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South Korea’s rollback of democracy

Candlelight protests in Seoul, June 10, 2008.

By George Katsiaficas

May 25, 2009 -- The suicide of former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun on May 23, 2009, left South Korea in shock. All over the country, tens of thousands of tearful people sought to eulogise and memorialise Roh — to find ways to express their grief and anger. Conservative government politicians were blocked by local residents from joining tens of thousands people who made the journey to Roh’s small hometown the day he died. Not only were they refused admittance, many people splashed them with water and chanted that they should get out — shaming them into leaving. Opposition party spokesperson Kim Yu-jeong expressed what is in many people’s hearts when he blamed Roh’s tragic death on the conservative government’s relentless and disrespectful offensive against him: “The people and history know what made the former president do something so tragic.”

South Korea: The legacy of the 1980 Kwangju uprising

South Korean troops march on Kwangju, May 1980.

On the weekend of May 15-18, 2009, the city of Kwangju, South Korea, held the Kwangju International Peace Forum to celebrate the struggle for democracy in South Korea and to support similar struggles elsewhere in Asia. Christopher Kerr of South Korea-based solidarity group Venceremos caught up with George Katsiaficas to discuss the legacy of the 1980 Kwangju uprising. Katsiaficas is visiting professor of sociology at Chonnam National University and author/editor of numerous books on international social movements including South Korean Democracy -- Legacy of the Gwangju Uprising and Unknown Uprisings: South Korean Social Movements Since World War 2).

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Chris Kerr: What happened in May 1980 in Kwangju and how was it significant to the democracy movement at that time?

Robert Brenner: A Marxist explanation for the current capitalist economic crisis

Robert Brenner.

Marxist economist Robert Brenner was interviewed by Seongjin Jeong for Hankyoreh, one of South Korea’s leading daily newspapers. The interview was published on January 22, 2009.

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Seongjin Jeong: Most media and analysts label the current crisis as a ``financial crisis''. Do you agree with this characterisation?

Robert Brenner: It's understandable that analysts of the crisis have made the meltdown in banking and the securities markets their point of departure. But the difficulty is that they have not gone any deeper. From US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke on down, they argue that the crisis can be explained simply in terms of problems in the financial sector. At the same time, they assert that the underlying real economy is strong, the so-called fundamentals in good shape.

South Korea: Mass movement stops the neoliberal bulldozer

By Christopher Kerr

July 12, 2008, Seoul -- The neo-conservative regime of President Lee Myungbak has been humbled by the spontaneous emergence of a mass movement — sparked by female middle and high school students. This movement has resulted in the largest and longest sustained demonstrations since the fall of the military dictatorship. 

The mass protests have been primarily against the imposed resumption of the importation of US beef but have, in the course of their development, tapped into latent anger against the implementation neoliberal policies.

In April, Lee, before meeting US President George Bush at his Texas ranch, agreed to lift all existing bans on US beef imposed in 2003 after a case of mad cow disease was detected.

The move was unpopular due to the perceived scientific risks that it posed to the Korean population and because the Korean market already substituted for US beef by consuming its own produce along with Australian imports.

South Korea: The general election and leftwing politics

By Won Youngsu

April 30, 2008 -- For the South Korean left, the general election of April 9 was another fiasco following the presidential election last December, in which the election of Lee Myung-bak brought forth the return of the conservative government, while Democratic Labor Party (DLP) candidate Kwon Young-gil received just 3 per cent of vote, less than the previous result in 2002 -- a drop of 300,000 votes.

The DLP won two constituency seats and three seats from the party list, with 5.6 per cent or 973,345 votes. The DLP's seats were halved compared with the result of the previous election in 2004 of 10 seats, two constituency seats plus eight list seats, respectively. The Progressive New Party, which split from the DLP, won no seats; it obtained 2.94 per cent, less the threshold of 3 per cent. In sum, the two leftwing parties suffered defeats in the election.

Main results of the election

How an NGO-union partnership suffocated the anti-asem struggle in Korea

By Iggy Kim

On October 20 (O20) and the days before, a series of lively demonstrations against the third Asia-Europe Parliamentary Meeting (ASEM) signalled Seoul's entry into the growing worldwide movement against the global generalisation of neo-liberalism.

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