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(Part 2) A Historical Review of Gwangju Democratization Movement: Its Development and Historical Significance
Date : 2008-10-27     Hit : 4552
(Second part - Continuation) 2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising


by Jeong Geunsig,
Department of Sociology,
Jeonnam National University

1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising



2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising

The Gwangju Minjung Uprising was on the one hand an event that forced a shift to democratization by removing any justification for the military authoritarian government. On the other hand, it was an event that lies in the transient period of the later military regime's power acquisition by its failure to immediately terminate the military authoritarian government. Why did this historical event take place in Gwangju in May 1980?

1) Development of 1979-80 Regime

For a general understanding of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising in 1980, it is necessary to consider comprehensively the macroscopic level of the world order and the northeastern Asian system after 1945, the divided state of the Korean peninsula and, as one of its constituents, the formation and crisis of the Yusin regime, and the regional context that the city of Gwangju stands for in contemporary Korean history. This event, not only in terms of its background and cause but also in terms of its result, is bound to the cold war system in northeast Asia, the divided state of North and South Korea, the conflict between the authoritarian Yusin regime as the agent of the Korean industrialization drive and the massive population isolated from the industrialization drive, and the isolation of the Honam region in the structure of regional imbalance. At the same time, however, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising also functioned as the historical momentum that brought forth shifts in such systems and the relationships among them at all levels.

The divided state in Korea has been structuralized ever since 1953. The divided state is characterized by the strenuous, highly intensive mobilization system of North Korea, and the mutual conflict and functional interdependence between the military authoritarian regime with the civilian regime in South Korea. The military authoritarian regime, which lasted from 1961 to 1992, formed a nation of strong security under the divided state and severely oppressed civilian freedom. The Korean military authoritarian regime consists of the former regime that lasted from 1961 to 1979, and the latter regime that lasted from 1980 to 1992. The 1979-80 regime, which faced the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, existed in the transition of the former authoritarian regime to the latter one.

The Gwangju Minjung Uprising in 1980 was the fatal confrontation in which the two political forces - 1. the military authorities who wanted to maintain the previous system and the economic growth strategy, and 2. the force who resisted the military authorities and advocated democracy and human rights--in course of the 1979-80 regime's development. Therefore, the background and cause for the Gwangju Minjung Uprising should be studied in relation to the character of the Yusin system that started in 1972, and the tradition of its resultant democratization movement, especially the democratization movement from 1979 to the first half of 1980.

During the formation of the divided state in Korea, groups resisting the system were dis-empowered and numerous civilians were massacred. The diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and China in the 1970s began to loosen cold war tension in northeastern Asia, and the divided state in the Korean peninsula was forced to change in one way or another, for it had functioned in close relationship with the northeastern Asian cold war tension. The Declaration of South and North Korea in 1972 was a symbolic expression of such a shift. But Bag Jeonghi's regime took advantage by strengthening his domestic power, resulting in an unlawful, long-term ruling system. Park established the Yusin system that deprived citizens of all free democratic rights. The Yusin system deprived citizens of the right to direct the Presidential election and infringed on even such fundamental rights as the freedom of assembly and association. Emergency measure number 9 was a super-legal measure at the heart of his oppressive politics. Bag Jeonghi's regime tried to compensate for the loss of political freedom with economic fruit, which was not so successful.

From a macroscopic perspective, the Korean economy was in the course of coercive restructuring and shifting toward heavy industries from the mid-1970s, but was also already moving into a serious depression at the critical global economy wage called the second oil shock that had already become 'present' since 1978. In the middle of such an economic depression, political challenges quickly spread against the Yusin system's non-democratic character. The expense of the maintenance of the political system increased rapidly.

The first obstacle to the maintenance of the previous system came from external pressure. Established in 1976, Jimmy Carter's administration in the U.S. interfered with Korean politics, strongly demanding through so-called human rights diplomacy that formal democracy be restored in Korea. The U.S. feared that the continuation of authoritarian government in Korea might end up with a second Vietnam. The U.S. requested Korean political democracy, and it threatened a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea if Korea did not follow this request. In comparison to the U.S., Japan was not so much interested in linking Korean politics with the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea. The Japanese government wanted to avoid rapid changes in Korea, and they continuously chose to maintain the status quo in favor of the group in power in Korea.

