Seoul’s Older Generation Takes it to The Streets

Seoul’s Older Generation Takes it to The Streets

American political activist Howard Zinn said: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” He was right, and a moving train that demands a serious response is the Korean peninsula – where a civil war has resulted in one of the longest time-outs in history, beginning in 1953.

If we do not think for ourselves, some one will do the thinking for us.

History is too much on the side of this maxim, and entire countries have abdicated their collective wits to a madman, a lunatic, a moral douchebag, a spam-sucking piece of pure trailer trash. The 20th-century is perhaps the worst example on record.

Every week for the past two years, older people in Seoul have taken to the downtown streets of the city for peaceful marches to demonstrate that they have a lot to say – and they do not want anyone else thinking for them.

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Social change always comes from the bottom-up, not from the top-down. When a generation old enough to be grandparents and great-grandparents voice their discontent with government policies by marching every week in both cold winter weather and sweltering summer heat, something is truly rotten in Denmark.

Many of the older generation of South Koreans living in a First World republic are unwilling to allow President Moon Jae-in to do the thinking for them, and so they routinely conduct peaceful political protests nearly every Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of people gather at Seoul Station, and proceed to the huge Gwanghwamun Square, near the old Joseson Palace.

These political protests are known as Taegukgi Rallies, and are organized by the Korean Patriots Party. In Korean, Taegukgi specifically means the flag of the Republic of Korea - commonly known as South Korea.

According to Jiyeon Ihn, Chief Spokesman for the Korean Patriots Party, these Taegukgi Rallies have occurred more than 100 times over the past two years.

Unlike the yellow vests (gilets Jaunes) protest movement in Paris and the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the Taegukgi Rallies in Seoul have been consistently peaceful.

Ihn has stressed that the Korean Patriots Party hopes to achieve three goals with the Taegukgi Rallies.

“First, we fight to preserve our liberal democracy and market economy of the Republic of Korea.

Second, we fight to expel Moon Jae-in regime and to rescue former President Park Geun-hye from prison.

Third, we want a truly free and democratic Korean Peninsula, and to liberate and emancipate 25-million North Koreans under Kim Jong-un totalitarian dictatorship.”

What current President Moon Jae-in is trying to sell is rapprochement with North Korea, a totalitarian prison camp operated by Kim Jong-un, the third generation leader of this wretched gangster state. For the majority of the 25-million people in the world’s largest internment camp, the only way to leave North Korea is through death.

Some times known as the Moon Jae-in regime, the South Korean President permits these Taegukgi Rallies, yet any and all coverage is banned in the mainstream media.

George Orwell was correct: “He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past.”

President Moon Jae-in’s willingness to work with Kim Jong-un towards some form of a unified Korea only tells half the story.

UPI Chief Asian Writer Elizabeth Shim, specializing in the Korean peninsula, has extensively covered politics in this region.

“The frustrations among South Koreans,” Shim said, “cover a range of issues traditionally tied to conservative concerns: a ruling government too easygoing on North Korea, expensive welfare schemes, and perhaps most importantly, the abrupt ouster of former President Park Geun-hye and her imprisonment for 25-years.”

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Back Story

The Korean War - a civil war between the North and the South (1950-1953), has never ended with a formal peace treaty. What put a stop to the conflict was an armistice signed on July 27, 1953. Technically, the game is still on - albeit a proxy war between the U.S. and China. Yet this may be the longest armistice in modern history.

As geography is destiny, the Korean peninsula is in a tight spot. This country, once ruled for 700 years by the Joseon Dynasty, is merely an extension of China. Then there is Russia on the doorstep as well. And, of course, Japan is nearby.  

Based on the past, the Chinese and the Koreans have a bad history with Japan. But now that China is back from the dead, both Korea and Japan have very good reason for an alliance.

With all that is going on in the world, one might neglect to notice that China has recently built artificial islands - military outposts, in the South China Sea, flouting international law about long recognized maritime border rights of sovereign nations. A case against China was brought before the UN by the Philippines in 2016. The UN ruled against China, which has shown nothing but contempt for the verdict.

At the same time, Chinese President-for-Life, Xi Jinping has launched the massive Belt-and-Road Initiative as a pre-text for empire building, much the same way the United Kingdom used the East India Company - with military backing in the 18th and 19th-centuries to dominate Indo-China well into the first-half of the 20th-century.

Geo-politics are heating up on the Asian-side of the Pacific Rim.

History always repeats itself - but each time the price goes up.

On any given day, one should assume that among the crowds strolling through the trendy part of Myeongdong in downtown Seoul, near the old Joseon Palace grounds, are Chinese operatives, Russian spies - and especially North Korean agents who have entered the country on fake Chinese and Japanese passports.

There is no reason to read a John le Carré novel. Come to Seoul - a city larger in population than New York City, and enjoy the fine street food with a side order of intrigue.

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

The Cast

I. President Moon Jae-in

Moon Jae-in’s willingness to extend an olive branch to Kim Jong-un is one issue that greatly troubles many South Koreans - especially the older generation, some old enough to be veterans of that civil war on this peninsula; others certainly old enough to know the years-long deprivations of living in Seoul, when it was in near ruins, and now dazzles as a premier First World city.

Perhaps the most pressing issue that concerns the older generation of South Koreans is how Moon Jae-in gained the presidency. Many South Koreans regard him as an illegitimate President and a Communist. 

The political demonstrators who have been marching regularly through the streets of Seoul for nearly two years now want Moon Jae-in removed from office and former President Park Geun-hye re-installed in office.

