Unbroken: Kwon Nak-gi, Long Term Political Prisoner of Conscience

By Dae-Han Song
On June 14th, Kris Pak, an adoptee; Stephanie Park and Dae-Han Song, two Korean-Americans; Taryn Assaf, a Lebanese-Canadian; Anastasia Traynin, a Russian-American; and Erica Sweett, a Canadian meet with Kwon Nak-gi: trim, neatly dressed, nearing 70, set of black hair, hint of  slouch, and tattooed eyebrows. He speaks with the earned conviction and justification of one who stayed true to his beliefs and comrades in the face of torture and 17 years of solitary confinement.

The National Security Law
Kwon, Nak-gi was arrested in 1972 (along with his father, mother, and younger brother) for violating the National Security Law in the incident of the Gyongsang Province Revolutionary Party for Reunification. The National Security Law had been created soon after liberation from Japan to repress the uprisings erupting from a divided South Korea: On one side stood the nationalists, communists, and socialists; on the other, the Japanese collaborators. Since that time the National Security Law has been used to censor, incarcerate, torture and kill dissenters. Those imprisoned are grouped between ones who renounced their beliefs under torture, and ones who did not. Separating those let free and those that persisted was a signed statement renouncing one’s beliefs. Those that persisted are referred to as prisoners of conscience. Kwon Nak-gi is a third generation long term political prisoner of conscience.

Four Generations of Political Prisoners
The first generation of political prisoners was arrested at the end of the Korean War: they had fought for the North but were trapped in the South when the war ended. Some were executed; others received life sentences eventually serving up to 40 years. The second generation was arrested upon returning to the South in the early 1960s to jumpstart the South’s reunification movement. The third generation was too young to fight in the war but old enough to participate in the South’s reunification movement in the early 70s. The fourth generation was arrested in the latter half of the 1970s, framed as spies to justify the continued existence of the National Security Law. They were later retried and found innocent, including those executed and those killed in prison.

Struggle and Freedom
As the struggle for democratization intensified, pressure to release the political prisoners mounted. Many, including Kwon Nakki, were released after the October 1987 uprising. Others were released under Kim Yong Sam, and finally one by one the remaining unconverted long term political prisoners were released under the Kim Dae Jung presidency. 63 of them were repatriated to North Korea as a humanitarian gesture under the June 15, 2000 agreement between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il.

Prison Life
As we move from the background to his story, I ask, “What was prison life like?” Kwon Nak-gi describes the cells for political prisoners: Each prisoner was held in a 0.75 pyeong (2.5 square meters) cell: just large enough to sit against one wall and touch the other with your feet. To break them, the prison kept them under solitary confinement. “In our cells, we didn’t have any books. If you had books, you could escape. They wanted to keep the pressure on: They wanted us to feel sadness, misery, loneliness.”

As he relates his daily prison life, I glimmer moments of resistance, persistence, and dignity in the mundane: keeping mind and body busy, strict adherence to hygiene and exercise, and even discipline and resourcefulness in the use and reuse of a pail ration of water.

Strength
“One of our greatest sources of strength was study. Among the hundreds imprisoned, we had philosophers, professors: learned people. So, they created lessons on dialectical materialism, contradiction, the principles of an organizer, political science, economics.” While each of the political prisoners was kept in solitary confinement, they communicated through a secret system of taps, scratches, and knocks on the wall.

“We would sit alone in our room doing these studies. Our elders would tap out a sentence on the wall. Then I would recite and memorize it in rhyme.” As he demonstrates by tapping, scratching, and knocking in rapid succession, he murmurs off a string of sentences from memory. “It’s been so long, that I’m starting to forget them…It took me about a year to memorize it all.”

“After breakfast and the dishes, I would recite my lessons. It took exactly three hours. Without that, there was no way we could have held out for 10, 20, 30 years. A human being needs a purpose and a practice. That’s the only way to endure. We have to remind ourselves why we exist. For us, it was important to not while away the day. That’s why we studied everyday. It gave us a purpose.”

“The second source of strength was struggle. If they simply left us alone, we would have become bored, listless. But, they tortured us. All animals fight back when you mess with them. But, humans are special: We also fight back when someone messes with others. That is our strength. If they beat one of us, then the others would start a hunger strike. These struggles helped keep our humanity.”

