On Oct. 29, 2016, 30,000 people met up in Gwanghwamun Square to support the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. Less than two months after the first candlelight vigil, 2.3 million protesters joined and got the impeachment motion approved. A year later, the candlelight protests still continue: thousands of citizens gathered to commemorate the first year anniversary of the vigils that ultimately unseated Park.Beside protests in support of Park held by her adherents, two separate rallies took place in Gwanghwamun and Yeouido, both advocating for an end to the deep-rooted evils of corruption and for social reform. All demonstrations were conducted peacefully, with no major clashes or violence between the police and the protesters.
“After Park’simpeachment and corruption incident, I was already expecting that another sort of protest or call for social reform, like the candlelight protests, would take place,” said Sophia Song (12), MUN member. “The fact that the president of our countryand other influential figures were taking political advantage over Korea’s state of affairs explains why citizens are afraid of ‘deeply rooted evils’ and wish to eradicate them.”
These rallies have received both praise and criticism from the citizens. According to the Korea Times, President Moon Jae-in remarked on his social media account that the candlelight vigil resulted in growing consciousness of democracy and the principles of the Constitution.Other citizens likewise commended the demonstrations as representative of the victory of democracy. In contrast, there were also some that equated the candlelight movement to a mere political device of North Korean sympathizers hoping to topple the liberal democracy.
“What fosters the divide [in public opinion]is that South Korea is a politically divided society in many ways,” said Michael Silber, AP World History teacher. “I think it is a bit misguided to simply dismiss the [candlelight]protesters as brainwashed by pro-North Korean leftists. Rather, it seems correct to say that they reflect a diversity of opinion in South Korea.Frankly, the only relationship I see between North Korea and the demonstrations is that many of the protesters are probably going to be more receptive and willing to embrace [political compromises with the North]like the Sunshine Policy of the Kim Dae-jung regime.”
Not too far away from the site of the candlelight vigil, a pro-Park rally also took place. Just like in the past, Park’s supporters mounted protests to assert Park’s innocence and request her release from prison. The former president’s proponents are among the critics of the candlelight protests maintaining that the rallies are coordinated by North Korean fraternizers and joined by indoctrinated followers of pro-North radicals.
“Above all, I think the demonstrations promoting social change have a tangible connection to the 2016 protests in support of President Park’s impeachment because the general idea of candlelight protests is being recycled,” said Sarah Jung (11), Asian Studies student. “The overall significance of these rallies is their power to attract attention from the media and make the protests unavoidable. Nonviolent protests, especially the candlelight vigils, do not impose any risk on potential participants and allow greater support for the cause. They can serve as a crucial impetus in modifying society without unnecessary violence.”
According to the Korea Herald, the desire to refine democracy in South Korea for the well being of the nation forms the basis of the spirit of the candlelight vigils. The protests’ revival is yet another manifestation of the citizens’ power that lies at the heart of a vibrant democracy.