People's aspiration for direct democracy continues over coffee


by Won Jong Il

For about three months, Korea has been experiencing an interesting phenomenon.

Exposure of influence peddling on state affairs involving President Park Geun-Hye and her friend Choi Soon-Sil, enlightened the nation's people on how they were blind to unfair practices accumulated from the dark era of dictatorship.

The relationship between Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Choi Soon-Sil began when Park Chung-Hee took power. At that time, Choi Soon-Sil’s father Choi Tae-Min accumulated his wealth by intervening in state affairs and misusing his religious influence, but he had never been accused of any charges because he was under the protection of Park Chung-Hee’s regime. Since then, the vicious circle of corruption in Korea’s politics bloomed.

Even though categorized as a democratic nation, Korea has failed to get rid of deeply rooted collusive ties between powerful groups of politics and business; many civilians of the nation have been closing their eyes to the unfairness. Some even held onto a fantasy that corrupted elite groups would lead their nation to a more advanced industry and better quality of life because its industrialization was achieved in the dictatorial regime and people had a sense of nostalgia for the past.

However, former ignorance of politics and indifference to democracy are now being molded into passion for direct democracy through mass candlelight rallies every Saturday evening for the past 13 weeks. People have started gathering on the streets, lifting candles and shouting out for President Park to step down.

Lawmakers who had been reluctant to impeach President Park finally gave in to public sentiment and passed an impeachment motion. Many people participated in the hearing by criticizing lawmakers who didn't ask questions effectively or providing lawmakers with information on a summoned witness's past.

This great change shows people's thirst for real democracy in which the will of the people is represented and honest politicians work for the people— not for their own benefit.

However, there are other issues that will make our direct democracy more ideal, and we have to look back on ourselves to not repeat the same mistakes we made in the past.

We have to face the truth that welfare for those with disabilities lags behind, compared to other OECD nations. We have to face the truth that our gender equality ranks very low, compared with other OECD nations. And we must face the truth that our society currently does not value diversity, though it should.

For this reason, the ISC (International Strategy Center) is trying to bring people together who want to educate themselves about politics and democracy.

Every Wednesday evening, the ISC hosts a discussion program in a cafe where people talk about current affairs in English. From 7pm to 9pm, participants improve their English skills by learning new vocabulary from  articles and practice expressing their thoughts in English.This program is meaningful in that it deals with diverse issues relating to the candlelight protests, such as impeachment motion, misogyny in the protest, direct democracy, and a variety of people attend, such as artists, a student of an alternative school, etc.

One of the most interesting issues was "misogyny" in the protest, a very controversial issue in Korea. Many male participants may have felt confused over this issue because they haven't been directly exposed to an environment where they were a sexual object to their opposite sex. From this discussion, the male participants were able to understand that many women are suffering from discrimination and prejudice because of their gender. All of these issues are discussed in English so it is a wonderful opportunity to learn new vocabulary and practice speaking.

Our candlelight revolution finds itself in a global spotlight. The voice of people will get louder if we deliver our opinion globally through media and other social network tools. Through these avenues,  our fights for change should be more effective.

Our fight for direct democracy cannot last without rest. After protests in cold weather, we need a place to warm ourselves up with hot coffee and tea.The 시국TALK program will give you both a place to pause and a place to develop your fervent passion for democracy.

Please come and join us as we continue our historical journey to a real democracy and write the next great chapter of Korean history.