Monday, May 16, 2011

Democracy Evolutions -- The May 16th, 1961 Park Jung-hee coup

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Park Jung-hee coup d'etat. Although the story received a long editorial in the English-language paper I usually buy (The Korea Herald), it's received little attention in the English-language expat blogs, at least that I've been able to find so far. In Korean, the top news site by net ranking is this Ohmynews piece. 

At the school where I work, there was no mention of the coup. Yesterday was Teachers' Day, and today is "Adult Day" (this is an awkward translation -- it really means Age of Majority Day, though it refers to anyone who reached 21 within the past twelve months. Lots of flowers are being sold.) In fact, I would have missed the anniversary altogether if I hadn't bought a paper this evening. In two days will be another anniversary that is a milestone in the development of  South Korean democracy: the May 18th Gwangju Uprising. This warranted a screening at my school of 화려한 휴가 [The Splendid Holiday], a very affecting 2007 film directed by Kim Ji-hoon. But I'm not sure there will be much in the way of references to it on campus beyond this.

The May 16, 1961 coup was a regression; an usurpation of a student-led, non-violent revolution that took place some months before, and overthrew the dictatorial Syngman Rhee. But the 5.16 coup still has its apologists, who in turn call it a revolution in an attempt to win the lexical-political game of transforming reaction into something labelled progress. Some of these tensions are covered in the following article, from Korean, at the Daum website.

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