“Study, struggle, and finally comradeship. I wonder if without comrades I could have kept my beliefs for so long.” Kwon Nak-gi relates how, in winter, younger prisoners would pad their underwear and in the exercise yard would exchange it with the worn-out ones of the older prisoners. Or of when someone had diarrhea, he would save his food and pass it on to hungry comrades despite punishment if caught.

His voice recalls a past moment, “One day after getting tortured, I returned to my cell. I was bloodied; my energy was drained. As the sun set and night fell upon me, my eyes welled up with tears. I wondered to myself, ‘Do I really need to keep getting beat up like this?’ My thoughts wandered off to a woman back in Busan. ‘Why did I listen to my father? Why don’t I just give up and live comfortably outside?’”

“The next morning, through the food slot, I saw a senior comrade in his 50s – his skin down to his bones – raising his fist motioning me to stay strong. At seeing that, there was no way I could sign the renunciation document. How could I leave behind all these elders and comrades to live comfortably outside? I stuck it out to the end not because I was smarter, or tougher, or better. It was these relationships. It was these moments, once, twice, thrice, ten times, one year, ten years, twenty, as time flowed…that is how I was made. No one is born good or bad. Our education, our actions – that is what make us.”

Releasing the Han
Anastasia asks, “What are your goals now?” The question stirs a reflection. Kwon Nak-gi pauses then responds, “When you say goal, there is that which forms in our rational self, from our knowledge, which we plan and then try to execute, and there is that which forms within our hearts and releases our unresolved feelings, our Han. The goal which resides in my rational self and in my heart, are one and the same: reunification.”

His “rational” reasons for reunification are many: an independent country; military spending used for social welfare instead; and the freedom to hear, read, learn what one wants and to choose freely. Then, a profundity permeates his voice, “Reunification is also an ardent wish that resides in my heart. We all make promises, like today, we made a promise to meet here. But, a promise between living people, can be changed, postponed, or even canceled if both acquiesce. A promise with those who’ve died cannot be canceled, postponed, or altered. That is the han that resides in the hearts of those that survived. I made a promise to my elders that I would struggle on until the reunification of our homeland. They died in prison. Even my juniors, who I loved and cared for, that were released but passed away, we promised to fight for reunification.”

Advice for the next generation
As our meeting comes to a close, Anastasia asks, “Do you have any advice for the next generation?” Kwon Nak-gi’s voice mingles with delight, expectation, and respect as he answers, “Dialectical materialism states that the new will replace the old, and that the new becomes old. Nothing remains fixed. I see myself as the old: I am 69. You are young; you are in your twenties, in your thirties. I can’t tell you how to live your lives. But, I can tell you that while I spent my twenties and thirties in prison, I never lived in shame. I didn’t accomplish anything great, but I never betrayed my beliefs. I did not live in fear; I did not live in shame. Because you are young, your dreams, your directions, they will all be varied. But, live your life free of fear and shame. To do that, you must preserve your confidence and maintain your self-respect.”

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5.18.2014

By A.T.

On this May morning at the 34th People’s Commemoration
We are full of color
Red spilled blood
Black death and cherished memory
Yellow ribbons of hope
Green spring explosion of life
Sitting between the graves
Fists raised to the fallen martyrs
Feeling their blood, tears and spirits seep from below
We weren’t there then, but we remember now
Singing, shouting, crying
Marching forward with the beloved

On this May morning in Mangwol Cemetery
We carry on the legacy
Rulers are not benign, but corrupted by power
Freedom is not given, but born of struggle
People are not weak, but invincible together
Lifeless bodies give us all life
So onward we march

My grandparents grew up under Stalin, my parents under Brezhnev. Scorn and disdain for the Soviet empire led our family, led by our grandfather, to dash through the 1991 window of opportunity and migrate to the USA, where I grew up.

America, land of the free, the greatest country on Earth, a bastion of human rights and democracy, the opposite of “oppressive Communist Russia” in every way. Many years down the line, a relative remarked that when it comes to controlling and keeping tabs on its citizens, the US government is not much different than the authoritarian Soviet leadership.

