A regime collapses

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A regime collapses

We are witnesses to the historic scenes of citizens demanding more of their democracy flooding into the streets of downtown Seoul and Gwanghwamun Square every Saturday night in November. The sharp awakening to reclaim constitutional rights brutally stamped out by a certain group brought together people from across the generations and ideological divide.

The aspirations of the diverse group of young and old, female and males, do not end with the ejection of President Park Geun-hye, the center of an extraordinary abuse of power scandal. They are calling for a new democratic republic where everyone is the rightful owner.

The popular spirit behind the revolts against the aristocracy or ancien régime that gave birth to the 18th century American and French revolutions has been revived in candlelight vigils on the streets of Seoul 200 years later.

Students led the April 19 Democracy Movement against dictatorship in 1960 and they were joined by white-collar workers in the mass movement against the military regime in June 1987. But those movements were somewhat wanting. They failed to draw in the masses living in stoic silence. A historic momentum to create a democracy was established, but somehow democracy receded as the years went on at major turning points. History was finally made in Gwanghwamun Square in 2016 through the flowering of Korean political awakening, which has set the stage for a true democracy in this land.

The Nov. 19 vigil was a miraculous sight. Nearly one million people from across the nation gathered. There was not a single casualty or person arrested for violence. It was completely violence-free. Instead of the usual scenes that accompany protest rallies in Korea — the militant cries, tear gas, activists raising fists — illuminating phones, candles, rock and pop music and dancers added a festive mood at the vast plaza facing City Hall. Veteran rock singer Jeon In-kwon jokingly announced over the loudspeaker, “Just let them hit if anyone from Paksamo (a devout group of people loyal to President Park Geun-hye) shows their fists.” There were no rabble-rousers. Instead, people took turns to stand on the podium and the crowd paid attention to their every word. Everyone at in the crowd became one. German philosopher and the foremost thinker of the Enlightenment Immanuel Kant, who inspired the French Revolution, defined enlightenment as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.”

“Have courage to use your own reason” was truly felt on the streets of Seoul that night. Their sacred demonstration moved the media, politicians and prosecutors. No citizens of any other nation on this earth could have demonstrated the spirit of nonviolence better.

The people demonstrated that rage and tolerance can ironically be one through action. The protesters put flower stickers on the police buses that blocked the boulevard leading to the Blue House. They damned the corrupt administration and dishonorable politicians in the most reasonable fashion. They didn’t allowed anything to tarnish their honorable revolution. A court sanctioned protestors to march up to 400 meters to the Blue House because it had faith in their maturity. It believed in the validity and sustainability of the candlelight vigil’s sacredness.

The people in the plaza were wiser than the president, oblivious in her isolated palace. They have posed the question of whether their country is a democratic republic as stipulated in Article 1 of our Constitution. A democratic republic is a political system that reflects the opinions of the community through votes. But in this land, wealth and power has been reserved for an exclusive group.

This is the poor state of our nation revealed by the so-called Choi-gate scandal. This is no democratic republic. The universal values of justice, tolerance, communalism and equality have been gravely damaged. How different is it from an oligarchy when all the fruits of prosperity go to a few powerful people and the greater masses are allowed the right to a vote out of mere formality?

The people have taken to the streets to deliver their verdict on the forces that have ignored Article 2 of the Constitution, which says that Korean sovereignty belongs to the people and that power comes from the people. They are restoring their claim to national sovereignty and exercising their determination to transform a sham democracy into a real democracy. One middle-aged housewife holding a candle said that she felt she was doing something to change the world. In contrast, she said, casting a vote mattered little.

The citizens are judging a president who has lost all moral authority. They are calling for a new age and a sacking of the ancien régime.

They want to overthrow a system that delivered a false democratic president. Both the ruling and opposition political parties also should pay close attention. The people are asking how they plan to rebuild a democratic republic. If they cannot answer, they too could face public damnation.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 23, Page 31

*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Ha-kyung
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