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Occupy South Korea: A Ghost Encampment

April 8, 2012

photo by Lauriel

by Lauriel Schuman

On my first day in South Korea while wandering around Seoul looking for any sign of activism (which tends to be what I do when I travel!) I came across what I can only assume is Occupy South Korea. I couldn’t be sure as there was no one around to ask but two police officers who motioned for me not to take photos. I saw a handful of tents that appeared as if they were being used, but no one was in them. I was able to casually snap a few pictures, but when I asked if I could read the sign that described their struggle and the struggle of the 99% in Korea, one of the officers made a gesture to put my camera away. I told him I just wanted to read the sign and he let me get a peek. Unfortunately, the sign was obscured behind a chair and I dared not move it. I then continued to casually wander around the area trying to see if anyone would emerge from a tent, but no one did, so I continued on my way.

Occupy South Korea seemed to be a ghost encampment, which was almost stranger than no encampment at all. Was everyone at work? Was the camp evicted and the tents being held (in their place) as evidence? Was it a symbolic camp? Unfortunately, I was not going to find out.

Earlier in the day the woman who was working at the front desk of my guesthouse indicated that she studied environmental science, so I felt comfortable asking her if there was any local activism going on, to which she replied, “yes, but freedom of speech is severely restricted here.” She said that there are often small protests around the city, but they are quickly stopped.

So, now I have more questions than answers, but ultimately seeing a grouping of tents (even empty ones) holding space in public, brought me an amazing amount of comfort and excitement and made me feel at home. I just hope that the South Koreans, like the rest of the activists in the world working within this movement, are able to keep moving forward in the face of an incredible uphill battle and find comfort and hope in knowing they are not alone.

photo by Lauriel

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2 Responses to Occupy South Korea: A Ghost Encampment

  1. Jude on April 9, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Thank you :)

  2. Sarah Morrigan on April 9, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    South Korea has one of the most restrictive laws regarding speech among the members of the OECD. South Korea also criminalizes anonymous or pseudonymous postings on the Internet. The ruling New Frontier Party (formerly called the Grand National Party) and its leader Lee Myung-Bak (aka “2MB” as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his alleged two-megabyte memory capacity) has instituted a repressive regime in south Korea in the name of “national security.”

    South Korea has a long history of military-paramilitary-police suppression of mass movements and any ideologies that could possibly be considered “socialist” or “communist.” To this day large commercial conglomerates such as Hyundai, Daewoo and Samsung receive favorable treatments by the south government, while union activities are severely restricted.

    All this is with tacit approval of the U.S. government, which continues to use south Korea as a base for military activities in East Asia. In addition to well-known bases such as Osan, now the U.S. navy is building a new naval base on the island of Jeju, defying the massive protests and outcries by the locals and potentials for extensive environmental and ecological damages to the island and its biome.

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