Thursday, December 18, 2008

South Korean "democracy" in action.

You've got to love South Korean democracy. Or perhaps I should still call it "democracy". South Korean democracy is still young, less than 20 years old. Before that, Korea a Japanese colony for a generation and then torn apart by a massive civil war. After the war ended in 1954, South Korea was ruled for 35 years by a benign dictatorship -- 20 of those years by one ruler, Park Jung-hee. During those 35 years, Koreans regularly protested for self-rule, and that protesting was the only way that average Koreans could make themselves heard. Consequently, a lot of Koreans still consider protest (sometimes violent protest) a legitimate way to cause changes in society. Many of them don't trust democratic processes, and protest when things don't go their way.

This is what happened today. The Grand National Party (GNP), the conservative ruling party, has been trying to introduce a previously negotiated free trade agreement (FTA) with the USA into the General Assembly for months, but has been stymied by opposition parties who have said they'll "do whatever possible to stop it." That includes occupying the Grand Assembly chamber so the bill can't be introduced. Well, today the GNP decided to beat the opposition parties at their own game and locked them out of the chamber so they could introduce the FTA to the relavent subcommittee (where the GNP has a majority) for referral to the full General Assembly (where the GNP also has an outright majority so it can finally be voted on.

Not only did they lock opposition parties out, but they posted security guards outside the entrance to keep opposition members from entering and then used furniture to further barricade themselves in. The opposition members were, of course, furious, and used sledgehammers and "other construction tools" to bust their way into the main chamber, all the time being assaulted by security guards using fire extinguishers. The result was grown men scuffling outside the national legislative chamber, with at least one man bleeding from a head wound. It was pathetic, embarrassing, and farcical. It seems like something out of a Monty Python sketch. Unfortunately, it's real life in South Korean government.

The more I get to know other cultures, the more I realize how exceptional American democracy really is, and what a folly it is to try to replicate it in places which simply aren't suited to it at present (like Iraq, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.).

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