Internal resistance proved a more important challenge than did external forces of resistance. Depending on the level of resistance, social movement in Korea is classified into two types: resistance against the divided state itself, and civilian resistance that questions democratization procedures. The group resisting the Yusin system is again classified into two types forces against the system that wants to overcome the divided state and the forces against the government that wants to restore procedural democracy within the divided state. Because of the Korean War in 1950 and strict persecution of the anti-government forces, the anti-government forces had almost lost their social influence in the latter half of the 1970s. The Yusin regime separately controlled the resistant forces against the government. The forces which were not anti-government in their nature but were defined as 'anti-government' by the ruling power were called 'out-of-house' opposition. They distinguished themselves from the opposition party. Cooperation, as well as competition and discord occurred between the out-of-house opposition and opposition parties.

The Yusin regime, fore-grounding the utmost national security and economic growth, wanted to make up for the legitimacy they lacked. The Yusin regime carried out a modernization policy driven by national mobilization which found expression in the Saema-eul movement ('new village movement'). In the course of modernization, they concentrated on heavy industry facilities in the southeastern coast of the peninsula, with the purpose of earning support from a Yeongnam region residents for their maintenance of power; the Yusin regime was a government characterized by regional supremacy. The Yusin regime drove out anti-government groups and pro-democracy groups. Instead, they allowed only moderate groups to work within the system. Hard-liners among the resistant forces were defined as anti-government forces by the Yusin regime.

The collaboration among resistant forces against the Yusin regime started conspicuously in 1978. As the opposition parties took the majority in the general election in 1978, tension and conflict manifested themselves within the system. Students' resistance against the Yusin regime that surfaced from 1977 became even more conspicuous in 1979. The depression in the global economy, incurred by the second oil shock, functioned as the reason for the failure of the government policy to quickly shift to heavy industries. The subsequent waves of the second oil shock smashed first the laborers engaged in labor-intensive industries, and then the region where such industries were concentrated, including Busan and Masan. The resistance of the female workers of YH, which took place in the continuum of the democratic movement of labor union, was connected to resistance in the institutionalized political circle. Those female workers chose the building of an opposition party for the base of their protests, and thus attracted attention from the press.

The fatal blow to the Yusin regime came from the resistance of Busan and Masan in the form of massive citizen demonstrations. The Busan-Masan Democratization Uprising was possible because of complicated political and economic factors both in terms of time and region. In addition to the aforementioned economic depression and complaints at the grassroots level, political and regional factors functioned toward the activation of the collective resistance of citizens. It was crucial for the initial resistance, which had significance under the extremely oppressive Yusin system, to be perceived normally in the press and by citizens. The only group afforded observable resistance was the opposition party in the institutionalized circle, and the political support base for this opposition leader was in Busan and Masan. The expulsion of the opposition leader, Gim Yeongsam, from the National Assembly stimulated students, laborers and minor merchants of the Busan and Masan regions to start massive demonstrations. The demonstrations as an expression of political complaints were on the verge of nationwide expansion.

The demonstrations in Busan and Masan were so powerful that the Yusin regime planned to calm them down by using a special force of paratroopers. But, chasms occurred within the power block over the best way to subdue the demonstrations. This conflict came to end with the assassination of the Korean president, Park Chung-hee. Since the biggest characteristic of the Yusin regime was its concentrated power structure, the assassination of the President, also known as the October 26 incident, meant the virtual termination of the Yusin regime. Since this kind of resolution to the problem was hardly expected, its effect was tremendous. It delayed the activation of citizen and grassroots resistance against the military authoritarian regime in other regions, including Seoul and Gwangju. However, political instability seemed inevitable, given that the destructive end of the Yusin regime had come well before the activation of nationwide resistance.

2) December 12 Coup and Democratization Movement in the Early 1980s

The background and causes of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising have so far been suggested in various ways and from different perspectives. When the focus was given to regional background, the unbalanced regional development policy in the 1960s and 1970s can be identified. In the course of Korean industrialization in the 1960s and 1970s, the Honam region was designated as the specialized region for agriculture and was excluded from industrialization. Labor-intensive industries, and heavy and chemical industries were concentrated along the southeastern coast in the Yeongnam region. This discrepancy was accepted as the product of a regional discrimination policy when industrialization was directly understood as social development. Bag Jeonghi's regime compensated for its lack of political legitimacy through repressive government organizations on the one hand, and by selective favoritism through regional protection-benefits on the other. Gwangju was the central city representing political resistance against such an unbalanced regional development, and government under regional supremacy.

From a structuralist point of view, the structural causes that wrought the end of the Yusin regime could be said to have been still working at the time of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. Especially when focusing on the demand for political democracy, there is no major difference between the background of the Busan-Masan Democratization Uprising and the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. But this explanation alone cannot properly consider the significance of the state of affairs as it progressed from late 1979 to May 1980. The political situation and the opportunistic structure of democracy during that period can never be excluded from consideration of the cause of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. Not only the political and economic aspects, but also the social aspects should be considered with regards to the background and causes of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. If it had not been for student movement in the phase of the so-called 'Spring in Seoul' in 1980, the expansion of May 17 martial law by the military authorities and the May 18 Gwangju Uprising could have progressed in different ways.

