Hefty 280M KRW (265K USD) damage lawsuit … Villagers feel suicidal

The following is an unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in “OhmyNews” Jul. 19 to describe personal opinions of Dong-Kyun Kang, the head of Gangjung village which is at the center of international controversy regarding naval base to be constructed there. This translation is to deliver the situations of Gangjung village from the perspective of villagers themselves. As such, this post will be removed under the request of the author of original article or “OhmyNews”. The original article (in Korean) will be located following the link at the bottom.

[Gangjung village peace deportees 3] Dong-Kyun Kang, Head of Gangjung Village

Last Jul. 15 6:30 AM, a group of plain-clothed policemen swept into a house in Gangjung Village, Jeju-do. It was the middle aged man Dong-Kyun Kang, the head of Gangjung village, whom over 20 cops were dispatched to arrest there. He represents 1930 Gangjung villagers.

Even though he has a definite residence and there’s no risk of him running away, they arrested him without a warrant because they had subpoenaed him once and he had not appeared at the police station. Mr. Kang who had been taken away in a blitz was locked up for one night at the police station and returned home the next day.

The construction they push forward on land as well as in the sea to build a navy base is not a lawful one. It is unlawful because they violated all relevant procedures like environmental effects evaluation. But the police and prosecutors acquiesce illegal construction but try to prosecute only villagers. At the warrant validity screen, the prosecutor argued that ‘He may run away or obstruct the construction again’ but why don’t they do anything to illegal construction? What those judicial institutions are doing right now is to prosecute someone who caught a robber on the charge of obstruction of business. How can this be possible in a democratic country? Why will he run away at a moment he needs to defend his village from robbers?

During that fuss in the early morning, about 30 villagers rushed in to his home to save their village head. Among them were Kwon-Il Ko, chairperson of Gangjung village naval base countermeasure committee, and Dr. Gang-Ho Song, a member of International peace movement ‘Pioneers’, who were arrested without warrant and taken into custody. The feeling that he would survive alone in a killing zone creeps up. Whenever this happens, he thinks of the fate of his village.

‘Even if I fall down, I should not be shaken up. Then, I lose. I cannot lose this fight!’

Although it looks calm ostensibly, Gangjung villagers are tormented by deluge of ‘judicial assaults’ coming from everywhere. So far, they already paid 50M KRW (48K USD) as penalty. Construction companies like Samsung C&T, Daelim Industry, Doosan E&C, Daewoo Construction filed a hefty 289M KRW (275K USD) damage lawsuit against 14 villagers.

Also the navy applied for an injunction banning the obstruction of construction against 77 villagers. 9 villagers are on trial under the obstruction of business charge, 3 villagers are arrested, and 14 others are subpoenaed by the police.

“Against innocent villagers who fear the law, prosecutors, navy, and companies are pressing judicial intimidation all at once. They took a young innocent mentally handicapped man and put him on trial. They even put a 92-year old grandmother who rarely goes outside on the defendant list of injunction trial banning the obstruction of construction. How despicable …”

Most amity associations broken up since naval base problem arose … ‘islands within an island’

Although they’re experiencing so many mortifying things, ‘people in mainland’ think the problem as something from a far-away country. For 4 years in a row, they have been fighting this nightmare everyday but the media delivers only the ‘Republic of Seoul’ news.

The Olle 7 course which the mainland people critically acclaimed as ‘the most beautiful course’; it is still like that even though the naval base would be constructed in the center of the course. The place is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage, World Geopark, and Biosphere Reserve. It is still like that even though they would build a naval base on the ‘World Natural Heritage triple crown’ area, which deserves international derision.

They pretend not to know anything even though poor powerless people put aside their occupations, throw their bodies in front of excavators to defend this beautiful Goorumbi rock, the seashore, the Olle course and be put into prison. Is this the fate of an island?

“Why do city people from Seoul or Busan come to Jeju? They want to take brief rests in a beautiful and comfortable place away from their squeezed up city lives, right? Navy is advertising the naval base as ‘another attraction inside Jeju’ in a signboard at construction site but who would want to take their time away in a place that has a military base in it. Just this makes the naval base problem not the problem of only Gangjung village or Jeju, but the problem of all Korea. How import are rests in our lives? They want to build a naval base in the most beautiful resting place in Jeju. I hope people pay a little more attention to Jeju island or Gangjung village.”

People born and raised in islands know. How fluttering just a touch of an eyesight can make people feel. How beautiful, happy, and ardent joy it is to draw attention from somebody. That’s because they were all born with loneliness as a divine punishment. The moment you were born in an island, loneliness is already a yoke that you cannot throw away.

Because of that, there are many associations in island villages. They make age associations because they are of the same ages. They make alumni associations because they attended the same schools. There are biers associations to hold funerals with each other and there are marriage associations to make funds for younger brothers’ marriages. That’s because they are all lonely. That’s because they know they can only rely on to each other.

“In Jeju island, we hold annual memorial ceremonies of ancestors late at night. Usually they start around midnight and end around 1 AM in early morning. Then, we share ceremony offerings with neighbors from around 1:30 AM. We take those foods and eat them even while sleeping in the middle of night. That sibling-like relationships were all broken up due to ayes and noes to the naval base problem. My mother became an enemy to the lady next door who would not pass a day without seeing my mother for over tens of years because their children were split into ayes and noes.

