Thursday, September 20, 2007

REFLECTIONS by Mr. Magbual

Damaso G. Magbual

Democracy is a way of life that must be nurtured, developed and lived. As a way of life, it embodies the values that make man human. Among these values are respect for others and their rights, respect for the laws of the land that provide order and harmony in society and respect for diversity. Mankind is one but it is at the same time diverse. Hence, despite our differences in faith, language, origin and other distinguishing factors, when we live by the tenets of democracy we become one. Democracy then provides a unifying element among diverse people of diverse backgrounds and cultures.

As a value, it must not only be lived but must be treasured. It must be protected even at a heavy price as demonstrated by the Korean people, the Gwangju populace in particular. Believers in democracy, while they enjoy its blessings, have a responsibility to protect it whenever it is endangered. As they say, “eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.” This is so because democracy too often stands in the way of man’s greed and ambition. History is replete with lessons when a people become complacent in its vigilance - the coups in Thailand, the martial rule under Marcos in the Philippines, the fifty years of repressive rule in Taiwan and let us not forget the years of military dictatorships in South Korea. Tyrants and despots will cling on to power for as long as they can even as it takes a heavy toll on their people. The Burmese know this too well as they continue to suffer under a ruthless military regime.

To nurture and to develop democracy, let us reflect on the events that transpired in Gwangju and the spirit behind these events. The people of Gwangju felt they have suffered enough under military rule and took it upon themselves to resist the oppressor. They decided to free themselves from oppression and regain their lost freedoms even if it meant their sweat and blood. They succeeded and paid a heavy price for it but gave the whole world a lesson to learn from their sacrifice.

Today, years after the supreme sacrifice made by the people of Gwangju, they continue to inspire and teach us lessons, which is why we are here. The Gwangju Uprising reminds us to experience the spirit of democracy in our day to day life. And the democracy groups in Korea; the Folk School in particular has shown us how to make democracy a part of our daily lives. The Folk School by constantly revisiting events of the May 18 Uprising, invites us to re-live the events, the ordeals and the sacrifices of the victims that we may never again be the victims of oppression. By organizing activities such as those we saw at the Liberty Park where young students were immersed in serious discussions on the merits of democracy; the various fora organized to raise awareness of the significance of the May 18 events; the educational tours we had at the Busan Democracy Park and the visit to the Human rights Commission in Seoul, are but a few activities meant to nurture and develop the spirit of democracy in our daily life.

A Filipino saying goes “ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa pinaroroonan.” (Literally, “one who does look at his past will never reach his desired destination). This is one reason why democracy is failing in the Philippines. The Filipinos are too preoccupied with the ‘here and now’ that they do not reflect on their past. They have very short memories. For instance, in February 1986, the Filipino people much like their brothers in Gwanju, deposed an unwanted dictator. They became for a moment the darling of the freedom loving world. Today, the spirit of EDSA (where the people’s revolt took place) has been confined in the dustbins of history. How easily the Filipinos forget; how easily they will in time lose their cherished liberties.

Contrast this to the numerous activities constantly made to perpetuate and commemorate the spirit of the Gwangju Uprising, to make it as vivid and as real in the lives of every Korean national as they honor their fallen heroes; as they relive each year the spirit of the event to inspire the citizenry, then we know democracy will live and flourish in the Korean Peninsula.

When one brings the spirit of the democratic movement in his life, he remains ever vigilant. Hence, when transgressions are committed, he raises his voice in protest over the wrongdoing. This is shown in the case of the two young school girls who were killed by an armored car of the US Military a few years back. Again the Korean people, united in mind and spirit, expressed their indignation for the violation of their rights. When a people refuse to be enslaved, no power on earth can enslave them. As they say, there are no tyrants where there are no slaves.”

Again, it is well to be reminded that there are no shortcuts to meaningful change - that democracy can only be attained through faithful, persistent and unselfish action. This is the lesson I have learned from the events that took place in Gwangju.

Excerpt from Mr. Latif's Reflection

Impressions of the lectures from the Folk School

  • South Korean Academic Class is against American Policies
  • Korean culture a mixture of Americanization and Christian culture
  • 80 % Korean are against Bush doctrine on Iraq war
  • Way of life is so Americanized that Korean feel they cannot sustain without US role

He encourages May 18 inviting people for the folk school from those conflict areas like Kashmir, Palestine etc. (Stop Human Rights Violations, Restoration of Peace)

Excerpt from Ms. Damai's Reflection

As a former student activist, I am so impressed and enlightened through the process of learning in Folk School. My knowledge about Korea was so limited through reading and having some activist friends like Wardah Hafidz and my own sister[1] who had gone to Korea for attending the workshop/conference/training. Through this program, I got abundance of knowledge and experience to learn directly from the subjects of the making of democracy in Korea with its dynamic process. Besides that, I learned about history, social movement, narration of democracy process with sacrifices, bitterness, violence, romance and success stories through visiting the places and watching the films, listening to the lecture and discussion with activists, staffs of the institutions, scholars, and artists.

From the other participants too, I learned a lot from them, what and how the human rights situations in their own countries are directly from the subject. I believe that learning is more effective through experience and I get this through this Folk School. Honestly. I just know about Iron Sharmila and the situation in North East India here in Gwangju. I am thankful for this opportunity.

The visits to art gallery, museum, folk village in Nagan, bay in Suncheon, gave me portrays of development of civilizations of Korea society which blended from China, Buddhism - Zen and from Korea itself.