Though martial law was proclaimed right after the assassination of President Bag Jeonghi, oppressive regulations were mutilated, imprisoned political criminals were released and the majority of citizens expected that democratization measures would progress. However, the Yusin Constitution was still in effect and the promised constitutional modification kept being delayed. Especially troubling was the fact that the Yusin regime was not terminated either by a nationwide civilian uprising or by a civilian activation brought forth in the absence of alternative power, and the internal conflict within the ruling block with regards to the power worsened. This conflict resulted in controversies over the remnants of the Yusin regime and the mainstream of the Yusin regime. The internal power struggle among the military authorities that constituted the core of the ruling block took the form of competition between the hard-liners and soft-liners, both of whom had been chosen by President Bag Jeonghi, and the December 12 military coup meant power acquisition by the military hard-liners. Yet, this group, with Jeon Duhwan in its center, had no cause to surface onto the political circle, and they responded to external challenges in such ways that they changed the political landscape through manipulation behind the curtain. They restricted a radical shift from the ruling method of the Yusin regime as much as they could, and controled influential political forces by inducing mutual competition among them.

Contrary to such changes within the ruling block, the expectation of democracy prevailed during this period. The socio-political situation from early 1980 to May 17 is called The Spring of Seoul. This phrase figuratively represents the Korean situation after the dismantlement of the Yusin regime. During that period, many political figures and social movement workers who had been persecuted by the Yusin regime were released, and a new power struggle among influential politicians for the organization of new government was about to start. The possibility of the Korean political democracy became especially observable in the eyes of the public during this period. Seoul, in particular, was the political center where such movements were concentrated. At the same time, it became the field where student activities intensified; university students were the most important collective body of action for political democracy. The realm of citizen society which had been oppressed under the Yusin regime was considerably restored, many students who had been expelled from school because of their participation in student movements under the Yusin regime returned to university and the previous forbidden student councils were allowed once again. Criticisms arose against those professors who cooperated with the Yusin regime, and demonstrations asking for political democracy began to take place. The political activation of the student movement escalated greatly during April and May of 1980. Students called for the withdrawal of martial law and quick modification toward a democratic constitution. In early May, students started to stage street demonstrations to express their requests more strongly.

They urged citizens' political activation and participation in the reformation movement. Such movement reached at its peak at the rallies in front of Seoul Station on May 14 and 15. These demonstration occurred not only in Seoul, but also in Busan and Gwangju, where citizens had a psychological bond with influential opposition leaders. Even in mid- and small-sized cities, citizens' expectation of democratization was remarkably elevated. Around this period, the possibility of the military forces' responsive measure was also clearly perceived.

In Korean politics under the Yusin system, there was a clear distinction between the institutionalized circle and the non-institutionalized circle, also called 'out-of-house' opposition, and the regional crack had progressed to a great extent. Gim Dae-jung was one of the most persecuted politicians under the Yusin regime. He was obviously supported by radical democratization groups, and by people in the Honam region, but he also had political veto groups, with the strongest veto group from the military authorities in particular. Gim Yeongsam was the most influential opposition leader in the institutionalized circle, and was supported by moderate democratization groups, and people of the Busan region. He was enjoying the political effect of the Busan-Masan Uprising that happened in 1979. Gim Jong-pil was an influential leader in the ruling party, but he could not sufficiently control military authorities in the 1980. The rejection of these three political leaders by the military authorities could be summarized in terms of 'ideology', 'capability', and 'probity'. These three men seemed to have insufficiently understood the movement of military authorities. Instead of pursuing a collaborative relationship, keeping their common enemy in mind, the three opposition leaders started competition early regarding the acquisition of political power.

In the meantime, Jeon Duhwan, who had virtually seized power within the military authorities through the December 12 coup, took both positions as both National Security Commander and Director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, the core institutions of national power, and looked forward to an opportunity to publicize his power. The student movement received particular scrutiny. The new military authorities were carefully plotting a political manipulation in preparation of both student activists' resistance and politicians' objections for the spring of 1980. On February 1, the National Security Headquarters established the so-called 'K-operation' and started tacitly propagandizing the new military authorities through manipulating the press. On February 18, they ordered the military training called Chungjeong Training or Loyalty Training to be exercised in the Chungjeong Regiment and other major bases of the army. This training was a well-prepared exercise for quelling demonstrations. On March 6, the 1st Chungjeong Council was held in the Capital Defense Headquarters with major commanders participating. In April, clubs were made and used in exercises. The military defined student groups as blind resistant forces and carried out political education on soldiers. On May 16, when the situation grew highly tense, the new military authorities had already received control of the 20th Division from the U.S. Forces Headquarters through negotiations.

