Hangul Day, 한글날 (Hangulnal) fell on October 9th 2019, and we visited Gwanghwamun station that day in hopes to visit the King Sejong Exhibition Hall. The underground museum is free of charge and even includes a library and multiple monuments. The most notable monument being the giant King Sejong statue that lays above ground above the museum. To my ignorance, thousands of civic activists and opposition party members were demonstrating that same day. Protesters were spread around the heart of Seoul, some surrounding the Hangul museum with massive TV screens, and some marched from Gwanghwamun to the Blue House (residence of current sitting president Moon Jae In).
Above is an aerial view of the protests. You can see the Kim Sejong statues in the middle of the photo. The protesters lined up for miles.
Below are signs calling for the current president Moon Jae In’s impeachment.
Protests were mobilized after President Moon Jae in appointed Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Protesters varied on their motivations to march. Some demanding for President Moon Jae In’s resignation for his alleged role in appointing Cho into office, others rallied for US-Korea alliance support, and others cite economic reasons for their aggression.
Walking out of Gwanghwamun station, it was eerily empty near the station itself yet you could hear the crowd and music roar as you stepped towards the main square. Police implemented increased security measures, and unlike US protests I felt relatively safe walking into a protest on accident. My ignorance earned me a few disapproving glares, some citizens started taking pictures and videos of me as I walked forward to take pictures for this article. However, I understand. It isn’t my place to be, and I have little to no right to protest as a foreign resident who is only studying abroad. This comes as a lesson to practice safety precautions while traveling. Be sure to check your inbox daily, and sign up with the local Korean embassy to keep up to date on news.
Authorities have implemented increased security measures, including roadblocks and traffic controls, near Gwanghwamun Square and the Blue House as a precaution. Transport disruptions are likely to occur during protests and many bus routes were diverted so people could not reach their destinations. In many cases buses stopped early before the street blockages and people needed to take the subway, which led to overcrowding. While most rallies within South Korea likely pass peacefully, skirmishes always remain possible; and minor clashes between rival party activists have occurred during previous demonstrations.
Cho and his family are under investigation for allegedly providing fraudulent information on his daughter’s medical school application and for misrepresenting the family’s control over its investments, which Cho claims are in a blind trust. President Moon Jae-in’s appointment of Cho sparked the initial series of protests, as students and opposition parties claimed that he was corrupt and should not lead the Justice Minister. However, Moon dismissed the charges at the time as speculation. Cho has now resigned from his position after the protests.
Moon rose to power after the impeachment of prior president Park Geun Hye. Moon won the election by promising to end the tight relationship between the government and elites in the country, and this particular scandal has damaged the president’s approval rating in recent weeks. The South Korean youth face the highest level of unemployment in 20 years. However, most of the protesters were between 40-60 years of age, many from the same generation of protesters who were college students during the famous college rallies in the 80’s.
Advice for Students During Public Protests:
Exercise caution near demonstrations. Allow additional time to reach destinations in Seoul. Consider using alternative routes to circumvent protest sites. Follow the instructions of authorities.