In recent days, lots of controversial issues have prevailed in Korea. The problems have become a little bit more silent now, but they still have a long way to go. These kinds of troubles also happened in the past. However, all troubles have gotten better because of lots of people’s efforts throughout all ages. When candlelight gathers, it becomes a torch, and all of us realizing this power again.
●Flash of Hope throughout the World
- The French Revolution: The French Revolution can be defined as a typical civil revolution that shook France from 1787 through 1799. While supporting the War of Independence, the finances of France got worse. Therefore, France’s bourgeoisie abolished feudalism and formed the National Assembly and declared the Declaration of Rights of humans and citizens. Also, the National Assembly declared a republican form. However, neighboring countries worried about the spread of the French Revolution and fought against France. With this, France organized a citizen army and conducted a war against neighboring countries. Although the revolution was ended by Napoleon's coup, the French Revolution nevertheless politically overthrew the absolute monarchy and let citizens take power. The revolution economically eradicated the last vestiges of feudalism and made way for the smooth development of capitalism. Socially, the revolution broke down a status-based system and its legal injustice and privilege. As a result of the French Revolution, the citizens won against the aristocratic class, and the country could be developed as a free and an equal modern civil society. Also, the French Revolution became a chance to spread liberty and equality to European society.
- Prague Spring: After the campaign of de-Stalinization in 1956 in the Soviet Union, still the Stalinist Novotny administration continued in Czechoslovakia. With this, people's complaints increased and people’s desires were high for democratization and liberalization. Hence, the elite of Czechoslovakia were up in arms about this and started an organized movement for the realization of democratization and liberalization. In this situation, in January 1968, Novotny resigned and the reformist Dubček became the first secretary of the party. Reformists adopted a platform at a session in April. The contents were about independence, the establishment of the parliamentary system, the abolition of a pre-censorship system, the establishment of democratic election law, and guaranteed freedom of speech and press. Through the reform, the “Prague Spring” remained. However, the Soviet army was concerned this would impact the communist countries of Eastern Europe. Therefore, on August 20, 1968, Czechoslovakia was illegally invaded by about 20 million people from five countries’ militaries of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, including the Soviet Union. This made people stop the liberalization movement, and reformist leaders were purged and the “Prague Spring” ended.
●Yes, We Can!
- The May 18 Democratic Uprising: The tragic incident took place in Gwangju and Jeolla-do in May 1980. After the assassination of President Park Chung-hee, a new military junta took control of Korea. The junta imposed martial law and controlled most of the media. Even worse, they ran counter to democracy, banning students’ political activities and shutting down every university. In particular, the democratic uprisings in Gwangju occurred consistently, so the Special Warfare Brigade had quelled the uprising ruthlessly. Furthermore, the code name of its operation was known as “Splendid Holiday,” which is known as what the army chief of staff promised the soldiers if they succeeded in the suppression. At the time, a CBNU student, Lee Se-jong, was injured badly by the soldiers and found dead in front of CBNU First Students Hall. He is officially the first victim of the military junta. During The May 18 Democratic Uprising, citizens were unjustly accused of being espionage agents or communist agitators; however, they fought against force and wrongs for justice. Despite their noble sacrifice, some of them are denounced as political spies, so Gwangju City makes an effort to regain their honor.
- Impeachment of President Park: Recently, Koreans were in shock about the political scandal of the former president Park Geun-hye. An unofficial aide of Park Geun-hye, Choi Soon-sil, exploited her position to satisfy her selfish interests and desires. Besides, her daughter entered a prestigious Korean university illegally. Even worse, it turned out that the government did not take care in handling the tragic sinking of the Sewol, which happened in 2014. After these back-scratching alliances of government and businesses were discovered, the government suppressed the facts continually. Many Koreans were very incensed at the government, and citizens held candlelight rallies every Saturday since last October to get to the bottom of the scandals. According to a Korean Gallup poll, last December, fully 78% of Koreans wanted to impeach the president. Finally, the Constitutional Court impeached President Park Geun-hye this March. As a result, she was not only the first woman president but also the first impeached president in Korea.
