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Gangjeong fears as bulldozers move in againProtesters vow to fight on as road construction threatens ‘peace village’
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승인 2016.06.21  10:36:35
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▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Battles have been fought over the Jeju Civilian-Military Complex Port at Gangjeong since construction began in 2010, and while the biggest seem over, plenty remain.

The latest battle to land on the doorstep of anti-base protesters, quite literally, is the construction of an access road that will run directly through their makeshift camp at Jungdeok Junction.

The siege mentality of the movement is writ large as the half-constructed road runs to within meters of the communal restaurant at the heart of the “Peace Village.”

Photo by Douglas MacDonald

The modest grouping of converted agricultural buildings, containers and DIY shelters, overlooked by a ramshackle watchtower, has been the heartbeat of the anti-base movement since it was moved here in 2011.

The cluster of buildings lies within sight of the gleaming glass and steel of the naval base, which betrays few traces of the battles that have been waged in this corner of Jeju since the government controversially selected the village as the site for South Korea’s newest navy base in 2007.

▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Tensions reached their height when construction began four years ago as state forces cracked down on protesters who had themselves been buoyed by an influx of mainland and international activists.

As the burgeoning naval base infrastructure has spread, however, the activist community has been reduced to a group of resolute, yet dwindling. campaigners.

The land which the community now occupies was acquired by the Navy under compulsory purchase and Seogwipo City ordered the removal of the structures by June 21. No one knows for sure when that action will take place.

Photo by Douglas MacDonald

“That will begin the symbolic removal of the peace community here,” said Jung Sinji, a Jeju resident. Pointing to the Navy base, she adds: “As you can see, there is a whole new village here. There was just 2,000 people living in the village, but now 4,000 people more.”

An awareness-raising event was held on June 18 and 19 including a march to the base entrance on Saturday morning, followed by a routine of aerobics and singing, daily rituals for the community.

▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Sung-Hee Choi, international spokesperson for the anti-base movement, said that the event was a “celebration of our community and cultural life,” something everyone present felt was threatened by the latest government order.

“By holding this cultural event we want to share our community spirit and also the spirit of struggle. Through art, performance, food and everything possible,” said Choi.

The scene was more reminiscent of a carnival than a protest march as colorful flags flew in the air to the tune of loud music, amid energetic dance routines from the diverse crowd.

▲ Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Providing much of the color were Council of World Mission members who were on Jeju to attend a conference. Revd Geraint Tudur from Wales said they had come to support Christian values of peace: “Any kind of militarisation has its problems and consequences for people locally and also worldwide,” he said.

As the march returned from the base and headed back to the peace village, there was a large, and ominous, road-sized tract of upturned earth leading up from a newly-completed intersection. This would be the four-lane access road leading to the new cruise terminal.

Photo by Douglas MacDonald

“Curry,” an activist from the US and village resident since January, explained the meaning of the “historic” site.

“For a long time, it has been where we eat together every day after the human chain. This is the Gangjeong community that we are fighting to preserve. Everyone eating delicious food together, chatting together, hanging out together. It is a safe place and home for a lot of people,” she said.

Does she hold out any hope that the community here can be saved?

“It is always good to hope for things, but it seems like we have a lot stacked against us,” she said.

Photo by Douglas MacDonald

As everyone sat down to eat together in the communal kitchen-cum-restaurant, Sung-Hee Choi said that the prospects for the community look dim, but they must retain hope.

“When the Navy first built the fence, people set up the watchtower here so villagers could watch the destruction by the Navy. People also built this community restaurant so people could stay here for the struggle. We think that the Navy and government want to demolish this site for that reason,” she said.

Photo by Douglas MacDonald

Jeju Civilian-Military Complex Port has deeply divided Gangjeong village between supporters of the base and anti-base activists. Even some activists are exhausted from the fight are resigned to the protest camp moving. Choi concedes they might have no other option.

“It might not be easy for us to save this site so, in that case, we need to think about moving to another site. But it is not clear yet, and I would rather like to save that answer for now,” she said.

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