Searching for Peace in Gangjeong

Posted: March 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

The opinions expressed below do not reflect or represent those of Amnesty International.

Members of Amnesty G48 travelled down to Jeju in late February to attend the Jeju International Peace Conference. Following the conference, we learned more about the nonviolent struggle of the local villagers against the naval base construction taking place in their backyard. Following the scheduled conference activities, some of our members joined the protestors as individuals. Two such members share their reflections here.


By Catherine Christie (missionary in Seoul, new member of G48)

12 people from mainland Korea (mostly Seoul) and affiliated with the Seoul Amnesty G48 group attended the Jeju International Peace Conference March 24-26, which was also attended by 15 members of Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space from US, England, Sweden, India and Japan.

 This was my third visit to Gangjeong for which I consider myself truly blessed.  Each time I have gone has been both inspiration and unsettling.

5 of us arrived on Friday evening, missing many of the talks given at the 4.3 Peace Park during Friday.  We arrived at Minbak Seobu, the others came from the conference, and as we began to get to know each other, Benji (of the Village International Team) came to tell us the Global Network group were just having a strategy meeting, and inviting Pat and I (as the Elders of our group) to sit with them.  These people are all experienced activists, used to confronting the military-industrial powers and demonstrating the moral bankruptcy of governments that support the military-industrial powers against their own people, communities and life and peace in the world.  These people we were sitting with were in Gangjeong to carry out a visible action, and arrest is an expected outcome, even welcome as it is newsworthy.  That night they brainstormed ideas and sketched out the outline of the Sunday action.

Saturday morning there was a session at the Village Hall, presentations by three international presenters and then discussion with villagers about the resistance.  We broke at 11:30 to meet the Catholic priests at the construction gate where they had finished Mass but were performing 153 bows, which the Koreans call deep bows, but are full  prostrations.  Luckily for us, we arrived when they were at about 120, so we only had 30 to do.   It is a very powerful emotional/spiritual experience.  Back to the Village Hall on shaky legs for a delicious lunch, then met for trip around the village. 

We began at the eastern shore beyond the fencing.  Oh, so much barbed wire – no, razor wire – rolls and rolls of it.  Just where the trees and the rocks meet is the place where the community gathers to greet the ancestors.  We had a chance to experience that action, and the words of a Sweet Honey in the Rock song came to me, “We are the breath of the ancestors”.  Each step from eastern shore to the harbor in the west was significant, as we saw walls, concrete structures, destructive machinery, but also hope, wonderful murals, the garden in the Peace Park, the beautiful eternal sea.

Evening vigil – every evening the villagers gather.  It is amazing, inspirational, fun.  Speeches, singing, dancing.  Mayor Kang Dong Kyun received an award on behalf of the village presented by Dave Webb of Global Network for their work for peace.

Back to minbak for strategy meeting.  Two groups would attempt to get to Gureombi, one by land through or under the fence, the other by kayak.  They would breach the wire, maybe cut it.  I was not going to go.  Why?  I live here, but in a month I am going to Canada for an extended time away, and did not want to jeopardize being allowed back into the country.  I hadn’t talked to anyone about what might be possible implications in that way.  Therefore, when someone asked who would keep a list of names and keep track of the people, be responsible for possibly making contacts with outside world, I was very glad to volunteer.

Sunday – there was going to be Mass on Gureombi at 7 a.m.  I was at the harbour at 6:30, but the Mass was canceled due to waves.  I was disappointed.  In August I had worshipped on Gureombi, and maybe I will not again.  (No, as we sang, “deep in my heart, I do believe, Gureombi will be free one day”)

Sunday at 10 – Press conference at construction (destruction) gate.  Mary Beth Sullivan and her heart-felt grief at militarization that threatens community in so many places throughout the world, Toshio Takahashi who brought his grandson’s Charlie Brown Friendship towel to symbolize making the world safe for the coming generations, Dave Webb’s firm request to hold the Global Network annual meeting on Gureombi.  When no one responded to his request, a march to the main gate where we pounded and demanded entry.  No one came, but we formed to sing and encourage each other.  May I share two songs I hadn’t heard in many years?  Thanks, Agneta and Angie.

