Saturday, January 9, 2010

Demonstration in Yongsan

This afternoon a moving parade of peaceful demonstrators, registered through the Seoul city office according to pre-planned time and exact route not to be deviated from, took place. The first signs in the Yongsan area of the demonstration were the streets lined with riot police buses and their accompanying fully uniformed soldiers with each bus having a special designation of uniform specifying the soldiers style of fighting. When in the distance a crescendo~ing cacophony of blaring 5-key traditional percussion ensemble with accompanying pansori (traditional narrative music sung with great ululation and feeling) and its most assuredly political message is heard, the busloads of soldiers jump into formation to line the streets and ensure that the demonstrators do not deviate from their registered route and do not incite the crowds to react.

The purpose of the demonstration is very political - the Yongsan area people are protesting the 재개발 (restructuring or redeveloping) plan of President Lee Myung Bak in their Yongsan area. If the 재개발 gets enforced, the people will basically become homeless as they are too poor to afford alternative housing in the Seoul area. As the plan is now, the people are to be oosted from their homes because the President has decided to restructure the Yongsan area for more economic development. The people feel disregarded and unrepresented in the government, and so are demonstrating and have been doing so for a full year now.

However, today there's a new element in their demonstration. This demonstration is the funeral ceremony of the 5 men who died while demanding to be heard and refusing to be dislocated from the building where they lived. The five men, on the principle that they have inherent rights and those should be heard by the government, refused to leave their building and climbed to the top floor where riot police aggressively came at them; as one jouralist said, the actions of the riot police was "MB style" [MB being short for (President Lee) Myung Bak. These events were all reported to me at the demonstration by 2 journalists who wanted me to understand the dynamics at play on the street today]. Although the 5 men reportedly remained peaceful, the fray of aggression and confusion resulted in the accidental lighting of a flammable substance similar to alcohol which ended up claiming the 5 men's lives and one riot police's.

Due to the political situation, the bodies of the 5 men remained in hospital custody for a full year [while protesting family members are in jail]. Only today were the bodies released for burial purposes. The demonstration, a peaceful one, is the parade of Yongsan residents marching the 5 men's bodies through the streets to the final burial site. Mourners not related to the family wear white arm bands in respect to the deceased. The long unrolled bolts of white silky cloth preceding and accompanying the hearses with their unfortunate cargo are the color of death; that is, mourners wear white and not the black of the west.

The 5 men have now become icons in the battle against redevelopment. Their collective pictures in clouds of red smoke stylizing the fire that caused their death is carried solemnly. Following the hearses, each carrying a body of the deceased 5, is also a great picture of each man who died the death of a martyr to the cause.

The marching civilians are chanting. A van with massive mounted loudspeakers and a lady standing boldly amongst them, passes, loudspeakers blaring her rallying persuasions and shouts. Traffic cops walk along unconcernedly. Riot police surround the very distant tail of the marching mass to hem it in and "control" it.

Though the demonstration comes to an end, the cause still baldly lies across the lap of the economically-focused government with resolution incomplete.

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