Fighting to Live: The Korean People’s Solidarity Against Poverty

On August 29th, the KEEP 2014 delegation and the International Strategy Center Policy and Research Coordinator Song, Dae-Han met with Kim, Yoon Young, the General Secretary for the Korean People’s Solidarity Against Poverty to learn about their anti-poverty struggles. The Korean People’s Solidarity Against Poverty is composed of 46 organizations including labor unions such as the Korean Confederation of Trade Union and organizations for evictees, community members, street vendors, single room occupancy tenants, and the homeless. They do consultations, advocacy, and solidarity work directly with the poor and with anti-poverty and homeless organizations. They are currently fighting to abolish the family obligation system and reform the basic standard of living guarantee.

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Are you all fine?


The following is totally personal translation of the so-called “Are you all fine?” wall poster a college student Mr. Hyun-woo Joo publicly put on his college wall in Dec. 10, 2013. In this wall poster, Mr. Joo asked if it was really fine for rising generation to stay sterile or dormant to social issues that has broke out since the presidential election last year (or even countless issues since last government) in a plain but persuasive voice. Resonating with his blunt knock on their conscience, wall posters responding to it saying ‘No, I am not fine with that!’ appeared everywhere; in fact, they are literally spreading like a wildfire in Korea. His fellow students respond they are not OK with them, then students of other colleges, older generations who have been hit hard by years of abnormal social developments and even high school students followed suit. It is now a…

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Duipuri- A Short Story

 by Kellyn Gross


“Bottoms up.”

He raises his shot glass in the air, striking hers as she does the same. Soju spills, dripping onto a stained blue checkered tablecloth. A sudden laugh escapes her pursed lips. She downcasts her eyes and smooths her pants. Her pale make-up no longer conceals her flushed face.

“To us!” The young man brings the glass to his lips, and tilts his head back as he gulps the clear liquor. His plastic stool wobbles, and he clasps the round table to brace himself. Unsuccessful, he falls against the orange tent wall. A broad smile forms on his round face, and he gingerly places his glass down.

“To us.” A loose bun at the nape of her neck unfurls. She pats it with her left hand. The young woman sips down her drink and smirks.

It’s four o’clock in the morning and cold. Yellow traffic lights flash through the tent’s clear, plastic windows, and smells of frying oil, cigarettes and booze linger. The man sets two empty soju bottles upright and pushes them across the table to join another three. They clang and fall over again. The woman picks up each of the four charred skewer sticks and tosses them into the small garbage tin by their feet. They are the only diners in this street food stall.

“More side dishes and another soju. Oh, and four more fish cake skewers, please.” He waves at the old woman sitting behind steaming vats of broth and skewered meats. The squat proprietor slides her blanket off her lap, slowly stands up and limps past the counter to a fridge lined with bottles of soda, soju, rice wine and beer. He looks at her stooped frame and dashes to her with the empty dishes. Their eyes scarcely meet.

“Thank you.” The man bows earnestly as he takes the bottle from her.

“Yes.” She returns to her station to refill the dishes, occasionally stopping to listen to the radio drama droning on behind her.

“I’m glad you asked me to join you.” She sighs and hugs her coat lapels close to her chest as he sits back down. “You saved me from drinking alone.”

“I’m glad you said yes. So, do you think we have drank enough to forget our problems?” He twists the soju cap off with a quick motion and tips the bottle toward her. She holds her glass with two hands and accepts his pour.

“No, but maybe after this one.” They both laugh, and she pours a drink for him as well. She looks at his scuffed fingernails and the dirt smudges on his hands. “You said that your family is from Taegu, right?” Her hands are smooth and clean.

“Yes, Taegu. But I moved to Seoul about six years ago. My mom was working here first.”

“Tell me more about Peace Market. Do you like your job?” His wide-set eyes steady on her in silence before he looks down. He doesn’t wait for a toast and drinks the entire shot.

“No, I don’t.” The old woman returns, placing dishes of dried squid, chili pepper sauce, peanuts and a plate of four fish cake skewers on the table. He pours himself another shot and knocks it back.

“I usually have to work 14 hours a day, and I even work on Sundays. Work starts in a few hours, really. But we aren’t paid overtime. The seamstresses operate the sewing machines until late at night. They all have health problems. They’re only middle-school girls, working 15 hours a day.”

“Middle-school girls?”

“Yes. I don’t know how they can stand it. There is no ventilation, and the fumes are horrible. They can’t afford to eat more than a bowl of ramen a day. Hell, neither can I most days.” She wrings her hands, and her eyes search his face for answers to these troubling stories.

“You look cold. Here. Take my jacket.”

“No, I’m okay. I’m just shocked by this information.”

“Please. I insist.” He removes his brown jacket and drapes it over her shoulders.

“Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.”

“So, do you operate the sewing machines, too?”

“No, I’m a fabric cutter. I get extra money for the job, but it’s very little.” He stuffs a skewer in his mouth and rakes off the fish cake with his front teeth. “The shop I work in is no bigger than this pojangmacha.” He gestures toward the tent walls with the skewer, then sees she isn’t eating. “Please, help yourself.” She takes the skewer from his outstretched hands and spins it between her fingers before eating the fish cake.

“Thanks. Have you tried telling labor inspectors?”

“I’ve tried, but they just say they’ll inspect shops and never do. I say to them, we’re not machines! But they don’t listen. Why should they? Even our president ignores labor regulations. Which reminds me, I bought a copy of the Korean Labor Standards Act.”

“What’s that?” She takes another skewer and nibbles the sides of the fish cake.

“The act is supposed to protect workers and their rights. I’m teaching myself hanja to read the document, but it’s difficult and slow. I wish I had a university friend to help me. Do you know how to read hanja?” She is not only studying at Sogang University, but she studied hanja throughout primary and secondary school.

“N-no I don’t. I-I-I’m really sorry I can’t help you.” Her lips barely move, and she is almost inaudible.

“That’s okay. It’s all in the act, though. Workers are guaranteed proper wages and eight-hour workdays by law, as well as Sundays off and regular health exams. But I’m learning that the law is nothing but a piece of paper.”

“It’s not right.”

“No, no it’s not. And it keeps me up at night. What about you? You still haven’t said why you were drinking alone on a Saturday night.”

“Nevermind. It’s nothing, really.”

“No, I want to know. I’m listening.” He peers at her as she fiddles with her skewer.

“First, let’s toast.” She quickly chews the last bite of fish cake.

“Oh, of course. Cheers! To workers!” The fabric cutter pours himself another shot, and together with the university student, they raise their shot glasses in the air. Soju spills again onto the stained tablecloth before the glasses reach their mouths.

“So? What’s worrying you?” She hesitates to respond and then peeks at her silver wristwatch.

“You know, it’s almost 5am. I should go home. Can we talk about this another time?”

“Uhh. Of course. Do you live nearby? I can walk you home.”

“I’d rather walk alone if that’s okay. Not that I haven’t appreciated my time with you, but it’s more proper this way.”

“Okay, I understand. So, I guess this is good night? Or good morning?” He chuckles.

“Either way, I guess it is. First, I should give you some m—”

“No, I’ll pay.”

“But I drank and ate just as much as y—”

“No, I’m your older brother. I was born in 1948, remember?”

“I remember, I just thought—”

“Really, it’s okay.”

“Well, thank you so much for your kindness.”

“You’re welcome.” He pulls out a handful of coins from his front pocket and approaches the old woman at the counter. Their eyes still scarcely meet.

“Here you are. We ate well. Thank you.”

“Yes. Come again.” The young man and young woman exit through the front door and face each other on the sidewalk.

“Let’s meet again.” He shoves his hands in his pockets.

“Okay. When and where?”

“How about here next Saturday? But let’s meet in the afternoon instead.”

“Yes, good thinking.” She teeters back and forth on her heels to stay warm in the chilly November air.

“Well, nice to meet you, and I’ll see you in a week. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.” She smiles and bows. He smiles in return and hurries down the sidewalk toward the orange glow of sunrise at the street’s horizon.

Good-bye. Wait.

“Hey! I don’t know your name! I still have your jacket!” She starts to run after him.

“Aaeesh! Yelling won’t help. He’s gone. Besides, you’ll see him again.” The old lady clucks her tongue, arms akimbo. She limps past the plastic doorway to sit once again behind vats of broth and fried food.

The young woman stops. She places her hand above her heart, tracing the edges of a name tag with her finger. She looks down and reads the white letters set against the black background.

“Jeon Tae Il.” Smoke from the tented restaurant wafts in the air. The old woman turns up the volume on her radio. The red sun rises over the cemetery, and the sweltering midday heat is my hardship. Now, I leave to the wilderness. Leaving all sorrow behind, now I go.

Park Geun Hye is startled awake. She’s in her arm chair on the second floor of the Blue House.

Am I smelling smoke? Her cellphone rests on a table next to her. She picks it up and speed dials her assistant.

“Tomorrow morning is a national labor rally in memory of Jeon Tae Il, no?

“Yes, Madam President, that’s correct. Unions will be mobilizing tomorrow at City Hall, although the exact date of his memorial is November 13th. Forgive me, but if you were considering trying to visit the Jeon foundation again, I think that given what happened last y–”

“No, I won’t be attempting to visit the foundation. But I did promise last year at his monument to make a country where laborers are happy.”

“I see, Madam President. I’m not sure w–”

“What time are protesters gathering tomorrow?”

“I believe at ten o’clock. Approximately 200 combat police and riot control personnel will be on stand by surrounding the US embassy per protocol. Would you like to speak with Mayor Park Won Soon and suggest a stronger police presence?”

“No, I most assuredly do not. But do arrange a car pick up for me at eight o’clock en route to City Hall.”

“But, Madam President, I don’t think that’s possible. Tomorrow is Sunday, and you have your weekly security meeting with advisor Chun Yung Woo.”

“Well, call him to reschedule for Monday. I also want to contact labor organizers tonight. Can you help me do that? Can you get KTCU members or Ssangyong Motors people on the phone?”

“I can try, but Madam P–”

“Good. I want to speak with any labor representative whom I can. And I need to address the protesters tomorrow.”

“B-b-but Madam President, this is highly unorthodox.”

“I know. But I made a promise to workers. An-an-and I just haven’t done that. It’s time I did.”

“Madam President, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this. I mean, why?”

“Why? Because I want to be the friend to workers my father wasn’t before—that I wasn’t before. As you know, my memorial business has always been to my father.”

“Yes, Madam President, of c–”

“But my memorial business should include workers like Jeon Tae Il who have made great sacrifices.” She stared at her father’s solemn portrait on the far wall, then gazed out the window.

“It’s taken a single spark, and it can’t be put out.”

This fictional story was inspired by the workers’ rights activist Jeon Tae Il and by the Worker Day Gathering that the media team attended on November 9th. Jeon Tae Il committed suicide by self-immolated on November 13, 1970 to protest horrendous working conditions in garment factories under Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship. His struggle lives on in the labor movement’s fight against Park Geun Hye’s policies.



Korean Democracy at a Crossroads- FPIF

By targeting public officials who scrutinize the country’s notorious internal intelligence service, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is rolling back hard-won democratic gains in South Korea.

“When Park Geun-hye became president of South Korea earlier this year, there was a sense of unease among many that the election of a dictator’s daughter represented a step backward for the country’s three-decade old democracy. Recent events show those fears to be well founded…”

Continue reading Korean Democracy at a Crossroads by Geoffery Fattig for Foreign Policy in Focus

United Progressive Party Commentary on NIS Fabricated Charge

A Commentary on the National Intelligence Service’s Fabricated

‘Conspiracy for Rebellion’ Charge against the Unified Progressive Party

It has been eight months since the public exposure of the National Intelligence Service’s (NIS) illegal intervention in the 2012 presidential election.  The police and the ruling Saenuri Party’s attempts to conceal the truth of the NIS’ systematic interference in last year’s presidential election is now being brought to light.  Based on the revelations so far alone, President Park Geun-hye should be held accountable and the NIS should be dissolved. Events, however, seem to be unfolding in the opposite direction. Leaders of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) have been summoned or arrested on charges of ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ and the party, which spearheaded anti-war and peace campaigns as well as the movement to dismantle the NIS, is now under serious threat of being dissolved. Today in Korea, a witch hunt is instilling fear and self-censorship across the nation. Members of UPP, nevertheless, stand united with greater resolve than ever to  withstand the terror campaign and emerge victorious in the end.

1. NIS’ Political Maneuver and Interference in the Presidential Election

– After taking office, the former NIS chief Won Sei-hoon reorganized the Psychological Warfare Team in February 2012.  The team was put under the command of the third deputy director and was divided into four teams of about 70 agents. These agents received directives with ‘key issues and talking points’ through the order of the NIS’ third deputy director, the new head of the psychological warfare division, and created online aliases to pose as ordinary netizens and posted comments about the presidential candidates and their political platforms on the internet.

– Contentious issues in the presidential election – such as the creation of Sejong City, the free school lunch program, the ‘four rivers’ project and the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement – were the main subjects of their online posts. The agents unilaterally supported the government’s position and accused all opponents of the government’s position of being “agents of North Korea.” This was clearly illegal political activity in violation of the NIS Act, which prohibits NIS agents from political involvement.

– In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, the NIS, under the guise of eradicating so-called ‘North Korean agents’, openly intervened in the election. NIS agents put up 5,333 online comments on 15 websites. The Prosecutor General’s office identified 1,704 comments posted by NIS agents as political involvement and 73 comments as direct intervention in the presidential election, and indicted the former NIS director as well as the chief of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The Prosecutor General’s investigation was limited to only one section of twelve sections under the Psychological Warfare Division.

– Moreover it was discovered that the NIS agents used an automation program to systemically retweet millions of comments about the presidential election. According to the Prosecutor General, it took less than one second to retweet millions of comments through hundreds of accounts.

– It is also notable that a civilian known as Lee used five of the sixteen online IDs that belonged to NIS agent Kim Ha-young. Approximately 92 million Korean won was wired to Lee’s bank account from the NIS. Lee, during the last general election, was in charge of planning in the campaign of a lawmaker (whose name we only know as Kim, based on court documents) of the Saenuri Party. Lee and Kim are former classmates and alumni of Yonsei University, where they both majored in political science and diplomacy.

– The online comments and tweets posted by the NIS agents exploit and aggravate regional tensions and include unspeakable expressions. For example, an NIS agent who goes by the online alias ‘jwa-ik hyo-su’ posted comments such as “Kill all Cheollado savages,” degrading the Honam region, and distorted the history of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement by calling it a riot.

– Although the truth of the NIS’ interference in the presidential election was uncovered and exposed by former Chief of Investigations Kwon Eun-hee of the Soo-Seo Police Department, a search and seizure warrant was denied by the order of former Chief Kim Yong-pan of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. The police made an official presentation denying any evidence of illegal NIS online activity before the presidential election, and ignored all digital evidence found by the Soo-Seo Police and Seoul Metropolitan Police.

– Most significantly, the ruling Saenuri Party was involved in covering up the NIS’ interference in the presidential election. Kwon Young-se, then-senior official of Park Geun-hye’s election campaign, was found to have had a conversation with former NIS Chief Won Se-hoon about acquiring the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ (referring to a transcript of the 2007 Inter-Korea Summit in which former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was alleged to have proposed changing the Northern Limit Line), which was in NIS possession. Furthermore, Kim Moo-sung, then-chief of Park Geun-hye’s election campaign, was found to have cited parts of the NLL transcript verbatim in his stump speech in Busan. The day before, former Chief Kim Yong-pan of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency had had a meeting at a restaurant near the Blue House. All this points to a  connection between the Saenuri Party, the NIS and the police, and President Park Geun-hye should be held accountable. It was only through the power of the people’s candlelight protests, with UPP at the helm, that the truth of NIS’ crimes was finally exposed.

2. Candlelight – Hotter than the Summer Heat Wave

– The candlelight protest against the NIS’ political interference was first held in Sejong-ro, Seoul on June 21. About 500 citizens participated in the protest organized by the 21st Century Korean Federation of University Student Councils. One week later on June 28, more than 5,000 people gathered to join the protest organized by the Civil Society Emergency Task Force, which consists of 284 civil society organizations. In the next 50 days, participation grew steadily to about 50,000 in Seoul alone.

– Compared to the candlelight protests against U.S. beef import in 2008, the growth rate is relatively slow. In 2008, the first vigil began with 20,000 people on May 2, grew to 50,000 in 30 days and topped one million people across the country by June. But considering the harsh conditions the NIS protests endured – such as the record-long rainy season that lasted 49 days, the extreme heat wave, and the complete indifference of the mainstream media – the candlelight, it seems, will not be easily extinguished.

– In order to divert public attention from its political involvement in the election, the NIS leaked the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ to raise the specter of a national security threat. The ruling power’s strategy, however, has now backfired. The anger of the people is turning against the Park Geun-hye administration for tacitly allowing and sometimes actively leading attacks against democracy.

– At the candlelight protests, the Civil Society Emergency Task Force called for President Park Geun-hye’s apology, a guarantee that the NIS will not interfere in domestic political affairs, the dismissal of NIS Director Nam Jae-jun, and reform of the NIS. Student unions of Seoul National University, Ewha Women’s University, Duksung Women’s University, Pusan National University, Sookmyung Women’s University and Chonnam National University held a demonstration in front of the Saenuri party headquarters and criticized the party for conducting a deceptive parliamentary investigation and evading responsibility for NIS’ involvement in the presidential election. The Network of Professors and Researchers Concerned about the State of Affairs, composed of 1,900 members, including professors in 70 universities, held a demonstration in front of the NIS. 2,124 Catholic priests – 43% of the priests – signed the Declaration on the State of Affairs. Even the Archdiocese of Daegu, which kept silent during the 1987 June Uprising, issued a declaration signed by about 200 priests – the first of such kind in 102 years.

– To mollify the growing candlelight protest, the ruling Saenuri Party reluctantly agreed to a parliamentary investigation of the NIS’ illegal online campaign. However the 50-day investigation was sabotaged by the NIS as its witnesses refused to take oaths or answer questions, and some even used masks to shield their faces.

– The fight against the NIS for its interference in the presidential election is now calling for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor. The movement to dismantle the NIS drew a clear line in the sand between the Park Geun-hye administration and the democratic forces, and neither side is willing to yield. The demand to dissolve the NIS is no longer just a call for political reform, but has now become an imperative for the entire people’s movement.

– While the candlelight protests against U.S. beef import was limited to criticizing the lack of policies and institutions designed to protect public health, this time, the protest against the NIS targets the reactionary forces themselves, and is gaining momentum despite attempts at sabotage so systemic and consistent that it’s hard not to believe that the administration is behind it. The struggle has now become a death duel between the NIS and the people. More severe persecution will trigger an even bigger reaction.

3. UPP – Guardian of Peace and Democracy

– Not a single day passed in 2013 without the UPP working for the people. Soon after reorganizing the party’s leadership with Representative Lee Jung-hee at its center, UPP faced urgent political and social conditions. From March to May, when the Korean peninsula fell into a crisis of intensifying war threats, UPP organized a wave of anti-war actions calling for peace across the country.  It was in fact the only political party calling for peace. The Party proposed to solve the crisis not through confrontation but dialogue, and insisted “Not another Korean War.” It also proposed signing a Peace Treaty as a fundamental solution.

– UPP Representative Lee Jung-hee issued an urgent appeal on March 6, calling for talks between the relevant states to address the crisis of war threats and encouraging citizens to join the anti-war peace movement. It was UPP that continued to promote a peaceful solution through dialogue amidst the urgent crisis when a military conflict seemed unavoidable after new sanctions against North Korea and the ROK-US joint military drill.

– UPP held an urgent joint meeting of its regional branch chairs on March 23 and organized the ‘5,000 Activists against War and for Peace’ campaign, affirming its determination to make the entire country aspire for peace amidst the crisis of growing war threats. Regional branch chairs insisted on a resolution to resist a war that will “only result in co-destruction” and declare that a peaceful resolution through dialogue and negotiation is the only way to prevent war.  The resolution also called on the U.S., one of the direct parties of the Armistice, to “begin dialogue with North Korea immediately,” and called on the Park Geun-hye admnistration to “dispatch a special envoy to North Korea and launch an inter-Korean dialogue.”

– The 5,000 UPP activists collected 76,888 signatures calling for peace and delivered them to the Blue House on May 2.  ‘Peace trainings,’ organized to raise awareness of party members, was attended by 10,000 members. In July, UPP held the International Peace March and the International Peace Symposium to enhance solidarity with overseas scholars and peace activists.

– On April 25, Legislator Lee Seok-ki presented to the Prime Minister a proposal for a declaration of a permanent ceasefire through four-party talks as a solution to the present crisis. Legislator Lee called on President Park Geun-hye to discuss the proposal in her meeting with President Obama during her state visit to the U.S. in early May. He announced, “If President Park Geun-hye advocates for the declaration of a permanent ceasefire through four-party talks following a trust-building process, UPP will lend our full support.” In this way, whether on the streets or inside the halls of Parliament, UPP was always on the front lines opposing the outbreak of war.

– As soon as the findings of the Prosecutor General’s investigation of the NIS’ illegal interference in the presidential election was released, student members of UPP boldly held the first street march, which became the catalyst for the candlelight protests. UPP Legislator Lee Sang-gyu exposed the NIS’ interference in the presidential election by analyzing CCTV materials during the parliamentary investigation and staged a hunger strike in front of the Blue House to demand accountability from President Park Geun-hye. As a result, UPP gained popular support. Public approval rating for the party increased from 1% in 2012 to 6% in 2013, with more than 10% among people in their 40s.

– The people came to clearly recognize whose side UPP is on and what UPP stands for. Its efforts for peace and leadership in the candlelight struggle against the NIS provided UPP an important opportunity to work with the people and overcome its negative public image of being branded a “pro-North Korean party,” as well as a small opening for forging an alliance of all opposition forces. It was at this precise moment – when UPP was regaining popular support, the frontline of popular struggle was being restored, and opposition forces were beginning to align – that the NIS launched its strike against UPP.

4. Government’s Counterattack for Survival, Resurrection of Yushin and Political Persecution

– The Blue House and the NIS, facing an unprecedented crisis due to the revelation of the NIS’ illegal campaign, launched a massive counterattack on August 28 to turn the table. The NIS issued warrants for search and seizure and the arrest of ten former and current members of UPP’s Gyeonggi Province branch, including Legislator Lee Seok-ki. Three  were arrested. The ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ charge was revived 33 years after former President Kim Dae-jung was arrested on the same charge in 1980.

– Before this, the NIS had tried to use the ‘NLL transcript’ as a wild card to divert criticism over its illegal election campaign. But the plan had backfired and the number of candlelight protest participants had increased from 20,000 to 30,000, then 50,000 and 100,000.  Finally, the NIS fabricated the ‘rebellion conspiracy’ case. This time as well, a manipulated transcript was presented as evidence.

– The NIS leaked the so-called transcript to the media and alleged that Legislator Lee Seok-ki convened a meeting of ‘RO’ (Revolutionary Organization) on May 12 to plot a rebellion. The fact, however, is that the meeting was organized by the Chair of UPP’s Gyeonggi branch in consultation with other executives. Legislator Lee was invited as a lecturer to the party’s membership gathering. After his lecture, the participants had group discussions on ways to prevent a war and realize peace on the Korean Peninsula.

– There is no statement in the so-called transcript that shows that Legislator Lee ordered or conspired a rebellion. On the contrary, it shows that the legislator explicitly told the participants not to carry a gun or a knife. But the NIS and the mainstream media opted not to report on that fact.

– Moreover, some of the participants’ comments in the NIS’ transcript was severely distorted to the point of fabrication. The NIS handling of this case is no different from when it manipulated former President Roh Moo-hyun’s comments in the so-called ‘NLL transcript’ to claim that he gave up the Northern Limit Line (NLL) to North Korea. The NIS and the conservative media produce fabricated and distorted reports to smear UPP in a witch hunt-style trial by media and openly declare their intention to dismantle UPP.

– The ruling Saenuri Party and the opposition Democratic Party passed the arrest motion for Legislator Lee Seok-ki in the National Assembly solely based on the NIS’ unilateral allegation. The next day on September 5, an arrest warrant was issued.

– On September 6, the Saenuri Party submitted a bill, sponsored by all the legislators in its party, to expel Legislator Lee from the National Assembly. The Ministry of Justice established the Task Force on Unconstitutional Political Parties and Organizations to review measures to dissolve UPP and expel its lawmakers from the National Assembly.

– It is clear that the Blue House and the NIS conducted an illegitimate surveillance, bribed an informant, and revived an outdated charge of ‘conspiring a rebellion’ to avert its own crisis. It is trying to intimidate the democratic forces in order to silence and divide the growing national candlelight resistance, which calls on President Park Geun-hye to take responsibility. The smear campaign against UPP is political persecution aimed at destroying the party, which spearheaded the campaign for reform of the NIS, and a warning shot to the progressive and democratic forces. The so-called ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ is a fabricated case by the NIS to exaggerate its own importance amidst growing pressure for its dissolution.

5. NIS – the One that Needs to be Dissolved

– The transcript of the so-called ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ contains comments that are much more damaging and sensational than those in the ‘NLL transcript’. These statements were all fabricated based on the false testimony of an informant who was bribed by the NIS.

– Just as in the so-called ‘Seoul Municipal Government Employee Spy’ case, in which the defendant was found not guilty, the NIS is notorious for having fabricated ‘spy cases’ for the last several decades. This time, the NIS bribed an informant to make false statements about a conspiracy for rebellion that allegedly includes plans to sabotage communication facilities and police stations.

– There is no practical threat of a rebellion nor a specific plan or even physical force capable of usurping national territory or subverting the constitution. Moreover, an individual’s opinion or expression should be protected under the right to freedom of thought and expression. Sadly, the reality of the current situation in Korea is that based solely on what one has said, without any concrete plan or physical action, one can be arrested and punished on charges of plotting a rebellion under the National Security Law.

– The need to prepare for the possibility of war is not just something that’s behind us in the past but reflects the current reality of a divided Korea in its 60th year since the signing of the armistice. The Korean War is not yet over, and without a permanent peace treaty, it can resume at any time. Worrying about a potential collision between North Korea’s nuclear program and the US’ nuclear umbrella with its high-tech stealth bombers flying over our territory is not out of step with today’s reality. It is very much a part of living in a divided country still dominated by anti-communist and anti-North Korea ideology.

– The materialization of anti-communist and anti-North Korea ideology through the National Security Law or a fabricated rebellion conspiracy case serves to strengthen the security state. The present administration exploits inter-Korean conflict to force anti-communism on the people. What we’re witnessing today is how anti-communism manifests as violent authority and becomes a measure of suppression and persecution.

– However, the candlelight protest grows brighter night after night. The 100,000 members of UPP are boldly confronting the persecution and witch hunt launched by the government, the NIS and the conservative media. UPP is regrouping its forces and growing stronger everyday. Civil society organizations are united to fight against government repression and protect democracy. Unless the NIS bribes the judiciary, the fabricated ‘rebellion conspiracy’ case can never win. Rather, it will decide the fate of the NIS and the Park Geun-hye administration. It is the NIS, not the UPP, that will dissolve.




Q&A: The Truth behind the “Conspiracy for Rebellion” Charge

Q1. Wasn’t the May 12 meeting an RO gathering to conspire a rebellion?

– The meeting was a closed meeting organized by UPP’s Gyeonggi branch for party executives and members. Legislator Lee Seok-ki was invited as a lecturer.

– It is absolutely false that it was a gathering of 130 members of an ‘underground organization’.

Q2. Is RO an actual anti-government organization?

– Only in the imagination of the NIS.  There is not a single piece of evidence to substantiate their mention of guns, bombs or violent actions.

– There is no evidence of the existence of such an organization – not even basic  information on when it was founded or who its founding members are.

Q3. According to media reports, Legislator Lee Seok-ki ordered people to prepare fire arms and use military force. Is this true?

– The legislator did not make such a remark. It is a malicious distortion taken out of context.

– On the contrary, he appealed to people to fulfill their mission as progressives to oppose war and realize peace in the worst case event that a war breaks out.

– What he meant by “Let us counter war” is not to start a war but to build the peace movement to oppose war.

– His comments were in the same vein as when he expressed concerns on increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula in his personal report on March 22 as well as on April 25 in the National Assembly.

– As the participants of the meeting have long experiences of working in progressive movement circles, their jargon may sound unfamiliar or strange to others, but the main thrust of Lee’s lecture was ‘Oppose war and realize peace.’

Q4. Doesn’t the NIS have clear physical evidence, such as the meeting transcript?

– First, the NIS should disclose whether or not the transcript was obtained by due process of law and verify that there is no distortion or fabrication in the leaked transcript.

– In the transcript, a mention of “Jeol-du-san” (the Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine) was changed to “gyeol-jeon” (the final battle) shrine; an explicit appeal not to carry guns was distorted to an order to secure guns.

– There is a significant gap between the transcript and the memory and understanding of the participants who were at the meeting.

– The NIS has already been found to have distorted and illegally leaked the transcript of  the inter-Korea Summit. It purposefully changed one letter in former President Roh  Moo-hyun’s remark to make it seem as though he assumed a submissive posture during the summit.

Q5. Is it true that Legislator Lee sang the ‘Red Flag’ song at the May 12 meeting?

– He did not sing the ‘Red Flag’ song at the meeting. But it is true that some activists sometimes do sing the song.

– Contrary to media reports, ‘Red Flag’ is not a North Korean song. The tune is from a German folk song. In the late 1880s, workers in the UK borrowed the tune and created the ‘Red Flag,’ then made it popular across the world. The song was introduced in Korea in the 1930s and sung as a protest song among the anti-Japanese independence fighters.

– It is incidentally also the theme song of Manchester United, which Korean footballer Park Ji-sung plays for. It is also the original version of the chorus of the song ‘Pine Tree.’

Q6. Did Legislator Lee betray state secrets from the National Assembly to RO ?

– All of his requests for documents were part of regular and official parliamentary activities to prepare for budget reviews or parliamentary inspections of government offices. The materials he received were approved by the relevant government offices.

– Regarding his request for documents related to wartime operational control –

▸ He made the request to the Ministry of Defense for the purpose of verifying an April 2 report entitled “S.Korea, U.S. to Keep Combined Forces Command” in Chosun Ilbo

▸ The Ministry of Defense responded that nothing had been confirmed related to the Combined Forces Command and cast doubt on the newspaper’s report.

– Regarding his request for the list of North Korean defectors featured in a KBS program –

▸ He requested a total of seven materials including the program script in response to allegations that the program, the stated mission of which is to promote the shared heritage of the people of North and South Korea, was fanning north-south tensions by featuring the story of North Korean defectors.

▸ KBS responded that it was difficult to make public North Korean defector-related information. The legislator accepted the explanation and didn’t ask for additional documents.

– Regarding his request for information on contingency plans of broadcasting systems for electrical power outages –

▸ Amidst increased public concern on the possibility of blackouts due to the shortage of power, he requested documents to the Ministry of Science, ICT and the Future Planning and the Korea Communications Commission for the purpose of assessing the present situation and creating appropriate countermeasures.

– Regarding his request for information on the Korea Space Launch Vehicle –

▸ The materials he received were those already reported to the National Assembly for budget

deliberations. He requested them to do a feasibility assessment as well as examine its budget allocation in comparison with other R&D budgets as the development of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle is one of President Park’s national priority agendas. He also wanted to learn more about it as he was scheduled to observe the launching of the Arirang 5.

Q7. Were the Russian rubles and U.S. dollars found in his shoe cupboard operational funds for RO?

– The foreign exchange confiscated by the NIS was 10,000 rubles (about 330,000 won) and 600 U.S. dollars.  The rubles and dollars were currency he had exchanged for his business trip to Russia (for the observation of the launching of Arirang 5) from August 18 to 25.

– The rest of the money (in Korean won) was security deposit he was planning to return for lease of his property. The building is included in his official personal property report.

Q8. Did he try to run away in disguise?

– Immediately after the NIS announced the ‘conspiracy for rebellion’ charge against Lee on August 28, news reporters who couldn’t find him falsely reported that Lee Seok-ki was “on the run in disguise.” At that exact moment, however, he was holding a press conference at the National Assembly.

Q9. Is it true that he received letters of loyalty oath?

– The so-called ’57 letters of loyalty oath to Lee Seok-ki’ don’t exist, although the existence of these letters is mentioned in the arrest motion signed by President Park Geun-hye and submitted to the National Assembly.

– Right after the general election in April 2012, he did receive congratulatory letters from UPP members. The letters read, “Congratulations, please work to represent the working class.” These letters do not contain a single word or phrase swearing ‘loyalty.’

– Distorting information so that congratulatory letters become ‘loyalty letters’ is a classic  tactic of the NIS to mislead the media and the people. It is nothing more than a red scare tactic to intimidate the people.

Q10. Is it true that some of his close friends and aids illegally visited North Korea?

– They visited Mt. Kumgang with the official approval of the Ministry of Reunification during the Roh Moo-hyun Administration. Calling the legitimate trip illicit is malicious. The NIS should provide concrete evidence for the allegation.

Q11. Is it true that a recipe for a homemade bomb was found on a desktop computer?

– The NIS and the conservative pro-government media reported that Kim Hong-yeol, Chair of UPP’s Gyeonggi branch had four recipes for homemade bombs on his computer.

– This is a complete fabrication. Chairman Kim Hong-yeol suffers from high-blood pressure and obesity, and he tries very hard to guard his health by walking for an hour-and-a-half or riding a bicycle whenever possible according to the recommendation of his doctor to lose weight. He also frequently downloads health information from internet websites. He downloaded some health-related materials from a health information website called “Miraero Entertainment. Ltd.”. The NIS extracted items from these materials and deliberately fabricated them as ‘a recipe for a homemade bomb.’

– Nitroglycerin is used medically to prevent heart attacks and cellulose is used for skin protection. Potassium nitrate treats toothache and dry ice is used as folk remedy to freeze and eliminate warts.

Q12. Did Legislator Lee Seok-ki have a framed calligraphy of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung’s lifetime motto ‘Hold Up the People as Heaven’ in his home?

– This is also malicious reporting by the media trying to link him with North Korea. ‘Hold Up the People as Heaven (以民爲天)’ was first written by Chinese historian Sima Qian who wrote the Shiji (史記).

– King Sejong of Joseon Dynasty, as well as former President Kim Dae-jung and former Grand National Party leader Kang Jae-seop are all known to have appreciated the idiom.

Q13. Did he use words like ‘decisive stage’ or ‘holy war’ in his May 12 speech to encourage people to wage war?

– He only mentioned ‘Jeol-du-san’ referring to the Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine. The NIS distorted his words to mean the ‘final battle’ shrine in the transcript.



A sign of struggle: the Gwangju uprising and the politics of symbolism

By Taryn Assaf

Since the tragic incident that befell the citizens of Gwangju, South Korea, in May of 1980, events commemorating this time have stood as a symbol of strength, unity and power among citizens throughout the country. Subsequent revolutions, such as the democracy movement of 1987 and various workers movements have drawn upon the Gwangju uprising as a symbol of the fight for democracy. Although the uprising did not directly lead to democracy in Korea, it is still heralded as a leading example of the fight against oppression in the name of human rights.

A commemoration continues every year on May 18 to honor the uprising and its historical place in the lineage of Korean democratization. A variety of festivals and cultural events fill the historic Geunnamro- the street upon which the battles between citizen and soldier were fought- for the purpose of educating people about the uprising under the theme of remembrance. A variety of stalls line the street, some promoting various political causes and charities, some offering the opportunity to make Gwangju-themed woodblock art and others dressed in sketches of political satire. Cheers and songs can be heard in the distance from groups rallying for workers rights; indeed, the feeling is light and jovial. Smiles can be seen on the faces of most- and the energy is emblematic of a spirit that was first ignited in May of 1980.

The mood at the May 18 Cemetery is much more somber, as it reflects the tragedy of lives lost. The cemetery is divided into two: the old and the new. After the massacre in 1980, the bodies of the deceased were buried in what is now considered the “old/unofficial” cemetery. However, the “old/unofficial” cemetery also contains the bodies of those who struggled for democratization in the years leading to the June Uprising in 1987: students and activists who self-immolated in public displays of protests or were kidnapped and tortured to death in their efforts to expose the truth about the Korean and American government’s involvement in the massacre. These people were buried in the same cemetery as those who died from direct involvement in 1980. However, in 1997 the bodies of those who died in the uprising (as well as those who died in the direct aftermath from physical or mental injuries) were exhumed and moved to the “new/official” cemetery. The Memorial Hall Museum and the 40-foot Memorial Tower were also built there, while the bodies of those who died in the years following the uprising were kept in the humble fields behind the new project. The two cemeteries came to represent two different aspects of the uprising: the new, designed to represent a commemoration of past sacrifices and the old marked by the symbolism of a continuing struggle. Interesting to note is the suggestion evident in the process of naming. Equating “new” with “official” and “old” with “unofficial” serve to influence popular conception of the significance of the different actors involved in the uprising, their place in history, their ideologies and their legacies. Two separate ceremonies for 2013 were held in honor of the uprising and those lost, although they marked a significant difference in the approach to commemorating the tragedy. While both ceremonies were attended by family members of the deceased and members of the general public, the official ceremony at the new cemetery was also attended by Heads of State, while the unofficial ceremony at the old cemetery, was attended by labor unions, student groups and activists.  The divergent themes expressed in both ceremonies symbolized an acute polarization of opinion regarding the present meaning of the Gwangju uprising and the state of human rights in Korea, thereby coming to represent two different interpretations of democracy: one in which democracy has been fought for and attained, and the other in which democracy has yet to be fully achieved. The question lingers: does the uprising live as a historical memory or as a present example of the people’s struggle?

At the official ceremony, a large stage in front of Memorial Tower was centered in between large screens and was wired with speakers, microphones and cameras; facing the stage and the tombs lining the hill behind it were hundreds of chairs reserved for guests, including politicians (Park Geun-Hye, the country’s conservative president, being the most notable), families of those killed in the uprising and members of the public. Police presence was particularly acute, with hundreds of officers lining gates and the sidelines of the ceremony. Dozens of police buses narrowed the streets surrounding the cemetery, as if warning some unseen enemy. It seemed odd, indeed ironic, to so heavily secure a memorial for the deaths of those who had fought to overcome heavy security. Nevertheless, this was the ceremony the country would see via mainstream media coverage, thus the mood was kept somber and serious; the set up, careful and elaborate; the surveillance, pervasive and intimidating. Movement was limited, as those who left the ceremony were not allowed re-entry. Taken together, the character of this arrangement was representative of the government’s efforts to control the attendance, program, and perception of the ceremony and the carefully managed themes chosen to symbolize it. This was especially evident in the Park government’s decision to exclude the singing of the song “March for the Beloved” in the ceremony, a song composed in 1981 in memory of the uprising. The song has since been sung at many, if not most, protests organized by labor unions and progressives as a symbol of the spirit of democracy. However, past and present conservative governments have viewed the song as “controversial”, indicating a conflict of ideologies that led to its planned exclusion in this year’s ceremony. After protests and an occupation at the entrance of the memorial park, the government’s final decision was a compromise: the song would be sung by a choir and whoever chose to could sing along; President Park chose not to.