Visits to Seoul and Busan for two days provided me with the comparisons of activities of the organizations of Korea Democracy Foundation, National Human Rights Commission and Pusan Democratic Movement Memorial Association and the similar organizations in my own countries. From this experience, I need to look back to my own country that there are many things to be done and struggled for. The his and herstory in my country is still own by the powerful one, the pro democracy movement story are still in the books and newspapers but not preserved and retelling like in Pusan Democratic Movement or Mangwoldong cemetery. We do not have the documentation like Korea Democracy Foundation. The problem is the change is still very partial in Indonesia, even the president is still the retired general who do not want the structural change.

Other thing, I get inspiration about the many types of discrimination from National Human Rights Commission – about 20 types of discrimination including the sexual orientation, political beliefs and the Commissioner person with disability. Although, I’m feel so sorry when saw the reaction when talking about the third sex without respect to them. We still need to struggle from inner-self to become really human rights defender.

Most of the stories and portrays of the movements are still dominated by history. It is not only in Korea also in Indonesia and every where. We supposed to get the lecture on Women’s Right in Korea but due to the language problem we did not a chance to learn on this important subject. Although for the senior participants, I got the chance to meet the women activists who gave me the confirmation that there is a need to rewrite the story of Gwangju from the women experience too, that women have diverse and important role in May 18 in Gwanju. From other visits and reading the articles on women and labour movement, I learned also that women have important role in labour movement. However most of the democracy heroes are still dominated by men, hope there will be the efforts to make balance the stories from women perspectives.

Organisation of May 18, Thank you for your deep understanding and a lot of efforts and big patience to face these uniqueness of each of us with different personality and tastes and diets due to the religions and personalities. When Chan Ho and Chris cooked for all the participants in Silverpension house, it was a best practices and a deep learning process for me that as the leader we need to serve and give the example. For Mr Chan Ho, who try to listen and take seriously the participants needs. So grateful for Thency (for sharing bahasa and gender concerns) and Tummy who help me for many things and bring my heavy things. For Pete who gave me the suggestions about the context, and for Lynn who also happy to accompany and help me with the translation. Of course for Chris who make me enjoy with his laughing and joking as well as driving too.


Again and again thank you for this chance and I am so grateful for these enlighten learning process here and thank you for endless help what you have done to me. Finally, the sauna bath is really an unforgettable experience where I can be my self without any shame as the human being and acceptance as who am I.

[1] She came to Korea in 1988 for arts and people workshop to accompany Wiji Thukul (a poet, worker and activist who is dissapearred since 1998). She came again last December as the politician invited by Korean government and met the President through the Young Asian Leaders.

Excerpt from Mr. George's Reflection

George Pulikuthiyil
Exec. Director
Jananeethi Institute
Kerala, India

What did I learn from the folk school?

1. The quest for freedom and democratic rights by the people of Asia and their unrelenting sufferings and struggles to achieve their fundamental rights as humans and as civilized body are similar and unequivocal. Democracy, no matter the diverse social, cultural or political hegemonies, was fought and won through eternal vigilance and wary surveillance over decades and for many generations. The cost of democracy was abhorrent sufferings, blood bath, tortured death, physical and mental persecution, unending anguish, pain and unsurmountable perseverance.

2. The brutal dictators, the tyrants, the perpetrators of torture, the power mongers and the irate and monstrous invaders of human and democratic rights make no difference in all countries and at all times. Their language has been violence, their strategy was elimination of critics and opponents, their targets were unhindered abuse of power and misappropriation of the wealth and resources of the nation and deprivation of the human and democratic rights of the people.

3. Democracy means development of people. It means the strengthening of the poor and the marginalized, the weak and vulnerable. It is possible and is successful only where the people are organized, motivated and capable of defending their civil liberties. This needs constructive and diligent educational and capacity building programs, innovative cultural expressions, rigorous monitoring of public governance, responsible citizenship, access to justice and equity, decentralization of power, transparency and accountability of public servants including those in power, and appropriate, scientific documentation.

4. During the 18 days of my stay in Gwangju, enjoying the profound hospitality and patronage of The May 18 Memorial Foundation, I could feel, see, read and learn from class rooms, audio visuals, visits to monumental places, exhibitions, institutions, archives, and further by interacting and exchanging views with people who are living monuments and legends of the epoch making people’s uprising for democracy and human rights against tyranny and oppression in the 1980s.

My appreciation and admiration:

The commitment of 5.18 Memorial Foundation to democracy and human rights and its profound efforts for nurturing its legacies through its progenies are laudable. I place on record my heart-felt thanks and gratitude to every member of the wonderful Team for international cooperation in the Foundation. I wish to express my gratitude to Mr.Hong Gil Lee, the Chairman, Mr.Myungsuk Cha, the Executive Director, Mr.Jintae Jo, the General Secretary and Mr.Chanho Kim, the Director of International Cooperation Team for giving me this opportunity to be part of the 2007 folk school.

I am grateful to my organization, my colleagues in the office for their encouragements and support in this regard. Lastly, I congratulate myself for applying to this prestigious and much coveted training program.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Senior's Group in Busan

Busan Democracy Park

Senior's Group in Seoul

Visit to Korea Democratic Foundation

Visit to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea

rallyist (anti-FTA) and police in front of Seoul, City Hall

Cultural Celebration

Remember - The Boseong Green Tea Award Gala?