People Power: 1987 vs 2016

Posted : 2016-11-18 16:34 Updated : 2018-04-08 10:04
Citizens in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, hold up candles on Nov. 12 as they call for the scandal-ridden President Park Geun-hye to step down from office.
/ Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

1987 vs. 2016

By Cho Jae-hyon

It was deja vu. I was among hundreds of thousands of people who marched from Yonsei University to Gwanghwamun on July 9, 1987, for the national funeral of Lee Han-yeol, a collegian who was killed after being shot by a tear gas grenade during a protest against the then military regime.

I still vividly remember some scenes from the funeral ― the dancing for the deceased by a female dancer in a white traditional costume in front of the university, the long line of people who carried a bier, the fountain that at the time was in front of City Hall, which helped the demonstrators beat the heat briefly, and the tense moment of confrontation with armed riot police at the four-way intersection in Gwanghwamun.

I was just a few steps away from the riot police. All of a sudden they fired tear gas, chasing and dispersing demonstrators, and savagely wielding clubs. The chemicals in the gas were so painful that many people, while running away, even broke windows of buildings on the street to put their heads inside to get some fresh air.

That was part of the historical uprising that forced the military regime to accede to a free presidential election.

Some three decades later, I was among the crowds of people again who marched around central Seoul, calling for their President to step down.

At the sight of Gwanghwamun Square lit up by a sea of candles, I felt a pang of sadness. Why do we still have to hold these massive protests on streets? Why does a farmer still have to be killed by a water cannon wielded by police? Why are we still under the authoritarian rule of a dictator's daughter?

We are still under the influence of the previous dictator. Korea has come a long way economically, but faces a long way to go so it can become a true democracy. The road to a more mature society is strewn with a lot of hurdles. To make their country a more democratic one for their children, the people will continue to pour into the streets.

Over one million people gather in front of the Seoul City Hall to bid farewell to Lee Han-yeol, a Yonsei University student killed by a tear gas grenade during a protest, in this July 9, 1987 file photo. / Korea Times file

Farmers hold up a flower-decorated funeral bier in central Seoul, Saturday, as they march toward the presidential office to demand President Park Geun-hye resign. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul