▲ The human chain attempted around the base site. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Sunday, Aug. 4 marked the culmination of a series of high profile protests against the deeply controversial naval base being constructed in the small village of Gangjeong, west of Seogwipo, Jeju Island.
Following a well-publicised visit from Hollywood director Oliver Stone the previous day, protesters aimed to surround the naval base construction site entirely with human bodies for an hour, in order to show the strength of feeling the base provokes.
▲ Singing and guitar-playing protesters descend on the construction site. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
As marchers from all over the island descended on the village for the event, various speeches, sermons and rallies were held to organise the protesters and direct them to staging areas around the base.
Opposition to the Gangjeong naval base has remained strong despite the best efforts of the national and local governments. Since construction began in early 2011, protesters have been dogged by police crackdowns and the the government even declared protesting at the base illegal in August of that year.
▲ Anti-nuclear proliferation sign at Gangjeong Village. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
There have also been repeated claims of police brutality and security personnel maintain a constant presence around the base. Several prominent members of the protest movement have been arrested and some remain in jail, their faces borne on five huge banners by the entrance to the base.
The protest attracted a large number of disparate groups of people, and this was reflected in the mood of the protest. On arriving initially, Christian priests were encountered holding service as people marched past.
This solemnity gave way to inspirational speeches in Gangjeong Village, where the marchers had gathered, complete with chanting and cheering. The final section was a march to the base and the forming of the human chain, which had a lighter feel to it. There was even a band playing music by the seaside as people gathered.
▲ Campaigners ask for peace at Gangjeong Village. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
To the east of the base, from the bridge over the river to the harbour quay on the west, yellow banners and t-shirts adorned a small sea of people who braved the baking midday sun. Unofficial estimates placed the number of protesters at about 1,200.
Families with small children, the elderly, visiting activists from the mainland, residents of Jeju and foreigners all mixed freely, united in the causes of peace, environmentalism and anti-militarisation. All were in defiance of the anti-protest decrees put in place two years ago, and in the case of non-nationals, carried the potential penalty of deportation.
Regardless of these threats, the day saw one of the largest protests the base has seen. While the goal of completely surrounding the base was not achieved, there were enough people at either end of the chain for that to have happened.
▲ Police look on at protest site. Photo by The Jeju Weekly
Dark-blue-clad riot police were on hand and highly visible in several places, but the protest was peaceful and the crowd dispersed without interference. The chain often resembled a carnival, with speaker-loaded vans blasting music and choreographed dances being acted out, but interspersed amidst the revelry were stark reminders of why the protest was happening.
The constant looming barbed-wire-clad walls of the base, coated in angry graffiti, left little to the imagination. This is a cause that means a lot to many people, and the perceived injustices that the village has suffered because of it are still fresh and raw.
While the base was originally scheduled to be completed early in 2014, the timetable has been pushed back due to the constant presence of protesters, and it is clear that they see this fight as far from over.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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