“You can forbid almost anything, but you can’t forbid me to think.  You can’t forbid the sun to shine, and you can’t close my mouth when I sing” Other verses: “forbid the grass to grow, the rain to fall, my tears to fall”

“You say this land is out of bounds, our lives and our futures beyond our command.  This land isn’t yours to put boundaries around.  We’ll stand and get stronger, our voices resound”

A few minutes of futile conversation with a police representative, and then the groups started off. A few of us from Seoul, and some of the Japanese delegates  gathered on the wharf after seeing the kayakers off.  We had binoculars to watch what was taking place on Gureombi.  We watched and watched for the land team, and then suddenly, they were also at the launch ramp and the kayaks were coming back to meet them.  It was much later we found out what happened.  Our role for much of the time was to encourage the kayakers, who had heavy swells to go through, and were making trip after trip.  We would shout encouragement to them and they would call back to us.

We saw the police presence ebb and flow.  We watched Mass celebrated and meeting held, and then we saw the breach of the wire and that some were taken by the police, and the kayaks started back at full speed.  We raced to the launch ramp to meet them.  I received a phone call from Tom and was able to tell him the Minbyun lawyer was on the way to the police station to meet them. As soon as all the internationals were back, we piled in a van which took us to Sogwipo Police Station, and were met by a solid line of police across the entrance.  But we settled on the pavement in front of them, while the International team leaders sought information.  The first line of police with shields were replaced by a second with chest and arm protectors, and a third with helmets as well.  Gulp!  Preparing for something!

My mind was full of memories of August, when I visited Gangjeong the first time.  During that day someone from the village had been arrested and the candlelight vigil had been held in front of the police station, where we were sitting.  Would they again?

Well, the good food preparation team from Gangjeong arrived with a wonderful meal which they set out by the sidewalk and we feasted.  Then more arrived, and candles.  Ah yes.  But that time, the police had all been behind the fence – this time they were very aggressive.  Suddenly our banners were being stomped on, the police were pushing forward and we had to scramble to get the food pots up on the sidewalk, candles were scattered.  We did our best, we tried to sing, but the police invaded the sidewalk as well, and started arresting Korean participants.  I texted some people in Seoul to tell them what was going on.

It was very cold and frightening.  However, about 10:00 the word came the prisoners were being released, and soon the four internationals and two of the Koreans came out (the other 5 had been taken to Jeju City station).  We found out they had not expected the group to be there waiting, so it was a jubilant greeting.  I phoned Sung Hee at Jeju City,  the other group had also been released and were on their way home.

Later we met for debriefing at the minbak – all most exhausted and emotionally drained, but determined.  We listened to Sung Hee setting out the future dangers – the drainage work is nearly done, the permit for dynamiting will be applied for – it should be two weeks before it is approved – and the whole process of blasting beautiful Gureombi will take a total time of 6 months.  The dynamite is already purchased; the team knows where it is being stored.

We agreed to work together to create an International Week of Action for September 6-15, when the International Union for Conservation of Nature is holding a major convention just a few minutes away from Gangjeong.

The next morning, with hearts weighted with fears for our friends, the internationals began to leave.

Deep and heartfelt thanks to the village leaders and elders who welcomed us, to the International Team who planned such an event, to the hospitality of the wonderful meal brigade and all the villagers, to all the brave resisters, and to the Spirit of Resistance that strengthens you all.


By Pat Cunningham (new member of G48)

I just had the most amazing experience this past weekend! I attended the 20th annual Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space conference in Gangjeong, Jeju Island!
A number of peace activists from Britain including Angie Zelter (Britain) who is nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, Bruce Gagnon (USA) and Dave Webb (Britain), the chair of the Global Network were among the 28 international activists in attendance numbering around 70 in total.  The incredible energy coupled with the spirit of peaceful resistance that the international visitors brought reassured the villagers that their struggle to reclaim Gangjeong from the war machine was not just their own separate, isolated struggle but was the struggle of all concerned global citizens!  The extraordinary spirit of the villagers has left an indelible impression. The hospitality and warm welcome afforded to all to rally to this cause was extraordinary-each night there was a candle light vigil interspersed with song, dance and words of hope and encouragement assuring the villagers all the while that they were not alone in their struggle against the might of this military machine. On the contrary we would remain united in peaceful resistance until such time that this madness would stop!

