Friday, April 25, 2008

True Moral Blessing and Encouragement

Reflection on 2007 Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School
by Ratchada Arpornsilp

During September 3-14, 2007, I was given a chance by the May 18 Memorial Foundation to participate in Gwangju Asian Human Rights Folk School (GAHRFS) held in Gwangju, the place where democratic uprising was demonstrated and its spirit had prevailed.

To me, GAHRFS had led to a great deal of fruition. This significant event consisted of many components ranging among intensive lectures on Korean democratic development and society, discussion to exchange lesson-learnt and experience, individual and group presentation, "Beautiful Holiday" film screening, study trip to National Cemetery of May 18th Democratic Uprising and historical sites, photography workshop, home-stay, rice ball (Joo Muck Bab)
making session, sport's activities, and picnic. Well, this was a combination of many various fractions which either deliberately or unintentionally had contributed to the uniqueness and specialization of this program.

Definitely GAHRFS accomplished in revitalizing the spirit of May 18 Democratic Uprising in Gwangju taking place in 1980 to other Asian participants. Though Korea has a long history of democratic development and revolution against dictatorship rule, it has so far been overshadowed by its economic success and entertainment K-pop culture in global arena, especially in Asia. Therefore, this event, with a perfectly-blended combination of compatible activities, literally brought me back into 1980, basically equipping me with domestic and global, as well as social, economic and political context of Republic of Korea (ROK or so- called South Korea) during that transitional period due to the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in December the year earlier and the pervasive antagonistic atmosphere
of Cold War era with Soviet Union invasion into Afghanistan along with intensive election campaign running around the United States between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican opponent Ronald Reagan.

Apparently during that critical juncture in South Korea's political vacuum and prospect for transformation, the world was framed into bipolar with domination of the United States against Soviet Union under the rationale of ideological confrontation. Even since the end of Korean war, ROK has always been the United States' strategic partner in containing Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or namely North Korea) and balancing the power in the peninsula. Consequently, regardless whatever cost, the United States would prop up the regime that stabilized the country. General Chun Doo-hwan, then Head of the Defense Security Command was in charge of the investigation into the assassination. On May 17, 1980, Chun Doo-hwan repealed all civilian rules, extending martial law to the entire country and disbanding the National Assembly. That was when the people of Gwangju stood up against the military control following by bloody massacre.

Another outstanding nature of this folk school was the selection of its participants which was divided into 3 groups considering the working experience of each participant in their respective NGO fields; senior, middle-level and junior. The nationalities were diverse across Asian continent. As a result, GAHRFS had provided an ideal forum of how people with distinguished background and experience could plausibly assemble together to share their common concerns as well as lesson-learnt. The interpersonal relations among participants interacting with one another gave me such an impressive feeling and rare opportunity to actually see people from conflicting area as India and Pakistan or Taiwan and China join the laughter and understanding even still at personal level.

At the end of GAHRFS, I realized that people around the world, even they might look different, they precisely shared a great deal of similarity. Thailand’s history and political development also had been through many militarized authoritarian regime and countervailing student movement and democratic uprisings. Besides, I recognized that the power of small individuals could forge
and unite in solidarity to bring about the constructive change to the world. Eventually, GAHRFS was a true moral blessing and encouragement to me.

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