Fragments of the SK activist history, Part I

All of a sudden, I have found out that I was living in a leftist country. Every time I go to gym and hit the treadmill I see that every news channel covering the current UPP feud all day along. As one of those who think that SK needs to realign its general political stance a bit to the left, should I praise this abrupt national attention? I’m not just being sarcastic but, in a manner, I do mean it. All the news outlet are shedding HID Xenon light on those who were at the edge of the SK politics just a few weeks ago. Only worse than being hated is being neglected. Today’s discordance might lead the public into a recognition of progressive politicians at last–at least they’ve got a spotlight now.

So was the most hopeful view of mine concerning the feud until I finally learned about what the non-factioners are struggling against. The Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance was, in fact, more than a run-to-the-mill splinter group, as which I simply thought of them before I knew their origin, history and culture. It is the dregs of the history of the SK democratization activism unleashed after all.

I began my higher education in the early 2000s, when student activism, which had been playing key role in  the history of the SK democratization activism since the 80s, was seriously weakened in the wake of new millenium. At least formally the country was democratized with the advent of the Sixth Republic and right after that people seemed to be losing interest with student activism–even student themselves. Student activists were virtually extinct in my alma mater in the era when I entered. Freedom fighters for democracy, rallying off a campus and throwing pieces of broken precast pavers and vases–an activist slang for Molotovs–to the police, were like dinosaurs to me.

The student activism scene of South Korea would be roughly divided into the two major lines: National Liberation and People’s Democracy. It is not my aim to elaborate on the difference between them and neither am I able to. But in brief, NL puts national–one of the peculiarities of the SK mentality is that it isn’t possible to distinguish between what is national and what is racial–issue ahead of everything and has a strict militaristic–no questions, doubts to orders from above–hierarchy, while PD underlines class conflict in every social problem and is relatively open to debate.

More in detail and reality, NL sees the US as the root of the fundamental social contradiction of SK, who colonized SK politically, culturally, economically, militarily. Thus, in order to remedy the problem, we should oust the empire from the peninsula to achieve self-reliance. Such a hostility towards the US couldn’t gain popularity until the Gwangju Democratization Movement broke out in May 18th, 1980. The connivance of the US that let Chun Doo-hwan government massacre the innocent citizens of Gwangju infuriated the nation. A lot of people who had a friendly view to the US turn themselves against it. A series of arson attacks and sit-in protests in the US culture centers among the cities of Gwangju, Busan, Daegu and Seoul showed the rise of the new hatred as well. From the 80s and through the decline of the PD line after the downfall of the Soviet Union, the NL line remained as the major force of the student activism in SK.

Friendly tug-of-war between Hanchongryun students and a US soldier
(click on the image to read the Wikipedia article about the largest NL organzation)

Given that the anti-American agenda was the top priority, they had an ally that was also a role model: the North. Although the NL liners were very enormous in not only its size but its breadth hence they weren’t so monomorphous in its philosophy, a lot from those who were in the leadership were following the Juche ideology and even allegedly took orders, since there is only a single legitimate revolutionary government according to the Juche idea, from the North.

This specific part of the history later raises the so-called pro-North issues numerous times by the conservative news outlets, especially the Chosun. Based on part fact and part their wishful thinking rather than fact, their own brand of McCarthyism proved itself to be effective still in the 21st century. But it is also undeniable that the NL’s eccentric, sometimes even bizarre organizational culture did lead itself into disintegration.

Thus had I understood so far but not knowing how exactly their culture was and why because they are dinosaurs to me. A recent series of articles on a populous baseball community written by a former NL activist shed light on what I couldn’t have known.

(to be continued)

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