What is a national policy project? It should be a project that nurtures people and makes them happy, right? But the naval base project goes exactly the opposite direction. Media reported that the Deputy Governor of Jeju-do Deoksang Yoo’s remark that ‘the naval base project can succeed only when we come between the villagers and push them into a maelstrom’ at the joint meeting with National Intelligence Service, Navy, Police in 2009. Is a national policy project something that tears villagers apart?  Even cousins are not holding annual memorial ceremonies together anymore. How can they heal all of these damages and compensate them? Right now, about half of all villagers already feel suicidal …”

Gangjung villagers used to have about 200 various amity associations. But most of them were broken up since the naval base problem arose. This way they became islands within an island.

So ‘shattered and broken’ were their households. He himself gave up the mandarin orange farming he used to do by borrowing someone else’s farm because he could not manage it while fighting against naval base construction for 4 years as the head of village. Although he managed to continue the kumquat greenhouse farming, it does not pay much and his wife helps out somebody else’s farms instead. “I got heavy debts” he laughs in a good humored manner.

‘Gangjung bull’ who wants to be persuaded … it is deplorable they simply push forward everything by force

Mr. Kang who was born and raised in Gangjung village was very quick to finish 100M in 11.3 secs. He was quite good at Taekwondo and was a handball player in middle school. He was called as ‘Gangjung bull’ since he has a strong build, and is sturdy and rather good at fighting.

Young ‘Gangjung bull’ liked playing and drinkning and used to be told off by his wife often. Then, he suddenly moved to Osaka Japan and spent 11 years doing daily labors. He came back to hometown Jul. 2001 to help his brother-in-law’s regional election. His brother-in-law is the late Youngdoo Lee, ex-mayor of Seogwipo city, who died in Nov. 2006 while he was riding on a ship to checkup the preparation for Bangeo Festival.

“My brother-in-law went through two elections as a team with ex-Governor Taewhan Kim. He failed the first time but became the mayor of Seogwipo city in 2006 as a running mate with ex-Governor Kim. That time, I ran the election campaign literally barefoot from Moseulpo to Seongsanpo myself. Mr. Kim got more votes only in his hometown and Gangjung. We supported him such ardently, and he suddenly declared the naval base invitation to Gangjung. He bit the hands that fed him. I wonder if he could do that if my brother-in-law was alive…”

Feeling pity and sorry, his heart still aches when he thinks of his brother-in-law. So does his fellow villagers.

“4 years is never a short time. Since it was too exhausting to continue, I time to time thought of dropping the whole thing off but I couldn’t do that because of my fellow villagers. Facility farming like greenhouse is very sensitive to temperature change and you have to be there all the time. When it rains, you need to heat them up and when it shines, you need to diffuse the heat from inside greenhouses. When I am in a rally in Jeju city and it shines all of a sudden after rain, there’s nothing I can do. And because of that brief moment, crops wither and you mess up with one year’s farming. Still, I continue to say we should fight and people keep coming up despite their farm works, give their hearts to me and support me. How sorry I am …”

Maybe to halve that sorry feeling, Mr. Kang’s village public announcements always end with “We can stop naval base construction. Cheer up, my fellow villagers.”

It is also connected to the reason why Gangjung village association offers laugh therapy, meditation therapy, and role playing therapy programs. He said “These programs are expected to clear and heal old injuries that happened to us while we were fighting against naval base and cure us all.” He thinks people’s minds should be cured first to make walls of mistrust and anger built up between neighbors disappear and village traditions come again.

Mr. Kang usually sleeps only 3, 4 hours a day. During the 4 years of village head, he went through all kinds of threats and appeasements. Threats like “Think of your family” were rather absurd.  He felt very humiliated when someone told him “if you be considerate to opinions favorable to naval base, we will make your life easy and comfortable so take the offer and leave here” since he believes one should live by at least one value however tough and poor one’s life is.

“If you see your friend, you share some liquor and help him when in need … I think living with my neighbors happily together, that is peace. Gangjung inherited the most indebted environment than any other place in Jeju. To share this thing and make many beautiful stories during our lives, that must be the happiness. But the army who should be protecting people’s property, safety, happiness is actually breaking it. So, I cannot but to fight to keep my peace.”

He still wants to be persuaded. If government, navy, Jeju-do would persuade opposing people, and people agree with that, then he would give up his opposition against naval base. He thinks it is really deplorable that they would resort to force and push everything forward rather than try to persuade villagers with sincere conversations.

“We don’t oppose national policy project unconditionally. We are simply throwing question marks. Is it truly beneficial to make naval base in Gangjung Jeju-do or is it more beneficial to conserve UNESCO World Natural Heritage? People call Jeju island as ‘Peace Island’, then is naval base a facility that makes Jeju island as ‘Mecca of Peace’ or not? In terms of the revitalization of local economy, is naval base construction beneficial to inviting tourists or is leaving natural heritages as they are more beneficial? They say they give it a challenge to become one of New 7 Wonders, does it internationally make sense to destroy a World Natural Heritage and construct a military base?”

It’s government, navy, and Jeju-do’s turn to answer the question marks he and his fellow villagers are throwing at.

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