Beyond the spying and the many marginalized communities that struggle for survival within its borders, the USA has a shameful and contradictory foreign policy. While preaching human rights, democracy and anti-Communism, the government has historically supported right-wing dictatorships abroad. The reality is that many of these governments walk hand-in-hand with US business interests. Under industrial capitalism, business is a branch of government.

In Gwangju, May 1980 Koreans came face-to-face with this truth: instead of supporting the democractization movement, American powers continued business as usual and helped sweep the Gwangju Uprising under the rug. The US, as the bearer of South Korea’s wartime military operational control, gave Chun Doo Hwan, the pro-US military leader, permission to send paratroopers to brutally crush the pro-democracy rebellion. After Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, Chun became the first honored guest in the White House. It was then that Koreans realized – the struggle belonged to them alone.

Every year, our high school commemorates 5.18 with a walking pilgrimage from our Damyang campus across the Youngsan River to the Mangwol Cemetery on the northern edge of Gwangju. As it’s usually a bright warm Friday, it is difficult to get more than 200 students and 20 teachers in the proper somber mode. On April 16th the Sewol ferry sank off the Jindo coast and killed the equivalent of our entire school’s population. In their memory, we walked the last 20 minutes to the cemetery in silence.

This is the original burial place for the martyrs. Here lie the bodies of activists and ordinary citizens murdered by Chun Doo-Hwan’s military forces. On Sunday, our International Strategy Center team returned here for the parallel alternative to the official ceremony at the National Cemetery. While the 5.18 anthem “March of the Beloved,” dedicated to a posthumously married activist couple, has been discarded under the official leadership, it is still sung loud and proud [instead of using cliches, consider using more evocative imagery fit for that moment] in Mangwol.

The day before, the ISC began the 2014 5.18 Memorial weekend at the Freedom Park in Gwangju’s Sangmu Jigu, an expanding well-to-do residential district. Densely packed with supermarkets, high rises, restaurants, cinemas and everything necessary for comfortable urban living, it is hard to imagine that the neighborhood was once Sangmu Army Base. It was here that many of the military’s worst atrocities took place after the Uprising. The 5.18 Memorial Park – the last vestige of a once formidable forest – and the 5.18 Freedom Park are the historical markers that keep Gwangju’s tortured revolutionary spirit alive in Sangmu.

At the entrance of Freedom Park, we met middle-aged and elderly men in army fatigues. I wondered whether they were real soldiers or just for show. We learned that these volunteer tour guides were all survivors of the darkest chapter in modern Korean history. In these former military barracks, reconstructed in this unassuming park and surrounded on all sides by modern apartments, these men were jailed, beaten and tried at gunpoint for their involvement in the 5.18 democratization movement. Every May, they don their torturers’ uniforms and retell their stories to visitors, sitting in replicas of the places where they endured so much suffering.

After the Freedom Park, we rode the bus to Sansu-dong, a central Gwangju neighborhood that I had yet to visit after a year of living in the city. At Seondeoksa, a beautiful Buddhist temple and community center on a hill, we met longtime Gwangju activist Lee Shin. Lee echoed American journalist Tim Shorrock’s on the ground account of the 1980s when Korean grassroots democracy was at its peak with students in the frontlines. Where has that spirit gone now? Lee and others blame the decline of revolutionary will on neoliberalism, which crushes citizens’ power under the pressures and demands of daily survival early on from their days as university students.

American young people’s Korean counterparts seem to be stuck in the same dilemma – too much to lose when one rises up against the system of oppression. Test scores, job interviews, appearances – everything is geared towards individualism and fierce competition. This is a far cry from the few days that Gwangju citizens cooperatively took control of their city, May 21-27, 1980. Now, thirty four years later at the commemoration ceremony, students once again raise their voices and fists aside elders, awakening hope.

Resistance hasn’t completely died in Korea. To get around the ban on holding public protests after sunset, Korean activists have created a culture of night demonstrations called chot bul or candlelight vigils, a vibrant mix of citizen speeches, songs and rallying cries lit by simple cupped candles. 4.16 – the day of the Sewol accident – will surely join the other watershed moments in Korean history. Gwangju itself has held many such vigils on the historical Geumnam-ro main street. On Saturday night, with Lee Shin and his daughter, the ISC team made its way to the traditional yearly 5.17 vigil. Students, elders, politicians, entertainers, religious leaders – everyone seemed to be out with banners, candles, yellow ribbons and black shirts with a slogan, sitting on shiny silver mats that flowed ever further back from the main stage. A group of my high school students gave speeches and sang, making this teacher proud.

