Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Illusion of Democracy in South Korea

When compared to its northern brethren, South Korea seems to be the epitome of democracy. However, simply being better than a dictatorship does not mean South Korea is without its freedom flaws. Under the Lee Myung Bak adminstration many groups have protested that democratic rights, particularly freedom of speech have been curtailed. When the economy first nose dived, the Korean blogger Minerva was arrested for criticizing government fiscal policy. Most recently, writers are protesting because under new legislature, artists who are critical of the government receive reduced subsidies from the government.  The Korea Times reports in "Writers to Protest for Freedom of Speech" the actions organized writers are taking to protest this move.

I'm a little torn on this. On one hand, the government doesn't have to subsidize the arts at all...in less of course they want them to seriously flourish without the more dire starving artist syndromes. On the other hand, discriminatory funding in this manner does seem to be rather anti-democratic particularly because the rationale for it is that these groups have engaged in "illegal protests." Illegal in Korea doesn't mean violent, looting, or disruptive, it simply means they were unable to get a government permit for peaceful protests. And of course, the government rarely provides such permits for groups wanting to protest government policy vocally. 

It's frustrating. I wish I could discuss politics with my Korean co-workers because I would love to see opinions on the issues that aren't from my fellow expats but none of them have the English skills to have an intensive discourse about anything other than the weather or what I did this weekend.

5 comments:

FredL. said...

Not much different than what goes on in most Democracies, including ours. Obama advocated dissent during the Bush years, and then labeld dissenters during his administration as "disloyal". In NYC funding for the arts was Definitely steered to those who are "politically correct".

bosmosis said...

"When compared to its northern brethren, South Korea seems to be the epitome of democracy. However, simply being better than a dictatorship..."

I'm confused: is it "the epitome", or "simply better"?

"Under the Lee Myung Bak administration many groups have protested that democratic rights, particularly freedom of speech have been curtailed"

Previous presidents used to gas and shoot them. Democracy here is not perfect, but it is no illusion.

"And of course, the government rarely provides such permits for groups wanting to protest government policy vocally."

And your basis for stating this is...? Do you actually know how many such permits are rejected, or are you just taking a wild stab at it because it supports your "illusion" thesis?

Alex said...

South Korea IS a democracy but having been reading the papers here steadily for the past 2 years there has been a constant stream of complaints made by national and international human rights groups about various issues, several of which involved the curtailing of the right to peacefully assemble and protest.

You are right, I didn't base it on exact figures (oh the joy of not having a newspaper fact checker). Rather, I based it on the tone of the progressing articles of groups who have been denied the right to protest and having seen myself, riot troops assembled in central protest spots in Seoul to keep people from gathering to demonstrate. If I was a newspaper, I'd certainly have to have more exact figures, happily I'm simply a blogger.

Alex said...

Bosmosis: Here are a few of the articles I based my opinion on:
http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2008/05/137_23934.html

http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/289679.html

http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/south-korea-use-force-against-beef-protestors-should-be-investigated-tho

I am aware of the fact that no democracy is perfect...but i do believe that democracy should continually work on bettering itself.

bosmosis said...

"South Korea IS a democracy but..."

So why engage in cheap hyperbole, like calling it an "illusion" or "simply better than a dictatorship"? That's extremely misleading.

"...has been a constant stream of complaints made by national and international human rights groups..."

Amnesty international complains abut everyone, not just Korea. I would also take issue with the word "constant". For example, in the Amnesty article you linked below, before they catalog the actual complaints, did you notice that the report also stated that "Generally, both the protesters and the police showed remarkable organization and constraint," and expressed the further opinion that the protests "AND THE RESPONSE TO THEM generally show the strength of South Korea’s civil society as well as its legal institutions"? Does that temper your notion of the "illusion" of democracy at all? Because it should.

"You are right, I didn't base it on exact figures..."

The problem was not that you didn't provide "exact" figures, the problem was that you provide NO FIGURES AT ALL to back up your claim that the government "rarely provides such permits." In other words, that opinion is baseless. Sorry, I don't buy that you can make concrete factual claims like that based solely on the "tone" of the articles you read, especially when you have already demonstrated a tendency to grossly misread that tone as well, by glossing important caveats like the one I mentioned in the above Amnesty article. To make factual assertions like that, you need facts, not feelings. Otherwise you're talking out of your ass.

"i do believe that democracy should continually work on bettering itself."

That's what demonstrations are about, and Korea has a far more robust tradition of peaceful demonstration than most countries I can think of (France also leaps to mind). The cops are there - not to "keep people from gathering" as you seem to believe. They are there to keep things from getting out of hand, and protesters sometimes do go overboard. 4 riot police officers were killed at the university where I worked 10 years ago when student demonstrators set fire to a building they had seized. In the 80's, serious injuries were far more common - protesters sometimes threw bricks and heavy roofing tiles from rooftops which often killed or severely injured police officers and others. Of course the police overstep the bounds as well, but generally, from my experience and from the dozens of protests I have myself witnessed Korea has a well established and generally well organized culture of peaceful democratic protest - which funnily enough seems to be an opinion which Amnesty International shares, if you will read your own links a little more closely.

If you want to continue to moan and wail about "illusions" I suggest you head to Pyongyang for a reality check.