Walking to dinner the other day I came across 3 shipping container stacked on top of each other in a parking lot. It had Kunsthalle lettered across the side. Apparently it is an art space erected in the spirit of Kunsthalle formulated in the 60’s in Dusseldorf according to kunsthalle.com.
This got me thinking about another set of shipping containers that made the news recently.
There have been massive demonstrations in Seoul opposing the resumption of beef imports from the US. The main beef (pun totally intended) that the demonstrator have is concern over mad cow disease and given Korea’s culinary culture of eating everything down to the bone is a cow, this is not a light concern. Trust has eroded in the fledgling administration of newly elected president Lee Myung Bak in that the deal lifting the current ban on beef imports was negotiated and signed hastily and carelessly and that stronger provisions should have been made ensuring beef safety. In similar negotiations between Japan and the US, restrictions were made on cows aged older than 30 months, but none were made in the Korea deal.
All through June, there have been massive demonstrations in Seoul opposing the resumption of beef imports from the US. The main beef (pun totally intended) that the demonstrator have are concerns over mad cow disease and safety, the administration’s hasty and careless trade negotiations and the subsequent incompetent handling of public outcry.
All the anti-government sentiment culminated June 10th in a massive demonstration estimated with an estimated 700,000 demonstrators holding a peaceful candlelight demonstration in central Seoul.
Demonstrations of this scale obviously make the authorities nervous. Anticipating being grossly outnumbered, in desperation the police erected a wall of shipping containers 2 high, 4 across, secured with cables outside and sandbags inside to block a march on the Blue House, the president’s residence.
The bigger issue here is obviously the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Korea, of which resuming beef imports is a part of. The stiff opposition to lifting the current ban on imports which was put in place during the last outbreak of mad cow disease in the US and calls for renegotiation of the terms of the current agreement can only hurt the FTA agreement that still needs to be ratified by the two governments. The prospects of increased trade and cooperation seems to be fast fading.
Was I the only one to see the irony in the police’s use of the shipping containers? Whether the police had intended it or not, blocking the path of the demonstrators who are in fact opposing FTA with containers which symbolize trade… the juxtaposition is almost surreal. A case of life imitating art.
I am relieved that the demonstrations have been so peaceful, a far cry from the violent pro-democracy movement preceding the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Whether or not one agrees with the demonstrations one things is clear – Korea has come a long way in its path in democracy.