When spring comes …
Spring is often thought of as a time of rebirth and new beginnings. It’s a time after the chilled, dark days of winter are shed, when spring blossoms push through the once-frozen earth to reveal the beginnings of new life.
Kim Dong-hwan, poet and journalist for the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, wrote the poem ``When spring comes.” In 1929, he wrote, ``When spring comes, azalea blossoms out on the mountains and fields. My heart also is in full bloom where the azaleas are.” In ``A Tale of Two Cities,“English novelist Charles Dickens penned, ”... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us.”
When the word spring is used as a political metaphor it implies the start of better times, liberation from political suppression or massive demonstrations against the political establishment. The Prague Spring, Beijing Spring and Seoul Spring are good historical manifestations of such concepts. But history shows that those ``springs” were also great tragedies.
The Prague Spring of 1968 triggered the Warsaw Pact troop invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Beijing Spring resulted in a crackdown on leading dissidents by the Chinese government and the Seoul Spring ended with the Gwangju Massacre on May 18, 1980.
And the Arab Spring, which began in December of 2010, is in danger of drifting toward a stalemate. In Korea, pundits frequently quoted a phrase, ``spring has come, but it is not like spring,” to express their dissatisfaction with superficial government policies for political liberalization during the military dictatorship just a few decades ago.
On the nights of August 20 and 21, 1968, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague to crush the Czechoslovak experiment in ``socialism with a human face." The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during an era of domination by the Soviet Union. It began on January 5, 1968, and continued until August 21 when the Soviet Union and members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country. During the brief Prague Spring more than 100 people were killed and Czechoslovakia’s leaders, including Alexander Dubcek, were arrested and taken to Moscow.
The Prague Spring reforms were an attempt by Dubcek to grant additional rights to citizens in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, free speech and travel. The reforms were not received well by the Soviets who sent thousands of Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. Czechoslovakia remained occupied until 1990.
Ten years after the Prague Spring in 1977, there was a similar movement in China called the Beijing Spring. The movement lasted almost two years during which political liberalization of the People's Republic of China was enjoyed. During the Beijing Spring, the general public was allowed greater freedom to criticize the government than the Chinese people had previously been allowed under the communist government of China. During the period of September 1997 to mid November 1998 the Chinese authorities again relaxed some control over political expression and organization. But by the end of 1998 the government cracked down on leading dissidents.
The Seoul Spring was a period of democratization in Korea from late 1979 to May of 1980. The assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979 terminated the 18-year dictatorship and was expected to quickly democratize South Korea by people who revived the democratization movements that had been suppressed during Park's reign.
Those who were expelled for their pro-democracy movements returned to their previous platforms and led nationwide demonstrations, chanting reforms and an end to martial law declared by the military government led by General Chun Doo-hwan, who was the de facto real power. These activities culminated in the anti-martial law demonstration at Seoul Railroad Station on May 15, 1980, where roughly 100,000 students and citizens participated. Three days later, an uprising in the city of Gwangju, later renamed The Gwangju Democratization Movement, took place. In the course of the uprising, citizens took up arms to defend themselves, but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army. The Seoul Spring ended with the Gwangju Massacre in May of 1980.
The Arab Spring is not contained to just one country. The Arab Spring has spread throughout most Islamic nations in North Africa and the Middle East. Beginning in December of 2010, it has been a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests that started in Tunisia and spilled over into Egypt. Lingering civil war affects Libya and political instability continues in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Many demonstrations have met violent responses from authorities, as well as from pro-government militias and counter-demonstrators. Demonstrators in the Arab world chant ``down the regime.” But as time passes, these anti-government protests in the Arab world seem to be simmering down with the religious holiday of Ramadan. During this period, the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a period of fasting. Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "No matter what happens, countries gripped or just touched by the Arab Spring will never go back to what they were."
And yet, despite the tragedy of these events, out of the ashes of destruction and despair new hope was born; a rebirth of the spirit, inspiration of new dreams and the dawn of better days to come. Spring certainly does seem to be the appropriate season to pair with these events in history.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu and a show host on Arirang TV. He headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.