|▲ An art exhibition installed at the May 18 Democracy Square to express solidarity with the people of Myanmar
This year marks the 41st anniversary of the May 18 Democratic Uprising whereby citizens stood up against the armed martial law forces in Gwangju. The uprising, also known as the May 18 Democratization Movement (May 18), became one of cornerstones of democracy in Korea and has impacted democratic movements in Asian countries. The Myanmar protests against the military coup and police force have been intensified since the military coup d’etat on February 1. The pro-democracy movement in the country resemble Gwangju’s democratization movement in 1980. The Chonnam Tribune listened to the opinions of students from different countries on the May 18 uprising, the Myanmar protests, and the importance of democracy.
What do you think of the current Myanmar protests?
Khin Hsu Yee (Myanmar): I make contact with my family back home in Myanmar from time to time, and I can see my friends participating in the protests via news media and social network services. The current situation in Myanmar looks like people across the country intend not to repeat past mistakes. Myanmar already has some history of democratic movements against the government and military, such as the 8888 Uprising in 1988, and the Saffron Revolution in 2007. Now many people, especially the young, are participating in the protests, and most of them are fighting for the future of their generation. The older age group, however, are showing concerns about the protests. They are the ones who already participated in the past democratic protests 30 years ago and know about the distress of rising against the government. The response to the protests might differ, but the fact that both groups care and worry about the next generation stays the same.
Baptiste Guyonneau (France): Before I came to Korea, I had only heard about the president of France, Emmanuel Macron’s formal denouncement of the military in Myanmar. Learning about what was happening in the country, and the amount of people participating in the protests was relatively new to me. So, I think there is a difference in interest about current news and situations among different countries. Before having a political view on the situation, the fact that people are dying at the moment should be more recognized and should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
What do you know about the Gwangju Uprising in 1980?
Fatima Alkhadire (Jordan): I think the uprising was about being against dictatorship. Many political views exist regarding the Uprising, but the truth still stands that they were protests against the military government to prevent them from maintaining their power. The current Myanmar protest movement resembles the May 18 uprising, but the publicizing process via various media like social network services is the major difference between them. While Myanmar’s situation was able to be quickly spread across the world, Gwangju unfortunately could not have the same chance.
Cho So-yeon (Korea): The May 18 uprising was the pro-democracy uprising of citizens protesting against the military government extending military dictatorship in Korea. I think the Myanmar protests are similar to the May 18 protests in the way that ordinary people have protested against the military coup that is destroying the value of democracy and causing many civilian casualties. It is sad to see people going through a hard time in Myanmar.
What do you think the basic idea of democracy is?
Baptiste: In France, democracy started with the declaration of the constitution. Many philosophers were involved in drafting that constitution, and the most important idea is the freedom of speech and expression. Individualism is the base philosophy of this idea, and the opposite of this would be controlling the information. I think democracy is based on free speech, letting people learn, think, and express what they want without disturbing the freedom of others. Government laws and regulations should exist at least to a minimum to maintain this system.
So-yeon: I think democracy is about the people’s right to political participation. Past political choices in Korea were usually made by a small group of people, so they were not able to fully represent the opinion of the majority of citizens. As time passed, however, we were able to establish a democratic government through all the hardships. Thanks to many technological and social advancements, participating in political events is now much easier than it was before.
Why democracy spreads in the world? Do you think it could be achieved peacefully?
Fatima: Looking at the Arab Spring that was anti-government protests spreading in several countries including Tunisia and Libya in the early 2010s, democracy could be regarded as an ultimate system of government that many people want to establish. Just the main reasons of pro-democracy protests varied in different countries from demands for fundamental rights to anger over the government’s failed economic policies. At that time, many people gathered and expressed their ideas and voices to achieve democracy in their countries. Building democracy peacefully cannot be an option. However, there will be many obstacles to overcome because the process of democratization in a country is basically to change the existing system of government.
Khin Hsu Yee: Pro-democracy protests and movements aim to protect the freedom and equality of every individual. If these values are maintained throughout the world, more people will keep on trying to move toward democracy that may be the ultimate goal of their life. But I think it cannot be achieved easily. There is a saying, “Friends who we might not be able to see tomorrow” that is being used by the people in the protests. The Myanmar military condemned the citizens as terrorists, and has been violently oppressing them. If this situation continues, it seems like it might be hard to maintain a peaceful protest movement in the country.
As mentioned above, international and local students’ opinions differ when it comes to defining democracy, but they all thought that the basic values of democracy were freedom and peace. While democracy is the foundation of society in some countries, other countries are still currently fighting to achieve it. Democracy may have its flaws, but it is the only system that guarantees freedom, peace, and autonomy. We must keep in mind that democracy will only be maintained by keeping ourselves vigilant and fulfilling our duties as a citizen.
Khin Hsu Yee, Global Korea Scholarship Student, Language Education Center, Myanmar
Baptiste Guyonneau, Freshman, Faculty of Business Administration, France
Fatima Alkhadire, Master’s Student, Non-Governmental Organizations, Jordan
Cho So-yeon, Sophomore, Department of Energy and Resources Engineering, Korea
By Jo Beom-seo, Tribune Reporter