●Torchlight beyond Candlelight
These days, a new kind of rally, the candlelight vigil, has begun to emerge. At first, it was started by anti-war campaigners like Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. In Korea, the first candlelight vigil was conducted after two high school girls were crushed to death by a U.S armored car. This accident coincided with the 2002 World Cup, so it was difficult to get a lot of attention. To make matters worse, the U.S government declared the U.S army innocent. Since then, some teenagers and reporters held a candlelight vigil voluntarily and this spread all over the nation. Now, the candlelight vigil has become one of the Korean customs that assert public opinion peacefully. In particular, the internet contributed to gathering public members who are indifferent to societal problems. Using the online media, people communicated with one another and formed public opinion easily. Furthermore, this phenomenon led even teenagers to express their opinions about social problems. Since the candlelight vigils against U.S beef in 2008, there have been no specific organizers of candlelight vigils, but anyone, like students or office workers, hold them peacefully and spontaneously for the public. In this way, candlelight vigils show that common people can pose social issues without official political sponsors.
Then, do you know why people use candles, which are small and weak? A candle burns itself to brighten the surroundings, which means sacrifice for others. It can also fill the whole world when many are gathered, so a candle means concentration. Furthermore, a candle can wait until dawn with its light, which means a dream and hope for a better world. Moreover, a candle can show the right direction to people. Meanwhile, considering the character of the candlelight vigil, busy contemporary people can join it after their work, so recently candlelight vigils became one of the democratic customs.
Sociologists evaluate the candlelight vigil as a new starting point of direct democracy. In particular, Korean law on assembly and demonstration prohibits any rally after sunset but allows cultural events, so Korean candlelight vigils have been developed as cultural events. For example, in the recent rally for the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, there were free speech segments and some famous mentors hosted talk shows for the young generations. Furthermore, during the long rallies, many singers gave concerts, so candlelight vigils were not complex, boring events. This year, Seoul City plans to apply for the Korean candlelight vigil to be recorded by UNESCO and to nominate this for the Nobel Peace Prize. Using just a candle, people have addressed injustice and contributed to a better democratic society without violence. Light wins over darkness, but darkness never wins over light. In the past, the public used fire as their weapon to struggle against the corrupt regime and claim their rights. On the other hand, now, the public uses fire as a quiet cry for a just society. Do you believe that candlelight can be torchlight?
●CBNU Students: Always in the Center of Change!
- 2016.10.28 Declaration: CBNU students had a declaration in front of the monument of Lee Se-jong, patriotic martyr. CBNU’s 48th student council announced in the declaration “why today's shame of Korea is ours” and why it was beyond deplorable. The student council said, “We will follow the footsteps of our seniors who were dedicated to the democracy of Korea. And we will act until Korea becomes normal. Also, we require clean investigation and heavy punishment of related people and follow-up measures to eradicate power-related corruption. Moreover, Chung Yoo-ra brought a sense of betrayal to those of us who have learned the costs of healthy efforts in society.” After the declaration, CBNU students had a time for free speech. Most students raised the question of whether this country is a democratic republic or a “Choi Soon-sil republic.” Moreover, students confirmed, “We will not be silent any more, and government should take the responsibility.”- 2016.11.5 & 2016.11.12 Protest Rally: On November fifth, more than 3,000 CBNU students and inhabitants of Jeollabuk-do participated in a protest at Jeonju Five-way Intersection Square. At that time, the president of the CBNU student council gave a speech and people had a time to speak freely. After speeches, people marched, holding candlelight, following the performance of the CBNU pungmul band club ‘Deongdeokung’ and had time to see the performance of the CBNU club Entertainment at Pungnammun. On November 12th, the CBNU student council rented two buses and headed to Seoul’s Gwanghwamun with about 80 students who intended to attend. - 2016.12.9 Candlelight Protest: On December ninth at the CBNU Old Gate, despite the season of final exams, more than 500 students gathered. They read a declaration and also had a time for free speech and a performance. After that, people turned the lights off and paid a silent tribute and marched around the campus holding candles, following the CBNU club ‘Deongdeokung’. They also headed to the monument of patriotic martyr Lee Se-jong and paid a silent tribute before finishing the protest.
Even though revealing the truth demanded sacrifice, people were content to give up their youth, dreams, and even lives. They united together, not as just one or two heroes but as common people, and finally contributed to realizing a just society. No matter how much the soldiers armed themselves, they could not dampen citizens’ aspirations for democracy and justice.