[Editorial] 30 years after June Movement, time for an age of people power

Posted on : 2017-06-10 13:52 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
South Korean President Moon Jae-in makes a speech during a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the June 10 Democratization Movement at the Seoul Plaza on June 10
South Korean President Moon Jae-in makes a speech during a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the June 10 Democratization Movement at the Seoul Plaza on June 10

June 10 marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the 1987 June Democratization Movement against the oppressive military dictatorship of the time. Thirty years ago, millions of ordinary citizens, including students, gathered in the downtown areas of major cities around the country and fought against riot police with their bare hands, setting a milestone for democracy in South Korea. But the path of democratization was not a smooth one. It was not until a decade later, in December 1997, that a truly democratic government came into power, elected by a majority of the citizenry. Then ten years after the democratic regimes of Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moo-hyun (2003-08) we saw a return to the old ways.

The climax of this reactionary trend came with the unprecedented political scandal brought on by former president Park Geun-hye and Choi Sun-sil. The spirit of the June Movement was rekindled in candlelight protests against Park's regressive government, and the revolt gave birth to a new democratic government on May 9. Like a page from a memoir of the events of 1987, the fight led by student activists Park Jong-chul and Lee Han-yeol has not died out but rather has become the seed of a revived candlelight revolution, giving the citizenry a proud sense of direct connection to the June Movement of 30 years ago.

It has taken a generation, but the long struggle to break the shackles of the old ways of government has proved to be of great significance as Moon Jae-in and other leaders of the June Movement take their first successful steps as leaders of a new democratic government. It is a sign that in spite of all its missteps along the way, history is advancing in a positive direction.

Now we have reached a stage when we need to go beyond the June Movement and launch a new era, and the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in democratic administration is the signal to begin. The historical significance of the June Movement is that it marks our departure from the "developmental dictatorship" of Park Chung-hee (in office 1961-79) as our society entered an age of democratization characterized by respect for human rights, the power of the citizenry, the end of the Cold War, and the market economy. The political and social system brought about by the June Movement is commonly referred to as the "'87 system," and although it has many positive attributes, such as the advancement of democracy, many shadowy aspects remain, such as a political system that disregards the ordinary citizenry and gives the president excessive powers, exaggerates economic polarization, and leads to the formation of intensely ideological blocs.


The candlelight protests of last winter were a repeat of the 1987 situation, as citizens fought against the Park Geun-hye administration in order to restore democracy. But at the same time, they were an outcry for us to overcome the limitations of the '87 system. Followed, as they were, by the birth of a new democratic government, they have provided us with an opportunity to fully achieve our democratic goals. True change and reform cannot be accomplished through the work of the National Assembly alone. They demand active participation and oversight by all citizens if we are to succeed in making the values and goals of the June Movement and the candlelight revolution a reality.

As the curtain falls on the '87 system, this is what we see as the primary task of the Moon Jae-in administration. It must base its rule not just on the democratic spirit that confronted the military dictatorship of days gone by but must take responsibility for building a society that puts people, their welfare, their equal and fair treatment, and their happiness first.

The feature that the June Movement and the candlelight revolution have in common is that they both strove to achieve their goals peacefully, with the support of a majority of the citizenry. We hope that everyone in the new government will bear this in mind as they carry out the work of reform and consolidation. They must always take the people's side, see matters through the people's eyes, and never forget that their mandate was given them by the people. That is the way to live up to the spirit of that June of so many years ago.

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

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