Although we only touched on it briefly, what I took away from this year’s 5.18 weekend is the broader context for singular tragic events such as Gwangju 1980. The 1945 liberation from Japan promised an independent nation, yet modern Korea was broken in two from the start, an open wound that is the “demilitarized zone” and a historically unfounded Northern “enemy.” Since the 1980s, Lee Shin has dedicated his life to the premise “from May to reunification.” As long as a Communist enemy, real or imagined, lurks as a strawman and villain over people’s heads, the prospect of another massacre like 5.18 is not off the table. As long as a people united for all but 60 of more than 5,000 years – as long as they stand divided as enemies, peace will always be beyond grasp.

Locating Resistance, Commemorating Struggle

by Stephanie Park

In any political movement, the act of raising political consciousness among new members is a crucial aspect of spreading awareness and building the movement. “Work classrooms” held for young female workers served this purpose for Korea’s labor movement in the ‘70s, as does the ISC’s own “Korean History, Economics, and Politics Program” for the international solidarity movement today. My first such experience occurred during college with the Asian American Student Union, through which I learned about the historical context and political meaning to the term “Asian American” [1]. Although small, the moment I became exposed to the term’s original radical aims was the beginning of understanding my life and experiences as political and part of a greater story of struggle – in other words, a tipping point.

May 18th, 1980, the start of a ten-day political struggle between the citizens of Gwangju and Korea’s militarized government, held (and continues to hold) a similar function for politicized Koreans. Many attribute the events that transpired there, from the shocking violence that military paratroopers enacted upon innocent people to the city’s revolutionary response and four-day peaceful self-governance before being put down by the government, as a major milestone in the nation’s struggle for democratization. Although the government labeled the event a “rebellion” instigated by activist Kim Dae-Jung and instituted a media blackout to prevent the truth from surfacing, news of the atrocity nevertheless spread, ultimately playing a key role in President Chun Doo Hwan’s downfall and helping to end military dictatorship in Korea. Every year, the city commemorates the date to remember the thousands of lives lost, educate new generations about the heavy price paid for Korean democracy, and to remind those who understand its significance never to forget.

The weekend of May 18th, the ISC group traveled to Gwangju to participate in the city’s commemoration events. We toured the military complex where citizens were detained after the military reestablished dominance, attended a candlelight vigil held in the same spot where citizen-mobilized militia pushed back military forces 34 years ago, spoke with activist Lee Shin, who experienced 5.18 as a child and attributes it to his politicization, and finally paid homage to those who gave their lives at Gwangju (or in the struggles that followed to reveal the truth) at a commemoration service held in the public cemetery. Throughout it all, I found myself continually returning to the same question: “What caused something like this to happen?”

Many scholars have attempted to answer this question, locating 5.18 within various sociopolitical origins. One is the military coup d’etat Chun carried out on May 17th, which enforced martial law across Korea and included the closing of universities and banning of oppositional political activity. Another is the US’ role in setting the stage for and enabling the initial massacre and subsequent government retaliation; such actions contradicted the US’ “commitment to human rights” and exposed its prioritization of neoliberalism and foreign investment over the lives of everyday Koreans, many of whom at first believed the US would intervene to protect them. Yet another is the Jeolla region’s history of underdevelopment and neglect, as well as inter-provincial rivalry’s impact on the underdevelopment of the Jeolla region; in a way, Gwangju became a rallying point for people who “had been alienated politically and economically for a long time” [2].

Such factors undoubtedly played a crucial role. However, as we marched through the gates of the detention complex pretending to be detainees and listened to tour guides that had been its detainees, and as we walked through the old and new cemeteries hearing of the brutal, heroic, and tragic ways citizens had died, I felt captivated by the amazing display of bravery, selflessness, and solidarity collectively and spontaneously demonstrated by the citizens of Gwangju. Not only did they organize and overcome the military special forces sent to brutalize them, but they effectively self-governed for four days.

