Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Summer is apparently in full swing in UK. You may not realise this if your source of information is the thermometre. We had a sunny, if somewhat cool weekend, which allowed for some much needed time in the garden. This year, my second as an amateur gardener, I have planted potatoes, lettuce, and carrots. This is much less than last year because I was travelling for much of the key planting months (Feb-Apr). The lettuce and carrots are looking a bit lack-lustre but the potatoes are growing admirably. My next project is to dabble in flower growing. I haven’t decided what flowers. I am not conveniently located to any decent gardening centres and I don’t have a car so my options are limited to the uninspiring choice at Homebase or trying to find some stuff on-line. Watch this space.

The beef protests hurt democracy rather than support it

The protests continue to branch out. The truckers have joined the fray to complain about petrol costs. They are being joined by construction workers. The mass of people, complaints and issues is now threatening the entire economy according to Times.

Korea has a history of struggle against the ruling powers. But, unlike the protests that took place during the 1980s, which were a struggle for democracy, the issues dominating the current protests are much more trivial. Or at least they started off that way. Beef imports, unhappiness with policy, and high oil prices do not mean you are living in a dictatorship. And unlike the pro-democracy protests, these issues are not worth fighting for. In fact, to do so could be dangerous to the very thing they think they are supporting – democracy.

The current agenda of complaints are certainly worth raising with government. UK has had a series of truckers’ strikes protesting the same as in Korea. Fears over beef exist in many countries, not just because of BSE but hormone use and whatever other artificial crap gets feed into them that is dangerous to humans but makes the beef cheaper to buy and more juicy to eat. And despite being elected to boost the economy the reality of policy measures that do that (increased competition is generally the done thing) is never going to be popular. These issues are best tackled through dialogue, union activities such as forming a united front to present valid alternatives to government, and by engaging the public to get them on board with the alternatives. Issues like these need a measured approach based on finding a middle ground.

In the current protests, both sides have been deficient in their handling on the current set of complaints. On the one hand, hitting the streets should be a last resort form of democratic activity. Large groups people in one space can (and does) lead to negative consequences such as violence and death. On the other hand, the government should have been more open to let the people protest if that is what they felt like doing. By responding with a crackdown they have completely shifted the dynamic of the protest – from a bunch of poorly informed sheep, to fighters of free expression. The stakes got higher even thought the issues remained the same.

Turning every policy disagreement into a battle of endurance between people and government ultimately weakens democracy. Protests limit the opportunity for engaging both sides in dialogue. It may even close the doors for future opportunities to work through issues between government and public. In this way, mistrust and contempt becomes the norm and democracy suffers. Another danger is that if/when South Koreans do find their democracy at risk, they may find that they have cried wolf already. And if/when democracy is actually threatened the world is not going to care. Before bothering to find out what the South Korean masses are protesting about, it will be dismissed as just another spring of protests in Korea.

Currently reading:

"Hell" by Yasutaka Tsutsui