The Global network conference was followed by a protest and direct action resulting in the arrest and detention of 20 Korean and International peace activists! 11 international activists including myself were released without charge after a 6-7 hour investigation! Many who attended the conference participated in this direct action hoping to strike a small blow at the heart of increasing militarization in the Asia Pacific Region and around the world-approx.1000 US bases worldwide and counting!!  We were reminded that the building of the base in this once peaceful village of Gangjeong is part of a wider geopolitical strategy on the part of the US government of encircling China and Russia with Aegis destroyers carrying missile ‘defense’ systems causing much alarm and concern to all. We were told that Gangjeong is at the heart of the struggle for world peace and this was illustrated in a very significant way by the attendance of so many peace activists from around the world.

We witnessed first hand the already devastating effects the construction of the base is having in terms of dividing the once close knit community, driving a wedge between families, onetime friends and neighbours! The concrete jungle that the coastline has become with concrete casings, tetra pods, earth moving equipment and cranes scattered across the beautiful landscape is a dreadful eyesore causing one to ponder the devastation that has already resulted. However, the most frightening scenario is that if the blast of the Gureombi rock (an area roughly 800m long and 150 m wide) proceeds as planned over the next few weeks the resulting toxic pollution despite efforts to contain it will undoubtedly cause untold damage to the soft coral reef and marine life off the coastline. It could possibly render to extinction the already rare species of red feet crab and destroying the habitat and playground of the ‘pink nosed’ dolphin! The rock of Gureombi has sacred significance for the villagers as it is a ‘living rock’ and therefore intimately tied up with their identity as a village people – a place where people from the 400 year old village used to celebrate their ceremonial rites. ‘Gangjeong is Gureombi’ we were told more than once! Divisions in the community coupled with the ongoing daily tensions that the villagers have been subjected to are tearing away at the fabric of this once close knit community meaning that the people have been unable to conduct their ceremonial rites for five years now.

The celebration of Mass on the rock has been a regular feature of the resistance. It was celebrated as normal that Sunday afternoon although with a difference. This time a major feature was the presence of many members of the Global Network and other international activists among the many local villagers who made the 25 min trip by kayak. Entrance from land had been cut off despite the best efforts of the designated land group. Two activists- Angie Zelter (Britain) and Benjamin Monnet (France) had already breached the razor wire fence and were ‘waiting’ inside closely monitored by numerous police officers.

The Mass on the gurombi rock led by Fr. Moon on the afternoon sought to bring hope and determination to the spirit of peaceful resistance among all those in attendance. Angie Zelter spoke incredibly movingly from across the razor wire and addressing the crowd she mentioned the incredible irony of how governments in addressing the security needs of their people only think about ramping up their so-called military ‘defenses’ increasing military expenditure and in ratcheting up military tension ultimately leaves no prospect of providing real security which can only be found in people’s access to healthy food, water, medial care and education.  She spoke about how she was able to exploit the weakness in the razor wire allowing her to gain access which was her right. One could get the feeling that she was calling on all of us to be brave and not allow this illegal razor wire fencing deny our right of access to this public area. I felt buoyed and fired up by her call.

 It was extraordinary to see how life giving and hopeful the celebration was on that Sunday afternoon to numerous people gathered from around the world – many faith traditions and none, many people of faith and no religion all gathered together under the one cause-all singing from the same hymn sheet calling on the Korean and US governments to stop this destruction. We were singing as concerned global citizens seeking to live in peace without the constant threat of war hanging over our heads. It is heartbreaking to see this beautiful place being desecrated but we found hope from the spirit of the celebration and proceeded to make our move which saw 16 in total breach the fence.   We then proceeded in determined fashion buoyed by reserves of energy received from the ‘celebration’ on the rock in following Angie Zelter and a French activist. Soon we ended up being arrested and being carted away to the police station-a significant victory for the struggle in the face of the military machine.

We also poignantly remembered during the celebration Professor Yang Yoon Mo who is into his 23nd day of hunger strike. His memory was at the forefront of my mind. He is determined to stick to his promise to come off all salt and water if the blasting of the rock is initiated. It is therefore vital that as peace activists we strengthen our alliances with peace loving people around the world in ensuring we do what we can to prevent a calamitous situation from arising! Peace!


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