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The Kwangju Uprising in Korea of May, 1980

category eastern asia | history | news report author Saturday May 21, 2005 21:21author by Wiki Report this post to the editors

The Free Commune lasted for six days. Daily citizens' assemblies gave voice to years-old frustration and deep aspirations of ordinary people. Local citizens' groups maintained order and created a new type of social administration - one of, by and for the people

Events in Kwangju unfolded after the dictator of South Korea; Park Chung-Hee was assassinated by his own chief of intelligence. In the euphoria after Park's demise, students led a huge movement for democracy, but General Chun Doo-Hwan seized power and threatened violence if the protests continued. All over Korea, with the sole exception of Kwangju, people stayed indoors.

With the approval of the United States, the new military government then released from the frontlines of the DMZ some of the most seasoned paratroopers to teach Kwangju a lesson. Once these troops reached Kwangju, they terrorized the population in unimaginable ways. Soliders beat students, killing many. Bodies were piled into trucks, where soldiers continued to beat and kick them. By night the paratroopers had set up camp at several universities.

As students fought back, soldiers used bayonets on them and arrested dozens more people, many of whom were stripped naked, raped and further brutalized. One soldier brandished his bayonet at captured students and screamed at them, "This is the bayonet I used to cut forty Viet Cong women's breasts [in Vietnam]!" Despite sever beatings and hundreds of arrests, students continually regrouped and tenaciously fought back. As the city mobilized the next day, people from all walks of life dwarfed the number of students among the protesters. [The May 18 Kwangju Democratic Uprising, p. 127]

This spontaneous generation of a peoples' movement transcended traditional divisions between town and gown, one of the first indications of the generalization of the revolt. People fought back with stones, bats, knives, pipes, iron bars and hammers against 18,000 riot police and over 3,000 paratroopers. Although many people were killed, the city refused to be quieted. On May 20, a newspaper called the Militants' Bulletin was published for the first time, providing accurate news - unlike the official media.

At 5:50pm, a crowd of 5,000 surged over a police barricade. When the paratroopers drove them back, they re-assembled and sat-in on a road. They then selected representatives to try and further split the police from the army. In the evening, the march swelled to over 200,000 people in a city with a population then of 700,000. The massive crowd unified workers, farmers, students and people from all walks of life. Cars were taken from the government, and were now being used by the people. In the heat of the moment, a structure evolved that was more democratic than previous administrations of the city.

Assembling at Kwangju Park and Yu-tong Junction, combat cells and leadership formed. Machine guns were brought to bear on Province Hall (where the military had its command post). By 5:30pm, the army retreated; by 8:00pm the people controlled the city. Cheering echoed everywhere. Although their World War II weapons were far inferior to those of the army, people's bravery and sacrifices proved more powerful than the technical superiority of the army.

The Free Commune lasted for six days. Daily citizens' assemblies gave voice to years-old frustration and deep aspirations of ordinary people. Local citizens' groups maintained order and created a new type of social administration - one of, by and for the people.

Coincidentally, on May 27 - the same day that the Paris Commune was crushed over a hundred years earlier - the Kwangju Commune was overwhelmed by military force despite heroic resistance. Although brutally suppressed in 1980, for the next seven years the movement continued to struggle, and in 1987 a nationwide uprising was organized that finally won democratic electoral reform in South Korea.

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author by George Katsiaficaspublication date Mon May 23, 2005 04:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Peter Kropotkin and Peoples' Uprisings:
From the Paris Commune to the Kwangju Uprising

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