What made the difference for the citizens of Gwangju? It was outrage against the government’s injustice that first caused students to protest the morning of May 18th. Firsthand video footage at the 5.18 museum showed masses of students shouting, carrying banners, and defiantly protesting the coup. It was a similar anger which provided the first spark in the mind of activist Lee Shin, nine years later, that caused him to reject his original path towards civil service and to instead become an activist. When asked what caused his political transformation, he described learning of the death of a Chosun University student, who had written an article criticizing the US’ role in the massacre and asked the US to take responsibility. Like many who dared to do so at the time, he was arrested and subsequently tortured to death. However, his death had a profound effect on Lee.

“At that time, I was a student that only knew about studying; I was preparing to become a public servant. I only knew about home and school. But that night was a fateful day. As I was passing the funeral procession at the Provincial Government building, I asked myself why he was killed. I read the book that he wrote. In it he talked about how the US helped massacre Gwangju citizens. I was enraged when I learned the truth. I was 23 at that time. From that time on, I joined the student movement to fulfill the meaning of that student. I worked to expose US atrocities in Korea. I toured 20 American cities to talk about this. November 1st, 1989 was a fateful day for me.”

Similar sentiments fuelled the citizens of Gwangju to come together and expel the military forces from the city. Yet, at the same time, that anger existed alongside something far deeper: compassion, a deep-seated commitment to one’s community, and deeply political love to sustain it all. It was this sense that I felt most drawn to throughout the weekend. How deep did such feelings run? As the death of a student who stayed to participate in the citizen militia’s last stand despite his mother’s pleas to return home shows, these feelings ran deeper than love for one’s family.

As the death of student Kim Bu Yeol, a high school student killed and beheaded for defending a woman being raped by soldiers shows, this feeling ran even deeper than the value for one’s own life. And as the four-day peaceful citizen’s occupation showed, this feeling ran deep enough to overcome the terror and violence created by military brutality, and replace it with an environment where people queued for hours to give blood, prepared humble riceball meals for others, and left bank reserves untouched. Above all, it was a force that inspired Gwangju’s citizens to create and build the society they wanted, in contrast to the police state they had been living under since Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship 20 years earlier.

Emotions play an interesting role in discussions of politics, which is at its core a fundamentally emotionally charged subject. However, we often quantify and objectify it, turning it into an object of study and ignoring its immediate, human impact. In commemorating 5.18, I came away awed by the immense, yet unquantifiable political power of such emotions, which defy such restrictions. Gwangju citizens may have been more dissatisfied than their counterparts in other provinces, but in many ways they were no different. Yet something came into place that fateful day that mobilized an entire city into drastic, defiant action. It wasn’t a cool, removed analysis of the forces at work that drove them to do so; rather, it was seeing those who could have been (and quite possibly were) their children, neighbors, and elders indiscriminately beaten, bayonetted, and shot.

In the same way that last month taught me to reexamine our systematic dehumanization in the face of industrialization, 5.18 taught me the overwhelming potential that can be unleashed when a community refuses to bow to the pressures of neoliberalism, and even the much more immediate threat of violence and death, and instead posits its own humanity and human relations as the value of central importance. Seeing how much the people of Gwangju freely gave to their fellow citizens puts my own privileged yet isolated situation in perspective, and has inspired me to reexamine my own position. What would I be willing to risk, to sacrifice, to commit to building? For or with whom? And for what purpose? To the people of 5.18, I would like to say – thank you for the courage and love you showed in that time. As everyday citizens with simple everyday acts, you have and will continue to serve as a tipping point for those looking to better understand history and ourselves.

Footnotes:
1. “The term ‘Asian American’ was first coined by activists in the 1960s. Their intent was to create a pan-ethnic community encompassing a variety of different Asian ethnicities that would come together to address issues such as stereotypes and racial discrimination. To a large extent, this goal of stirring political and social activism within the Asian American community was achieved, as demonstrated by the formation of the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) in 1968 by Berkeley graduate student Yuji Ichioka. Along with the Third World Liberation Front, the AAPA and other organizations pushed for the formation of an Ethnic Studies program on the Berkeley campus.”
http://hardboiled.berkeley.edu/archived-issues/year-13/issue-13-1/when-asian-american-doesnt-mean-asian-american/

2. Korea Democracy Foundation, History of the Democratization Movement in Korea; 2010. 108.

May 18: Truth from within Solidarity

by Erica Sweett

The atrocities that ravage countries are pushed into the shadows of history by those who are threatened by the weight of its truth. In the late 1970s Korea was very different. The country was still under military dictatorship. Citizens fought tirelessly for their basic rights. The assassination of President Park Chung Hee on October 26th 1979 sparked unrest across the country. Army general Chun Doo Hwan quickly replaced Park. In an attempt to divide and weaken the unified voices of the people he executed martial law. In response, students and citizens rose up in protest.

