On the morning of 16 April 2014, as the MV Sewol was traveling its usual route, from Incheon, South Korea to Jeju, South Korea, the ferry capsized, killing 304 of the 476 passengers onboard - most of whom were high school students on a class field trip. As the boat was sinking, Captain Lee Joon-seok and his crew told passengers to stay seated, while they fled the scene and were among the first to be rescued by the Korean Coast Guard.
Following President Lee Myungbak’s inauguration in February 2008, media workers criticised his policies on the press. The workers accused Lee of attempting to exert greater control over the media by handpicking the chair of the national broadcasting committee and YTN, a prominent television network in South Korea, and by pressuring the executive of the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) to resign.
South Korean campaigners prevent government intention to weaken unions and facilitate lay-offs, 1997
President Kim Young Sam started his first attempt at changing labour laws in April, 1996. The government formed the Labour-Management Relations Reform committee composed of labour group leaders, management community, academics, and civic groups. It was the first attempt by the South Korean government to reform the country’s authoritarian labour relations, and labour unions were hopeful of structural changes that would guarantee their long-delayed rights.
Political dissident Young Sam Kim stages hunger strike to solidify the dissidents in pro-democracy movement, 1983
Doo Hwan Chun filled the power void in South Korea through his military coup right after the assassination of the former President Jung Hee Park in 1979. He became the president after amending the Constitutional Law that turned the presidential election into an indirect election—one that he could easily manipulate.
South Koreans protest against the mishandling of the deaths of two Korean students caused by U.S. Army, 2002-2004
The U.S. Armed Forces had been stationed in South Korea since the end of Korean War in 1954. More than 26,000 soldiers resided in six camps. Heavily dependent on the U.S. military support, the Korean army had an symmetrical relationship with the U.S. The two countries agreed that the U.S. military would assume the Wartime Operational Control (WOC) until 2015. Moreover, the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) validated extraterritorial jurisdiction for the U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea.
The Dong Il Textile was one of the leading Korean companies whose products were exported to foreign countries during 1970s. At the time, the Korean economy was heavily dependent on the profits gained from exportation of low-industrial cheap products (mostly apparel and chemical products). Dong Il was deemed by the people to be one of those exemplary firms in this context, because it succeeded in “efficiently” producing cheap and mass textile products. Such “efficiency” was possible only because it exploited an abundant supply of cheap labor.
Since the Jung Hee Park regime seized power in South Korea through a military coup in 1962, the government’s economic policy had grown more pro-market and anti-union. Because of its large economic success (in terms of large economic measures like GDP) the public sentiment toward his economic policy was supportive enough to sustain it. Many people adhered to Park’s political narrative of a “growth-first ideology” at the cost of sacrificing labor rights.
In the 1980’s and 90’s South Korea’s nuclear industry was growing, and the Korean environmental and anti-nuclear movement grew along with it. During the 1980’s, over fifty percent of the country’s electricity came from nuclear power, so that by the end of the decade, storage of the radioactive waste posed a formidable challenge as on-site storage facilities began to reach capacity.
The massive South Korean nonviolent campaign against the tradition of authoritarian regimes happened only seven years after the notorious Kwangju Massacre of 1980—governmental mass violence that was intended to shut down completely the movements for social justice.
From 1980 to 1983 the government tried to “cleanse” the society of activists, purging or arresting thousands of public officials, politicians, professors, teachers, pastors, journalists, and students. Activists not arrested went quiet or continued their activities in low profile or secretive ways.
In 2003, the government of South Korea announced a ban on beef imported from the United States. Prior to the ban, South Korea had been the third largest purchaser of U.S. beef product. The decision to ban the product came after an animal in Washington was discovered to suffer from mad-cow disease. All together, more than fifty countries decided to ban U.S. beef imports after the incident, and consequently, the value of U.S. beef exports declined by $2.4 billion dollars over a three-year period.
When the United States proposed an expansion of its military base in the Pyeongtaek region of South Korea in 2001, it threatened to be the third time that the people of the region were to be displaced from their land. The people who lived in Pyeongtaek, primarily farmers, were first evicted when the Japanese occupied the region in World War II. Then they were forcibly displaced a second time in 1952, when the United States built its military base, Camp Humphreys.
In 1905, Korea was placed under the military rule of Japan and in 1910 it was officially annexed as part of Japan’s thirty-five year imperialist expansion. In Korea, the period of Japanese rule (between 1910 and 1945) is generally referred to as a “Japanese forced occupation,” and there was widespread discontent within Korea over Japan’s management and strict control of the region.