I was in the middle of the rallies on the presidential impeachment last Friday and last Saturday. I couldn’t really avoid it last Friday. The pro-Park Geun Hye supporters were marching in front of my building. There were riot police and everything. It wasn’t very violent when I went out for coffee, but three people ended up dying during the protest after it was announced that the decision to impeach the South Korean president would stand.
On Saturday, my wife and I decided to check out the celebration for the ousting of the president. It was in Gwanghwamun, the place where Koreans have been holding their weekly rallies to protest against the president. Like every week, there was going to be a concert, and my favorite Korean singer Jun In Kwon would be performing. I felt more comfortable going to the event, because it wasn’t so much a protest or anything but a celebration for what is a historic event for the peninsula.
What was a little scary however was that we had to pass by the pro-Park Geun Hye supporters on the way to the rally. They were all waving the South Korean flag and old-fashioned patriotic songs were blaring on speakers. The mood was dark, and my wife and I didn’t feel too comfortable walking past them, especially since we’re a biracial couple (despite the fact that many of the protesters were also waving the American flag). It was weird, the site of the Korean flag brought about an almost nefarious aura. The site of riot police and police barricades separating the two factions didn’t help ease the mood either.
The mood on the anti-Park Geun Hye side was celebratory. People were smiling. It felt like being surrounded by people whose collective burden was just recently been released. Of course, there were still angry calls for the former president to move out of the presidential residence and for her to be prosecuted.
On Sunday, most major Korean channels showed the president moving to her private residence. She was welcomed by her supporters, all waving the Korean flag. It was a strange affair. She was greeted by her party members, and she shook hands with them, all smiling, waving at her supporters. If I didn’t know the context or didn’t know Korean, I would’ve assumed she just got elected as president instead of being ousted. What’s more remarkable is that instead of addressing her supporters and the recent decision by the Supreme Court, she had a representative read a prepared statement saying the “the truth will come out.” I don’t know what this is possibly referring to. The highest court in the land already made a decision. If it’s referring to her impending criminal prosecution, she’d best not acknowledge it just yet.
I try to be impartial when it comes to the country’s politics, but the fact that the former president didn’t make a public statement immediately after the decision on Friday was very disappointing. She could’ve at least tried to unite the country and try to calm her protesters down. Perhaps people wouldn’t have died if she did. And the fact that she still hasn’t made a public statement is thumbing her nose at the justice system and not showing her supporters any respect. At least Nixon had the decency to make resignation speech. There have been talks about the country being divided, but truly, South Korea is not divided. Park Geun Hye enjoyed a 5% approval rating, and most of the country wanted her out. If there’s any division, I believe it’s just a division in the type of media people consume, with each side embracing their own set of facts and claiming the other side is fake news. It’s no different than other countries. But what would have helped make the country less divided, is if the former president called for unity after being impeached. At least recognize that the zeal partisan politics and distrust is at least part of what got her ousted.
I believe it’s going to be a long process, prosecuting the former president. There has been months of weekly protests, and I think it won’t take much for people to take to the streets again. It’s almost like a slow but magical form of direct democracy. It could get addictive.