Plunge Pontificates

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

South Korea, the Land of Protests

Having lived in Korea during the turbulent 80s, I find the current demonstrations to be almost laughable. Still, they continue.

South Korea has a long tradition of passionate protest, yet even by this volatile country's standards Tuesday was something special.

Six protests unfolded in less than an hour, all within about one km (half a mile) of each other. Scores of demonstrators targeted three countries, two companies and one economy.


It's all a far cry from the 1980s when unpopular generals ruled the country, and campus anger overflowed on to the streets. Cities regularly saw pitched battles between thousands of students hurling rocks and petrol bombs at huge forces of riot police firing clouds of choking tear gas.
I remember that time vividly. Not knowing Korean well at the time, I got caught in one of the largest demonstrations ever in Seoul. It was total madness. By the time I got out of the main part, I was white from head to toe, covered in tear gas powder, the pain, exquisite.

South Korea is now a vibrant democracy but staging protests remains an art form, and Tuesday was no exception.

Protesters often wear colour-coordinated clothes, vests and headbands for maximum visual impact for the cameras. They arrange flags, banners and pictures with careful consideration. Protest chants are scripted and rehearsed.

Some protests take place with such regularity that they can be used to mark the days of the week.
Too true, too true. A choreographed art form.