Old folks at conservative rallies engaged in a “struggle for recognition”

Posted on : 2017-02-07 16:38 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
In candlelight rallies and Pres. Park’s impeachment, some elderly people saw their values and culture being lost
 leader of the Saenuri Party’s emergency committee
leader of the Saenuri Party’s emergency committee

The police estimated that 30,000 people attended the fifth conservative rally calling for President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment to be overturned, in central Seoul on Dec. 17, 2016. Most of the protesters were elderly, and Choi Hyeon-sook, 60, was there. Choi approached a crying woman in her 60s holding the South Korean flag in her hand in front of the Constitutional Court. Choi comforted the woman, who said she had come up from Busan with people from her church.

“It’s touching that so many people gathered together like this,” the woman in her 60s said. After the woman stopped crying, she and her friends started to “educate” Choi, who looked like a new “patriotic citizen.” “Politicians and the owners of the media all had babies with the North Korean ‘pleasure brigade’ back when Kim Dae-jung was president [1998-2003], and they’re following orders from [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un. We heard it on a podcast,” they told her.

Choi attended three of the conservative rallies - on Dec. 10, Dec. 17 and Dec. 31, 2016 - rallies that are a mishmash of anxiety and alienation, or extremist claims and fears. She used to campaign for progressive politics, and she has worked as a social worker for elderly people living alone since 2007. She is also an author who has published three books containing living oral histories of the elderly.

Choi sat down with a Hankyoreh reporter at a cafe in the Daeheung neighborhood of Seoul on Feb. 2. “I had a strong desire to understand the elderly, rather than lumping them all together and treating them as a subject of mockery,” Choi said when asked why she had gone to the Conservative rallies.

After Choi began attending the protests, she joined the online community of the Association of People Who Love Park Geun-hye (Parksamo), and she repeatedly watched videos on YouTube containing remarks made at the Conservative assemblies. She also got in the habit of listening to their favorite podcasts. “The cries of the elderly people at the conservative rallies are a kind of struggle for recognition,” Choi concluded.

“The elderly have been excluded and pushed aside economically, socially and spatially. This kind of struggle for recognition culminates in an irrational desire to take down the system with them. Worryingly, there are increasing signs of a radical shift,” Choi said. The sweeping criticism of all the mainstream media in the conservative rallies, Choi says, “is likely due to the fact they’ve lost the conservative media they thought were partially on their side, which makes them feel as if their era, their values and their culture are being destroyed.”

“In such a situation, they’re trying to hold on in any way they can. In a certain sense, Park Geun-hye serves as an emblem of these feelings of loss,” she added.

Kim Moon-soo
Kim Moon-soo

Elderly citizens at pro-Park rallies feel fear and exclusion

For the elderly, vague fears and anxieties are a constant presence. “Even if the president made a mistake, politicians should have let her quietly step down. For people to take to the streets and create chaos in the government isn’t helpful for South Korean society. The conservative rallies should quietly accept whatever the decision may be, whether or not the impeachment is overturned,” Choi said she heard from an 80-something elderly person she met at a conservative rally.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

“The candlelight protests on the street looked like chaos to the elderly, and they’ve equated it with their memories of war. Elderly people who have never had the chance to get over the memories hardwired into their bodies are afraid of chaos in the government, and they seemed to strongly feel that this situation needed to be stopped no matter what,” Choi said.

The conservative rallies have also swayed the opinions of elderly people who did not join them. “I‘ve asked about twenty elderly people I know how they think about Park Geun-hye. Until early December of last year, all of them criticized her. But gradually more of them started feeling sorry for Park for being tricked or saying that all politicians are corrupt. By now, I would say it’s about 70% of them,” Choi said.

The arguments that the president made mistakes but was deceived by Choi Sun-sil and that corruption is nothing new are the messages that are constantly communicated in the conservative rallies. “They’re gradually spreading from the speeches at the rallies to the crowds at the rallies, and from there to the senior centers in various neighborhoods,” Choi said. The conservative rallies are having a bigger effect than expected, she thinks.

Civic groups are busily pondering the significance of the candlelight rallies, but Choi urged them not to forget about the conservative rallies. “Many people regard them as being part of another world, but the elderly people who are banished to that world are ultimately part of Korean society as well,” she said.

“I understand it can be too exasperating to watch. The protesters at the candlelight rallies worked hard to examine and to address a lot of hatred inside us. We must not give up the effort to reach out to those people as well,” Choi said. 

Choi Hyeon-sook during an interview with a Hankyoreh reporter at a cafe in the Daeheung neighborhood of Seoul on Feb. 2. (by Kim Bong-kyu
Choi Hyeon-sook during an interview with a Hankyoreh reporter at a cafe in the Daeheung neighborhood of Seoul on Feb. 2. (by Kim Bong-kyu

By Bang Jun-ho, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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