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한국 현대사 South Korean Contemporary History - A New Milestone (Part 1)

Seo Joong-Seok


A New Milestone

On October 27 1979, the day after Park Chung-hee was killed, it was declared that the entire nation with the exception of Jeju island would be under a state of emergency. On that same day the Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah became the acting president. High ranking military officials held a meeting over October 29 and 30 and agreed to abolish the Yushin reforms, and on November 10 Acting President Choi, in compliance with the Yushin constitution, was elected to be the new President. It was declared that the new president would amend the constitution within the shortest timeframe possible. From this it is clear that the Yushin was a Park Chung-hee one-man regime constructed to grant him eternal power.

The democratisation movement were not able to respond to the events of October 26 immediately. On November 22 students from Seoul University clamoured for the Yushin system to be completely abolished and staged a protest which called for an early amendment to the constitution. On November 24 more than 400 democracy figures congregated at the Seoul YMCA auditorium, and published a ‘people’s declaration’ calling to prevent the election of the president by delegates from the National Council of Unification, and demanding that the whole nation should have an impartial cabinet and an early general election. The YMCA rally was also aimed at investigating who it was that actually held the reigns of power behind the scenes.

The response to the requests for democratisation were frosty, and Choi Kyu-hah was ‘elected’ as president by the National Council for Unification and assumed office on December 21. Participants of the YMCA meeting were helped in their efforts to recognise where the true power actually laid when they were dragged to the Defense Security Command bureau set up by the new military, where they suffered unspeakable indignities and torture (the so-called YMCA fake wedding ceremony incident).[Since political gatherings were banned, the meeting was held under the pretense of being a wedding ceremony.]

While the later stages of the Park Chung Hee regime saw two forces emerging in the military, the battle for hegemony between them began as soon as the 10.26 incident occurred. Jeong Seung-hwa etc of the upper echelons thought that the Yushin system was only suited for Park Chung Hee and wanted to change it. Chun Doo-hwan and co of the cadres centred around the secret, private Hanahoe (‘Group of one’) group inside the military, planned to retain the framework of the Yushin system. A coup d’etat by a group centred around the members of the Hanahui, which Park Chung Hee cultivated, occurred on December 12. On December 12, in his capacity as the security commander, the head of the Martial Law Command’s Joint Investigation Headquarter’s Major General Chun Doo-hwan, together with Roh Tae-woo, instigated a coup d’etat and arrested the army’s Chief of Staff and Martial Law Commander General Jeong Seung-hwa without the President’s sanction. It was a mutiny. America secretly showed it favoured the 12.12 coup d’etat over the forces suppressing the coup d’etat.

The New Military of Chun Doo-hwan and co, who gained control of the military through the 12.12 coup d’etat, remained behind the scenes of power for a considerable period of time. It appeared that the government was responding to the ‘Seoul Spring’ call for the reinstatement of the 687 figures including [former President] Yun Posun and [South Korea’s later President] Kim Dae-jung. However, Chun Doo-hwan becoming the director of the KCIA in April 1980 was a bad omen.

The new military was waiting for an opportunity. Just like the case of the 1961 coup d’etat, where the conspiring forces intended to stage a coup d’etat right on the one year anniversary of the April 19 movement when it was expected that protests would intensify, the new military found a similar opportunity.

The ‘Seoul Spring’ was unstable. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung were unable to show a united front. Students were focused on their priority of strengthening the capacity of the weak student movement.

Meanwhile, on April 21, the Sabuk Coal Mine Labor Struggle broke out. The miners, who were very dissatisfied with the executives of the yellow union (i.e., company dominated union) at the Sabuk Coal Mine, started a demonstration before clashing with police. On the 22nd the wives of the protesting miners joined them, and on the 23rd the number of protestors grew to more than 3000. The Sabuk situation, throughout which the precinct police station was occupied, and during which, for a while, governmental entities such as the Sabuk station and rail lines were taken over and virtually paralysed, showed what frightening things could happen when authorities tried to ruthlessly suppress a labor dispute.

On April 24, 361 professors from 14 universities based in Seoul published a manifesto on the situation on campuses which called for the democratisation of universities. This was the largest scale demonstration by a group of university professors since 25 April 1960…