Originally published in Korean on 2015.02.03
By Ddalgi (Gangjeong villager, member of Peace Wind)
( Thanks for Fr. Pat Cunningham, Tom Raging Smith and Jude Lee for their collaboration work for the wonderful translation.)
At dawn on the 31st of January, we climbed the watchtower. Despite having thrown it up haphazardly in the icy winds that blew all night, we erected it knowing that we could trust it to defend our village. In protest against the naval construction, we raised a kayak that had previously circled the seas of Gangjeong to the very top of the platform; a kayak that should travel on the sea was lifted to the sky. It was our destiny to be with the old village bus that has carried villagers to the provincial hall, city hall, and mainland next to the sit-in protest tent that has already endured 99 days of hardship. A barricade had been erected around the sit-in protest area.
Private contractors who had come from the mainland for the crackdown were said to be staying at a minbak (traditional Korean lodging house) only 100 meters away. Someone informed us that a light had been turned on at the lodging house and they were on the move. We could hear the marching of the police as they approached the four-way protest intersection. The military housing sit-in protest site had been cornered off even before sunrise. The people who had been told to move by the police headed onto the watchtower, bus and in front of the tent. We were tense as we couldn’t recognise what was the sound of chains clanging in the darkness. We stoked the log fire, but were unable to drive out the cold. As dawn broke and we could start to make out the people around us, the Navy appeared and said they were there to carry out the order to remove the protest encampment. Private contractors who had appeared with the Navy began shoving us back on ourselves bit by bit.
The powerful private contractors used their bulky bodies to force people back one by one. They used all of their strength and every part of their bodies to drive us back, even smacking into us with their helmets, to narrow in on us little by little. There was a lot of screaming and cursing. The police nearby looked on and did nothing. However much we shouted, we were simply left to suffer helplessly without the aid of a single policeperson. Among the private contractors there were some who looked as if they had only just turned 20 or were even younger. The younger women cried out of anger and sadness.
Then they began to drag us away one or two at a time. There were people with cut heads, twisted arms and clothing torn off, and we didn’t know if the screaming would end. We heard the shatter of the glass from the village bus windows. The police smashed the glass and entered the bus in order to drag out the people from inside and arrest them. Some members of the press who were recording or taking photos of the police violence during the crackdown were also dragged away kicking and screaming. Only the village mayor, vice mayor, a local villager, Jeju resident, priest and clergyman remained sitting atop the watchtower. The police and the private contractors working for them occupied the sit-in protest area and tore the whole thing down. Very dangerously, the police tried to get onto the watchtower. They tried to climb up without putting down any safety mats or taking any other safety precautions. Unexpectedly, they brought out a construction crane and dug up the land surrounding the tower. Following this, they immediately placed a fence around the tower. Those police standing beside the police bus then tried to climb the tower again.
It was so very, very dangerous!! People’s screams had reached fever pitch when the police started to bring out mattresses and began laying them down around the place. However, the mat they roughly spread on top of the bus was only sliding around the place. Many possible things could have gone wrong that we couldn’t have protected against. It had gotten really dark by the time Bishop Kang Woo-Il had visited and negotiated for the release of all those arrested on the condition that the protestors come down and clear the site themselves. We relieved ourselves after holding it in for more than 10 hours. A day of not sleeping, eating, or pissing had drawn to a close.
It was assumed the sit-in would be all over in a couple of hours but such was the intensity of the resistance that it lasted for about 14 hours. However, a day and then two days slipped by and there was still no sign of two people of the 24 who were to be released. Finally after two days we heard the news that a warrant for the arrest of four detainees including the mayor and deputy mayor had been requested. There seems to be no end to the lies and deceit in which the village has been enveloped. Yesterday a siren was raised in the village and today a petition signature campaign was initiated in order to counter the lies the government is feeding the people.
Due to strong resistance from the villagers the Navy held numerous public meetings on the issue of military housing which ultimately ended in failure, and in 2013 the navy chief of staff directly assured the villagers by saying that “the Navy would not build military housing without the consent of the villagers.” The villagers assumed this to mean that plans to build 532 units of military housing would be scrapped. Instead 72 units of housing were abruptly steamrolled through and land containing rows of lily greenhouses was cleared overnight and ring fenced to make way for military housing! The protest tent which stood for 99 days in front of the designated construction site was then pulled down so that construction could begin.
The struggle of a village with a population of 1,900 people engaged in an 8-year-long campaign against the construction of the Naval Base seems to have flown by in the blink of an eye. However, the once very solitary and lonely struggle suddenly became a country-wide issue and a magnet drawing many people to Gangjeong to put down roots in the village while supporting the struggle. The fence encircling Gureombi which was erected on Sept 2, 2011 suddenly became the focal point for police from the mainland who descended on the village in their droves to unleash a suppression strategy during that hot and sweltering summer. March 7, 2012 saw the beginning of the blasting of Gureombi and the resulting blockade of all entrances to the village and those moments of horror and despair as we witnessed the construction begin in earnest. The police who descended from the mainland violently sought to isolate and arrest those citizens who came in solidarity with the villagers. The huge burden of fines amassed by villagers during the years of struggle has resulted in villagers being forced to contemplate the sale of the village hall during their recent annual general meeting.
The forcible expropriation of farmland, the stolen abalone and shellfish from the sea which has fed families for generations, and Gureombi Rock, the playground for children and the depository of many childhood memories, have now became places harboring great sadness and tears. What more can be stolen from us, what more can they take we were left to ponder.
We were foolish to believe them when they promised not to build military housing. We were foolish to believe them when they promised to release all who were detained. We have no one to appeal to now and no one can resolve the issues forced upon us and all we are left with is a feeling of further isolation and frustration. Today Mt. Halla stands in great clarity over the village as it witnesses our home and our land being taken from us by the Navy, the police and the government. Where do we go from here, to whom do we turn to? However, today we continue to sing…
Il-Gangjeong (Gangjeong, the Best Village)
Where both the big Gangjeong and Akgeun streams flow
Let’s go hand in hand to beautiful Il-Gangjeong
Where the song of Tiger Island is echoed by Seogun Island
Let’s go to the Sea of Gangjeong where the waves have danced
Since ancient times, the wonderful waters of Il-Gangjeong
Let’s go together hand in hand to the village of Life and Peace.
(To see more photos and videos, see here)
(Thanks for Jungjoo, for delivering)