The expression The Spring of Seoul misleads people to ignore the nationwide situation of the Korean democratization movement, especially the situation in the 'Gwangju area'. Therefore, the Spring of Seoul should be modified to The Spring of 1980, and 'The Spring of Gwangju' should be included. What was the spring of Gwangju like? As was known, the social movements in Gwangju was divided by student movement represented by Jeonnam National University, and Joseon University and smaller social movement groups; in addition, religious farmers' movement groups were also working in nearby agricultural towns. Some of the people who could bridge social movement and student movement were arrested and imprisoned because of the Namminjeon incident. However, in Gwangju, the nationalistic movement existed with a tradition of criticism against the Yusin regime directed by a group of Jeonnam National University professors, and called the 'educational goal incident'.

At that time, Joseon University was not so much interested in socio-political democratization and could not contribute much to it, either, because of internal conflicts between school authorities and students who wanted to democratize the authoritarian tradition of the past decades. In the case of Jeonnam National University, students returning to school after the completion of their military obligations rebuilt the student council and began moving to eradicate the remnants of the Yusin system. Their movement included the efforts to expel some professors who had advocated the Yusin system, defining them as government-controlled professors. Another parts of concern involved replacing the Student League for National Protection, which had controlled college students with the Committee for the Promotion of Campus Autonomy. Eventually they organized the General Student Council. As the new military power base consolidated around Jeon Duhwan and became increasingly conspicuous in April 1980, student movement slowly shifted to the interest in and demand for political democratization, and began to keep abreast with college student movements in Seoul. It was on May 6, 1980 that the struggles for campus democratization shifted to political struggles for social democratization. The General Student Council of Jeonnam National University called for a general student council of emergency and declared a week of 'sacred rallies for national democratization' from May 8 to 14. At the first sacred rally on May 8, the General Student Council of Jeonnam National University, and the Joseon University Committee for Democratization Struggles jointly announced the First Statement on the Political Situation, and demanded that martial law be lifted by May 14. They further stated that if the school was closed by an order as was rumored, they would totally reject the order.

In the meantime, demand for democratization rapidly multiplied among professors and students. On the last day of the sacred rallies on May 14, students burst the streets. On the same day at the rally in front of the Provincial Hall, students discussed guidelines of actions in case of school closure. The changed mood of the street demonstrations was expanded on the 15th. After the third Grand Rally for Democracy at Jeonnam National University, about 10,000 Jeonnam National University students, another 10,000 students from Joseon University and Gwangju Teacher's College, and Jeonnam National University professors and citizens gathered in front of the Provincial Hall. The grand Rally for National Democratization was also held on the 16th, in the presence of some 50,000 students and citizens; at night, there was a demonstration with torch-lights concluding the three-day grand rallies. Key demands were the withdrawal of martial law and the announcement of clear democratization procedures. Student leadership, like their colleagues in Seoul, decided to wait for two days, the 17th and 18th, for government response because they had made sufficient demands for democratization, and to resume protests on the 19th if no answer was given. During this time, tension escalated with rumors of the army's entrance in Gwangju, and the awareness that people shared the conviction that the army should not be given any cause to increase martial law.

When the situations in Seoul and Gwangju were compared, (1) campus democratization was the main issue until April 1980, but the demand for the eradication of the Yusin remnants was stronger in Jeonnam National University; (2) though minor temporal lag happened, the full-scale struggles for political democratization started from early May; (3) street demonstrations during May 14-16 also took place in similar times and in similar ways. The fact that over 100,000 demonstrators gathered indicates how heated the eagerness for democratization was among the people, even though it was very difficult for college students in Seoul to gather at certain place such as Seoul Station or City Hall Square because of the size of the city and distance among colleges. Because of the city size and its characteristic as a mono-nucleic town, it was easy to draw the focus of resistance to a certain place in Gwangju. In particular, the torch-light demonstrations at the Provincial Hall Square contributed greatly in forming an emotional bond among citizens.

In such a situation, the military authorities extended martial law to a nationwide level and arrested politicians. The fact that the martial law was expanded by the military authorities after massive demonstrations of students and citizens in Seoul and Gwangju foreshadowed tremendous physical conflict, because the conditions for the actual mobilization of students and citizens had already been satisfied.

Continuation:

1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising



Source: http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr/cnu518/index.html
Rights: Chonnam National University May 18 Institute/Prof. Gyonggu Shin (http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr) ( ggshin@chonnam.ac.kr)


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