Pro-democracy demonstrations spread across the country. The May 18th History Compilation Committee of Gwangju recounts that, “By that time Gwangju had already shown itself to be the center of the fiercest demonstrations…” [1]. The strength of the movement in Gwangju posed a serious threat to the Chun Doo Hwan regime. Operation Choongjung (True Heart) was created to control and ultimately to destroy the growing solidarity movement. Choongjung was made up of paratroopers who were specially trained to violently break up crowds. On May 18th 1980, what started as a peaceful protest for democracy quickly became a bloody ten day battle. The uprising ended with the loss of hundreds of innocent lives.

Lee Shin was fourteen during the Gwangju uprising. He has spent the past twenty five years fighting for reunification. He also gives lectures on the events of May 18th and is actively involved in the Gwanjgu community. He explained that as the movement grew it was matched with violence. “The first day they hit the people with batons. The second day they impaled them with bayonets. The third day they shot them. The fourth day they massacred them in the provincial building.”

During the height of the uprising, soldiers blocked off Gwangju from the rest of the country. On May 22nd, the fifth day, the army retreated to Gwangju’s outskirts. During this time the community came together: They shared food, water, blood. Despite open banks and weapons, there was no violence. On May 23rd people started to clean streets and restore order. Volunteers stayed and guarded the town all night long. Lee Shin described the time using the Korean word 정 Jeong: “In Gwangju people came together as one. This is Jeong, it is difficult to explain in English. It means emotional feeling, love. It’s a very Korean word.” The violence of the paratroopers was intended to suppress the very thing that emerged in their short absence from the city. Unity had formed out of the chaos.
The uprising did not end peacefully. On May 27th, Operation Choongjung carried out its final phase. The paratroopers murdered all in their path. “The troops kicked down doors and shot at anything that looked or sounded like a person” [2]. The Martial Law forces entered and took control of the city. At 7 am, the Provincial hall was handed over and the military had full control. Those who had survived were sent to military camps. Extreme violence was the only way the corrupt government could silence the community. “In less than 90 minutes the ten day Gwangju uprising had been brought to an end” [3].

The media and government painted the protesters as violent rebels and communists who posed a threat to the stability of the country. The government physically divided the community. They destroyed evidence of the massacre and manipulated the truth. While they were successful in suppressing the uprising, they did not destroy the spirit of the movement. During those dark times a deep connection in Gwangju was formed. The power of The Gwangju Uprising is found not in its brutal end but in the communities fight against injustice.

The Gwangju Uprising and other pro-democracy movements helped the country achieve its first direct presidential election in 1987. Korea’s rapid economic and social development has brought new challenges. Shin notes that, “Through industrialization, Korea had much development. It built large buildings and cars. Superficially, it seems like a lot of growth. But the community structure has collapsed.” Korea struggles to find unity amidst the growing pressures of capitalism. Shin explained that Korea, in the wake of another tragedy (the Sewol Ferry Tragedy), is again, trying to find the essence of the Jeong that was felt in Gwangju.

Dedicated people like Shin and groups like The May 18th Historical Compilation Committee of Gwangju are working towards rebuilding a stronger community. They are educating people about the past in order to revive the spirit of what was lost. Through their work they share new perspectives that challenge the current state of Korea. The Historical Committee concludes by reflecting on Gwangju’s significance:

The 21st century will be an era of unlimited competition. To prepare for it we must continue to improve our society. Through the realization of a community spirit of selfless assistance trust, the spirit of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising can continue to shine brightly into the future [4].

Lee Shin, The May 18th Historical Compilation Committee of Gwangju and other leaders are creating space for people to visualize a more unified future.

