gathers quickly in a public place to perform an offbeat act to draw attention to an event or cause - displayed a sign that read, “Refugees of the world are one family.” Soon after, they folded up the banner and scattered.

Demonstrations are forbidden within 100 meters of the National Assembly, but because officials did not consider the flash mob event to be a demonstration, no attempt was made to stop it.

Recently, the number of flash mobs representing various political viewpoints has increased in Korea. What is considered the first flash mob in Korea was in September 2003 and consisted of 30 people who gathered in Myeong-dong, central Seoul. Since then, the reasons for flash mobs have changed from entertainment to advocacy.

On Sunday, a flash mob of about 20 students was organized in Myeong-dong; they were protesting the plan to incorporate Seoul National University.

Police have begun debating whether flash mobs should be considered demonstrations. According to Korean law, people gathering for a specific purpose are regarded as demonstrators.

In Korea, in order for a demonstration to occur, a date must be declared and protesters must register with local authorities. Gatherings related to recreation or art, however, do not need to register.

Police and security authorities regard flash mobs not simply as cultural events, so they must take the law into consideration when dealing with these situations.

The reaction by officials to flash mobs has not been consistent, such as when environmentalists protesting the four-rivers restoration project in Cheongju were arrested in April.

By Shim Seo-hyun [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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