For those keeping score, Korean family names may seem odd - though try keeping up with Russian surnames. It ain’t easy. First, the main Oriental cultures: China, Korea and Japan adhere to family name, then given name - just the opposite of Christian cultures.

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

II. Former President Park Geun-hye

Secondly, Park Geun-hye is the only woman to be elected President of South Korea. She served in office from 2013-2017, and has been rotting in jail ever since. 

Park Geun-hye’s life could have been scripted as a Shakespearian tragedy - not unlike the Kennedy political family in the U.S. the Gandhi’s of India, and the Bhutto’s of Pakistan.

Park Guen-hye’s father, Park Chung-hee, served as initial dictator of South Korea after the armistice, and then became the elected President. He is credited with laying the foundation for South Korea’s spectacular rise from the dead and transforming the country into an economic powerhouse in East Asia. 

You dig K-Pop and the recent appearance of BTS on SNL. You appreciate a fully loaded Hyundai medium-sized car. Travel with complete confidence on Korean Air, a premier airline company. Want to kick back for some weekend binge-watching of Peaky Blinders on your wide-screen Samsung TV - after calling friends on your Galaxy S9?

All these accomplishments have their origins in policies initiated by Park Geun-hye’s father years and years ago.

In 1974, a North Korean sympathizer took aim at President Park Chung-hee during a performance in the National Theatre of Korea - in shades of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre in 1865. The gunman missed his target and killed The First Lady, instead.

Five years later, President Park Chung-hee was shot dead by the chief of South Korea’s version of the CIA.

This background is important for understanding Park Geun-hye’s history - and rise to power in the completely male-dominated South Korean political culture.

When Park Geun-hye ran for President in 2012, she was the conservative candidate and took a hard line regarding the Kim Dynasty in North Korea. Her opponent was the liberal Moon Jae-in, who favored rapprochement with an adversary who routinely threatens the destruction of Seoul - only 50-miles from the DMZ and a network of artillery guns that could never be destroyed quickly enough before inflicting massive casualties to the population.

By 2017, President Park Geun-hye had become embroiled in a series of political scandals that culminated with millions of South Koreans protesting in downtown Seoul both for-and-against her.

President Park Geun-hye was quickly removed from office through Impeachment on March 10, 2017, and sentenced on March 30, 2017 to 25-years in prison on various charges of corruption.

Politics in South Korea operate like a bullet train compared to the United States.

Park Geun-hye’s long-time political opponent, Moon Jae-in, was elected President exactly two years ago. Meanwhile, she is in prison with no hope of release during her lifetime.

The perceived injustice to Park Geun-hye is the clarion call for the faithful weekend protestors.

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

III. Kim Jong-un

Among the group of protestors there is one more pressing agenda, and that’s the call for the U.S. to kill Kim Jong-un - which would bring an end to the uncertainty of Rocket Man destroying Seoul, and would prove cheaper than paying off the Kim Dynasty to go away for a while.

Most South Koreans refuse to grasp that Donald Trump - the unbalanced Tangerine Generalissimo of the Republican White Nationalist Party, does not conform to the American archetype of Shane, the lone gunslinger who will set the unjust world right  - much like Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) about the masterless samurai who saves a town from violence.

Trump is a textbook narcissist with failing cognitive abilities - greatly limited at the outset, who is likely suffering from some mild syphilitic derangement incurred during the late 1960s, when he faked a medical deferment five times to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War - which allowed him to brag that he served in two world whores.

Trump has no interest in reading, analysis, foreign policy, South Koreans, or anything - except to raw dog an aging female porn star, and his late night simian antics on Twitter.

Trump’s only regard for Kim Jong-un is the deranged fantasy that he might possibly garner the Nobel Peace Prize by brokering “a deal” - like the deal of paying a $2m bribe to North Korea for the release of 22-year-old American Otto Wambier, already beaten into a vegetable. Yet Trump’s desperation for  “a deal” with Rocket Man is strictly fueled by his racist resentment that Barrack Obama achieved this status … an American President with African heritage.

The demonstrators in Seoul are unaware that the Con Artist from Queens is severely outmatched by the young Kim Jong-un, who had his uncle executed by firing squad with machine guns, and his older half-brother killed in broad daylight at the Kuala Lumpur airport by two women using a cloth tainted with a highly lethal nerve agent - as they posed as video producers of a reality TV show.

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Photography © Michael Kennedy

Epilogue

You can’t be neutral on a moving train, and that train is here in Seoul.

Guardian columnist George Monbiot said it best:

“Of all the varieties of media bias, the deepest is the bias against relevance. The more important the issue, the less it is discussed.

There’s a reason for this. Were we to become fully aware of our predicament, we would demand systemic change. Systemic change is highly threatening to those who own the media. So they distract us with such baubles as a royal baby and a vicious dispute between neighbors about a patio.

I am often told we get the media we deserve. We do not. We get the media its billionaire owners demand.”

This means that the first duty of a writer, a journalist, a photographer, a photojournalist, a street photographer is to cover neglected issues.

So I want to direct you to the older generation of South Koreans who gather regularly every Saturday in front of Seoul Station to march peacefully past the old Joseon Palace, and give voice to their genuine concerns about the present, and what this means for the future of a country that has experienced an extremely turbulent and violent period over the last one hundred years.

These people, with admirable dignity, are not afraid to think for themselves.

— All photographs taken with a Ricoh GR I

This article was originally published in Progressive-Street and updated for Slide Night.

Progressive-Street is an international community of street photographers and photo reporters that mix the art of photography in a multi-faced way to document the effects of globalization through their lenses. See Progress-Street online and follow on Facebook.

Read more about Michael Kennedy here and follow him on Instagram.