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The Yongsan Tragedy: Who Is to Blame?
[Opinion] What is the relationship between a government, its people, the media and police?
Jeong-eun Park (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2009-02-05 12:49 (KST)   
The following is an edited article from the OhmyNews English News Camp, held at our Ganghwa Island school, Jan. 31-Feb. 1. Fourteen students, aged 15-20 took part in learning the ABCs of news writing, news photography and a headline news discussion, which formed the basis of this article.  <Editor's Note>

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People have found that submission to a government is more preferable than a state of anarchy. Thus, the government's purpose is to protect its citizens and keep the basic security of the state it governs. That is Civics 101. It is clear that the government and its officials must know this. After all, a government obviously cannot work without a fundamental understanding of what it is suppose to do.

What was it, then, that went on the Korean police officers mind when they were violently forcing citizens to stop the demonstration?

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The human made tragedy resulted in five civilian deaths and one police officer's death. Let's look at the course of the incident to figure out who really is the one to blame.

First, people in the Yongsan area of Seoul lost their homes and stores due to a redevelopment plan. Though they were given compensation, it was much too little to ensure a good quality of living after their homes and stores got demolished in the name of development. They started demonstrating to keep their living ground.

Yongsan citizens, thinking that it was their last chance, did all they could to get their words across to the government. However, the next head of the police, Kim Seok-gi, wanted to prove that he could end the inevitable violence quickly. So, he was quick to send riot police to the supposedly "dangerous" demonstration area.

In the end, six people died but no one knows the truth yet. Was it the police's fault that caused the actual deaths or the Molotov cocktails the demonstrators threw?

This is what all the newspaper are talking about. Conservative media are saying that the "angered, irrational" demonstrators are to blame while others argue that the police's cruel and cold-blooded repression of the demonstrators resulted in the tragedy.

However, both sides missed a crucial point. Why did the demonstrators chose the very last method, risking their lives in the cold, freezing winter weather? They chose to be politically right, rather than morally right.

The South Korean government is somewhat like the North Korean one in their redevelopment policies. Neither of them cares about the citizens, they care about the economy and the reputation of a "clean and modern" city.

They both forgot one crucial thing -- the citizens of the city, the people of the country.

Why is it that in this country, extreme measures are always thought to be the best option? The government does not govern just rich people and corporations; they have poor and weak citizens to look after as well. Yet, the government does not consider the latter. The media, despite their attempts to find a solution, have not given us insight into how the tragedy could have been avoided.

There are four groups of people who must think hard about the Yongsan tragedy.

First, the Korean government should learn from this tragedy -- that extreme measures based on efficiency is not the way to govern. It might be fit for a company with the president as a CEO, but as a country, the president is the president, the head of a nation, not a profit-based company.

The police officers of the country must realize the fact that causing more anger is not the best way to stop the demonstrations and riots.

The citizens who lost homes should know that resorting to extreme measures will not give them what they want -- rather it will lead to deaths and mourning families.

And the media must publish news that rather than being politically correct, is in keeping with one's moral conscience.

The above points are just baby steps, but they are the real steps that one has to take in the face of a tragedy.

Blaming each other and mourning endlessly -- without real action being taken -- even if the time goes by, will hinder the progress of the nation.

We must think, not feel, when a tragedy has taken place.





Jeong-eun Park is in the eighth grade of middle school at Cheongshim International Academy in Gapyeong, Gyeongi Province.
©2009 OhmyNews

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