Park did try to offer some words of encouragement in a speech, saying that “the ultimate goal of democracy is to ensure the happiness of the people.” The implications of this statement became unclear as she continued, “It is time to change the economic paradigm from that of one oriented toward quantitative growth to qualitative growth and to expand democracy from the social and political sphere to the realm of the economy.” This statement shifts the focus of the democratic pursuit from social/political to economic, insisting that democracy should no longer focus solely on liberating society and politics from its oppressors, but on liberating the economy from its as well[1]. This implication takes precedence away from current issues blocking peoples’ and workers’ rights- many of which stem from neoliberal economic policies- towards bolstering the conservative polity and a denial of rights violations, past and present, as they link to government and economy. The bloody massacre was inherently tied to government and economy, as it was supported by the Carter administration in order to ensure American investments in Korea, investments dependent on the preservation of the Chun Doo-Hwan government. Had the government been successfully overthrown by the uprising, it would have cost American investors millions of dollars of potential profits. The American government has never taken responsibility for their involvement in the massacre, leading many to believe that “the Gwangju issue is a U.S issue; it has not yet been solved,” as declared by one man to a crowd boycotting the official ceremony. Park’s recent visit to the U.S, where she and President Obama reaffirmed their commitment to the market economy, begs one to question her definition of “happiness” and how the issue of the economy is relevant at such a memorial. Many have also accused the President of not understanding peoples’ struggles from a peoples’ perspective. As the daughter of Park Chun-Hee (the infamous dictator credited for the development of Korea’s tiger economy but criticized as a repressive leader who restricted many personal freedoms) and nicknamed a “princess”, she has described her father’s rule as being a “revolution to save the country” and has thus been criticized for not understanding the full scope of her father’s legacy, particularly the harm it caused many Korean citizens. The unwillingness to acknowledge the full scope of her father’s rule, the banning of the song and her statements in the ceremony leads to the troubling implication that she does not understand- nor does she seem interested in understanding- the spirit of the Gwangju uprising and the subsequent movements that have adopted this spirit into their own struggles. How can the happiness of the people be achieved if the president herself cannot recognize the existence of their struggle? Indeed, this idea was presented in the speech of one man at an overnight sit-in in front of the cemetery. On the eve of May 18, a number of activists, labor unions and citizens gathered outside the main gate of the cemetery (aptly named Democracy’s Gate) to boycott the coming ceremony in protest of the ban of “March for the Beloved”. Amidst the glow of candlelight, the song was sung by the crowd between short speeches criticizing the government’s decision. “The consciousness of May 18 is our struggle’s consciousness,” declared the man, who went on to say “the fact that she (Park Geun-Hye) banned the song proves the Gwangju spirit is not inside of her.” The Gwangju spirit is one that fights for democracy in the context of human rights, not the economy. Had the president visited the old cemetery, perhaps she could have experienced what it means to possess this spirit.

The “unofficial” ceremony at the old cemetery differed greatly from the new/official. Activists, journalists, labor unions, student groups, organizers, members of the public and families of the fallen mingled between the rows of graves which sloped downward toward a makeshift wooden stage against a backdrop of hundreds of tombstones sprawled over the tumbling fields of the Citizen’s Park behind it. Rather than police, the entrance to the cemetery was occupied by activists rallying to end worker’s rights abuses perpetrated by Samsung. No elaborate gates, museums or monuments decorated this cemetery, only the graves of martyrs and their altars telling their stories of sacrifice. As mentioned previously, most of those buried in this cemetery were those who died in the years after May 1980 in their pursuit to expose the truth of the uprising, as post-1980 Korea experienced a media blackout by Chun Doo-Hwan’s military government in hopes of suppressing the truth about their sanctioning of the massacre in order to maintain tight control on the nation and discourage any further uprisings. The cemetery therefore represented a continuation of the struggle – the continued fight for justice, truth and democracy. As groups traversed the rows of graves to pay their respects and offer moments of silence, Jeon Tae-Sam, brother of the late Jeon Tae-Il, who, in 1970, self-immolated in the name of worker’s rights and has since become the symbol of the Korean labor movement, spoke about his role in organizing workers and supporting workers rights.  He spoke of the importance of working together as people on the path towards social justice. His words echoed the spirit of the dead and were reminiscent of the current obstacles to securing people’s rights in Korea and abroad.

The keynote speaker to this ceremony was chairman Oh Jeong-Ryul (오종렬) who has been a leading figure in the pursuit of bringing truth to the happenings of May 18 since his involvement in 1980. He spoke passionately about the vital need for peace and re-unification in the context of the Gwangju uprising. “We need peoples’ and workers’ liberation,” he said, adding “The divided people must become one again. We must re-unify for the people of Gwangju.” He explained that the labeling tactics used against Gwangju citizens as “rebels”, “rioters”, “mobsters”, “communists” and “North Korean sympathizers” were used by the government to delegitimize the uprising and shift popular support away from a revolutionary ideology. This could not have been possible in a unified Korea. This process of labeling continues today, he went on, and thus it is as important as ever to continue to fight for justice -for peace- through re-unification. In a video letter (the transcript of which you can download here) addressed to a gathering of Korean-Americans and those concerned about Korean peace and reunification, he described the cemetery as “filled with the democratic yearnings of our people”, a statement that aptly captures the symbolic nature of the ceremony and the old cemetery which houses it each year. “March for the Beloved” was also sung numerous times and in several formats (one with the accompaniment of a clarinet). In reference to the banning of the song, Oh criticized the Park government, shouting “How dare they ban it; for a democratic country we must respect the song and its meaning.” The ceremony thus came to represent much more than a remembrance of those lost; it represented an ongoing struggle for rights, peace and liberation, and in this way, embodied an interpretation of democracy that extends beyond the history of its achievement and emphasized that in remembering the sacrifices of the dead, we must not forget the struggles of the living; for the two are implicated in the same system of oppression that continues exploit the rights of human beings today.

Sometimes, ideas present themselves through the subtle nuances of signs and symbols. In order to understand those ideas and to question their implications, it is important to deconstruct the occurrences of our everyday existence. Just as a picture can say a thousand words, a single phrase, a common action or an organized event can house a thousand meanings. What people say (or don’t), how people behave (or misbehave) and what events are covered (or ignored) can speak volumes on an issue, if only we take the time to understand what they are saying. To begin understanding the state of democracy in Korea, we must look for signs of struggle where there seem to be none. We must examine events, people, words and actions to discover what democracy means and what achieving it entails. The May 18 memorial ceremonies, both official and unofficial, symbolized two differing democratic ideologies that presented themselves through their different interpretations of the meaning of the Gwangju uprising- one places the achievement of democracy in the past while the other continues to seek its establishment. One can only hope that the legacies of those struggles continue to thrive through the actions that represent them, and that they are never, ever forgotten.

[1] It should be noted that many in the social movement are not opposed to the idea of economic democratization per se, but they do believe that Park’s notion is weak, skewed, contradictory, and ultimately unviable given the many private interests she needs to satisfy.