As a foreigner I have but a fragmented outsider perspective of Gwangju and Korea’s political situation. Despite this, the Gwangju Uprising resonates with me. There are many words that can’t be translated and feelings that I can’t articulate. In times of pain and suffering people show their strength and resilience. Like the word Jeong – the truth is beyond translation. It is found deep within communities; it is not linear and cannot be eradicated.
Dictator regimes and capitalist institutions are disconnected from the community. This disconnect allows institutions to be ruthless; acting out of self-interest and being accountable to no one. Yet this perceived power that allows them to divide and weaken societies will also be their downfall. The truth found within unity is strong. Korea has shown that people find strength in their struggle. While the May 18th uprising is unique to Korea, the movement’s powerful message of truth found within solidarity is universal.

Footnotes:
1. May 18 History Compilation Committee of Gwangju; The May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising; 2013. 47
2. Ibid., 109.
3. Ibid.,110
4. Ibid., 119

국제전략센터 연구보고서 1 한국의 주민참여예산제

주 민참여예산제는 지방 자치 차원에서 주민의 의견을 수렴하고 정책 결정 과정에 주민의 참여를 독려하는 제도 중 하나이다. 1989년 최초로 브라질에서 시행된 이후 세계 각국에서 주민참여예산제를 채택하고 있다. 이전에는 관료에 의해 예산 편성권이 독점되어 예산의 낭비와 비효율적 운영이 문제가 되어왔지만 주민참여예산제를 통해 예산 편성권을 분권화해 예산 편성의 효율성을 높일 뿐만 아니라 주민의 정치적 의식을 높일 수 있다. 이 연구는 현재 정치 과정에서 대의민주주의로 인해 발생하는 문제를 해결하는 한 방안으로 대두되고 있는 주민참여예산제도에 대해 분석해보았다.

이 보고서는 첫째, 대표적인 국제적 주민참여예산제의 사례인 브라질 포르투알레그레시와 독일의 리히텐베르크구에 대한 간단한 소개를 담았다. 그 다음으로 한국의 주민참여예산제의 역사와 현황에 대한 내용과 어떤 제도적 뒷받침으로 시행되고 있는지를 기술하였다. 그리고 한국에서 진행되고 있는 주민참여예산제의 사례 중 모범사례로 평가 받고 있는 인천 연수구의 주민참여예산제에 대한 상세한 연구 내용을 담았다. 마지막으로 10년의 역사를 가진 한국의 주민참여예산제의 성과와 과제를 알아보았다.

다운로드

http://iscenter.or.kr

Participatory Budgeting in Korea: Finding Solutions to the Limitations of Representative Democracy

Participatory budgeting is a way for citizens to be involved in policy decision-making and encourage municipalities to consider constituents’ opinions. Since its inception in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, cities around the world have adopted this program. Wasteful budgets and inefficient operations had been attributed to public officials’ monopoly over the allocation of public resources; by decentralizing this power, participatory budgeting allowed a more efficient allocation of the budget, while increasing citizens’ political awareness. This study examines participatory budgeting as a solution to the problems and limitations of representative democracy.

The study first provides a brief overview of two well known international participatory budgeting cases: Porto Alegre, Brazil and Lichtenberg, Germany. Secondly, it provides an overview of the history and current conditions of participatory budgeting in South Korea (hereon referred to as Korea) and explains its legal basis. Next, the report focuses on a successful case of participatory democracy in the district of Yeonsu. Finally, it concludes with accomplishments and challenges of Korea’s participatory budgeting during its 10 years of existence.

Download the International Strategy Center research paper here

Demonstrations Continue in Protest of NIS, Government

Demonstrations were held in Seoul and other cities over the weekend in protest of NIS intervention in last year’s elections. Many are unhappy with the government’s continued stance of non-involvement as well as their continued attempts to divert public attention away from the issue.

During the open mic, many spoke about the contrast between prosecution times for the NIS and that of Lee Seok-Gi, a lawmaker of the Unified Progressive Party, who was recently charged with allegations of conspiring to stage a rebellion in support of North Korea. The National Assembly voted with an overwhelming majority to have Lee’s parliamentary immunity waived.

The UPP and many others believe the allegations were made in order to distract the public from the NIS issue.

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