The impeachment of president Geun Hye Park in 2016 and the indictment of her corrupt cronies were possible thanks to the ceaseless mass protests (candle light protests) waged by the popular. At one protest, it was estimated, more than one million protesters showed up in downtown Seoul to march and demand the impeachment of the president. The May 2017 presidential election served as a litmus paper that indicated where Korean politics is heading, and the transformative possibility that mass protests demonstrated can be sustained.

The recent candle light protests and mass mobilizations for the purpose of the impeachment of the president Park is simply one example of a several decades-long resilient tradition of protest politics in Korea, and as such, South Korea’s on-going democratization process and protest politics have invited discussions and debates in various international circles. The resistant politics has not only engaged with various demands to end political authoritarianism, but also evolved into the issues of environment, gender, immigration, sexuality as well as labour. The activisms have not only been waged at the scale of the national, but also at the regional, urban and community.

The Transformative Politics in South Korea: Democracy, Resistance and the Future of Progressive Politics Lecture Series (2017-2018) was organized by Laam Hae (Politics)

The Prospect of the Candle Light Revolution in Korea, The East Asian Political Crisis, and the Role of Japan: Thinking About the 30 years of the Democratization Movement in Korea since 1987
Lee Young Chae, Graduate School, Keisen University
10 November 2017

From the end of 2016 to 2017, civil society in Korea imprisoned the corrupt President Park via a ‘candle light demonstration’ and brought to birth a new government. This is known as the so-called ‘citizens’ revolution,’ yet influenced by the strategic choices of young Koreans struggling from unemployment. What challenges does the new government face? With the Korean democratization movement now 30 years old, what does Korean civil society aim for now? Further, with the East Asian political crisis worsening, especially regarding North Korea’s nuclear power issue, what is the role and responsibility of Japanese and South Korean civil societies? Professor Lee drew on his 20-year experience living in Japan and his studies on Japanese and Korean civil movements to answer these questions.

Lee Young Chae was born in South Korea in 1971 and has been residing in Japan since 1998. He graduated from the graduate school of Keio University in Japan and studied East Asia politics with a focus on relations between Japan and the Korean peninsula. He teaches peace studies and the history of Japanese colonialism and militarism in Asia and the Pacific at the graduate school of Keisen University, and has been centrally involved with the interchange between Japanese and Korean activist groups. He acted as the General Secretary of the East Asia 4 Area anti-Yasukuni candle action, the lecturer of the civic lecture, and was a newspaper columnist and TV commentator. Some of his recent works include Kankoku-Wakamono-no Senryakutekina-Sentaku (Angry Young Voter – Strategic Choices of Korean Youth), Hatukohi-kara Rohmoohyun-no-simade (From Korean Drama ‘First Love’ to the Death of Korean President Roh Moo-hyun), IRIS-de-wakaru Chousenhanntou-no-kiki (The Crisis of the Korean Peninsula as Understood Through Korean drama ‘IRIS’), and Kitacyousen-no-gendaisi (North Korea Contemporary History).

Past, Present and Future of the Political Left in South Korea
Vladimir Tikhonov (Pak Noja), Korean and East Asian Studies, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University
11 May 2018

Korea has a long and proud history of the socialist/Communist political radicalism, dating back to the colonial age (1910-45) when the dual (class and national) oppression created the conditions under which the Communists came to constitute one of the most influential ideological sectors of the national movement by the mid-1920s. Koreans were also prominent in the Communist parties and movements in China, Japan and the Soviet Far East (until their forced deportation from there in 1937). Under the anti-Communist dictatorships of the 1950-70s, South Korean Left mostly struggled in the underground to survive; however, it underwent a spectacular revival in the 1980s in the wake of South Korea’s high-speed industrialization, spearheading the struggle for both national liberation (vis-à-vis US hegemony over South Korea) and social justice. Today, however, the left-nationalist passions of the 1980s are largely seen as a thing of the past, while South Korea’s working class is on defensive, struggling against fragmentation under the conditions of the neo-liberal regime. What will be the way forward for the South Korean Left in an increasingly multi-ethnic, globalized neo-liberal society? The past, present and the possible futures of the South Korean Left were dealt with in this presentation.


Photo Gallery

Lee Young Chae (Keisen University) giving a talk titled “The Prospect of the Candle Light Revolution in Korea, The East Asian Political Crisis, and the Role of Japan: Thinking About the 30 years of the Democratization Movement in Korea since 1987” (10 November 2017)
Vladimir Tikhonov (Oslo University) giving a talk titled “Past, Present and Future of the Political Left in South Korea.” (11 May 2018)