Archives for posts with tag: South Korea


Non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base in South Korea

There are some actions for which those of us alive today will be judged in centuries to come. The only question will be: What did we know and when did we know it?

I think one judgment-worthy action may be what you and I do about the militarization of Jeju Island, South Korea.

Jeju isn’t called the most beautiful place on earth for nothing. Ancient volcanoes have become snow-covered peaks with pure mountain streams running down to volcanic beaches and reefs of soft coral. In between are green hills covered with wildflowers, mandarin orange groves, nutmeg forests, tea plantations and rare orchids growing wild; all existing at peace with farms, resorts and small cities. Unesco, the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural organization, has designated Jeju Island a world natural heritage site.

Now, a naval base is about to destroy a crucial stretch of the coast of Jeju, and will do this to dock and service destroyers with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems and space war applications. China and South Korea have positive relations at the moment. But this naval base is not only an environmental disaster on an island less than two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, it may be a globally dangerous provocation besides.

Residents of Gangjeong, the village that is to be home to this base, have been living in tents along the endangered coastline, trying to stave off the dredging and bulldozing. In a vote several years ago at a village meeting, residents overwhelming opposed the base.

They’ve tried to block construction with lawsuits and pleas for a proper environmental impact study. They’ve been fined, beaten, arrested and imprisoned. They’ve gone on hunger strikes, chained themselves to anything available, invited tourists in to see what’s at stake, established Web sites and won support from global peace organizations. Members of the “no base” campaign, including children, camp out along the shore behind high walls erected around the site to conceal the protests. Police officers patrol outside. This has been going on for more than four years.


For myself, I am writing this column, putting a petition on my Facebook page, and hoping for enough Arab Spring-like activism to topple one naval base.

I’ve never known less what will happen. I can still hear the dolphins crying as if sensing danger. But somehow, my faith is in the villagers who say, “Touch not one stone, not one flower.”

Besides, now you know.

78 Busan 4

Every day we have to make choices. For many, the choice is whether or not to do something to protect our environment.

For a few of us, there is no choice at all. We do what we have to do to tell the world that there are wrongs that need to be made right. Whereas for most, telling the world costs a few moments of their time, for select others, telling the world is at the cost of imprisonment.

The past few months have seen that select brave few risking their freedom as they were secured to mooring lines, clinging to the side of a glass building and hanging from a bridge high in the air. For some it was a gruelling 15 hours of climbing, for others, it was days spent on a bridge suspension cable hoping the people who needed to hear what they were saying were really listening.

For Greenpeace Germany, whose activists clung to the ropes of a cargo ship in early July in Hamburg, things went right. The ripple effect of what they did changed port policy, and sent the meat of the endangered fin whale back to where it came from. This season it would not end up in Japanese freezers and then into the dog food bowls of the rich.

For the six climbers in London who had the audacity and courage to scale the outside of the tallest building in Europe, it was 15 hours of literally hanging over the abyss by a thread. It was a muscle-burning, marathon climb, but they made it to the top, and for a few moments the world had to consider what they would do to save the arctic. Fortune smiled as they were perfunctorily detained, questioned and subsequently released.

While Greenpeace Germany activists were fighting to save the fin whale in Hamburg and the climbers were scaling the Shard, in South Korea four others —from the US, Indonesia, Taiwan, and South Korea — were suspended 130 metres in the air, high above Busan. They were there to warn the 3.4 million people living near the decrepit Kori nuclear reactor that they need to force a nuclear emergency plan out of their government. The cost of this three day ordeal was arrest, and a severe reaction by the prosecutor: Ten months for the South Korean activist and six months for activists from the USA, Taiwan and Indonesia.

Today, however, we may have seen the most rational turnaround of verdicts than what has recently come about in trials in the US and other places. After the anxiety of expected prison terms, the judge ordered the activists to pay a fine. She acknowledged that their action was to raise awareness about nuclear accident safety law. She saw it as a message for the government and the people to achieve a public good.

Last year Lucy Lawless, on her third day camped out on an oil rig, posted a video to her site on which she asked a simple question: “Is anybody listening? Does anybody care about this like we do?”

And that is the crux of it for any activist, whether they’re marching the streets in New York, hanging from a mooring in Hamburg, 300 metres in the air in London, or standing in a courtroom in South Korea. In the face of adversity, ridicule and imprisonment the only real fear is that they will not be heard.

When we choose to act individually or collectively to carry on the mission perpetuated and set forth by Greenpeace activists, we choose to let them know that they are not alone. We choose to hear them, and echo their call.

Arin de Hoog is a Media Relations Specialist for Greenpeace International.