Will they understand my grievance if I die? … and the old man set himself on fire

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unautoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <The Hankyoreh> on Jan. 26, 2012, reporting a brutal death of an old man while resisting to merciless violence by a development-centered country. It is really shameful that such tragic incidents (to mention a few, the Daechoo-ri incident, Yongsan disaster, the Gangjung naval base construction site, etc.) keep coming up in a democratic country like Korea. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of original article or with <The Hankyoreh>  and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. I personally paid much effort to match the translations of names of people / institutions and their positions as much as possible to their authentic English translations but some of them, inevitably, can be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

That evening, he spent his final moments at the village hall

They may understand my grievance a little bit if I die

» On 26th, surviving families of the late Lee Chi-woo (74) who burned himself to death while protesting against the construction of high power transmission towers by Korea Electric Power Corporation in Milyang, Gyeongnam, on last 16th are having a press conference at incense altar in front of Milyang city hall, expressing their demand to clearly expose those who played negligent on their responsibility and duty. The bereaved son (left) and family are crying out in great sorrow. Newsis

Seventy-four year old Lee Chi-woo and seventy three year old Lee Sang-woo are brothers who were born and raised in Bora village, Heegok-ri, Sanwoe-myun, Milyang-si, Geongnam. Older brother was tall and faithful while his younger brother was diligent and sturdy. Worth over 400M KRW, ten patches of rice paddy they have cultivated were the hope for them who lived with their old mother aged over ninety. Then, in year 2005, 765KV power transmission tower construction plan was announced to send electricity generated in New Gori Nuclear Powerplant to capital area. A 100m high gigantic iron tower would be pegged in the middle of their rice field. Growing rice under this horrible high voltage was someting totally preposterous; they were supposed to be kicked out of their land. 60M KRW was to be handed to them for compensation; but the property value plummeted to ‘nil’. Stories of residents in five areas where 69 iron towers were to pass over were more or less the same. Their lives were torn down by the struggle over the past six long years. The compensation for 30 year lease of farming land worth 880M KRW over which the power transmission lines would pass was just 6.8M KRW, but the property value also hit to bottom. Banks would not collateralize the land and agricultural cooperation was stealthly pressing them to pay back their loans. Uhm Yong-soo, the mayor of Milyang, and Cho Hae-jin, the regional representative to National Assembly, first pretended to fight for them but soon played blind to the issue. They fought in Seoul, they fought in streets, they staged hunger strikes, they fought in public debates and hearings; there was nothing they did not do for the last six years but, when the construction was eventually pushed forward in reality, all they could do was to face the contractors and construction machines with their bare bodies. When old men and women were climbing up and down the hills nothing better than kneeling themselves due to hurting knees, young contractors, after experiencing their fierce resistance, made fun of the old people by calling them ‘Hey, doggi’. They sometimes stopped the contractors from cutting trees by sticking themselves to the trees all day long. Their lives were completely ruined. Walking up the hills early in the morning and seeing the city lights coming up slowly, they felt lonely. Whose country is this? Why should we go through this kind of trouble? Village over village, a hush-hush ‘this whole thing will be resolved only when someone should die’ spread like a mist.

On Jan. 16, at 4AM, about 50 contractor workers and an excavator rushed into the rice field of Lee brothers. Young contractors openly cursed old people. Women contractors cursed grandmothers. Starting from 4 o’clock in the early morning, they had to fiercely fight against kids of their grandchildren’s age all day long in sub-zero temperature on the rice field bearing all the curses. At night, heading back to their homes, the contractors said they would come back the next day. Old man Lee Chi-woo got despaired. He would have to suffer the same day once again. I should die. Burning that excavator, I will die. His younger brother and villagers stopped him. They took the gasolin container from him and poured the gasolin to the ground. That night, old man Lee Chi-woo spent his final moments at the village hall. They may understand my grievance a little bit if I die. I may get away from this hell where I have to come up the hills early in the morning, teaming up with other old people in two-shift, three-shift, and face the contractors and the machine everyday while numerous pictures being taken as evidences against me, not to mention charges, accusations, and sexual violences. Maybe I can save the ten patches of rice paddy that I have cultivated with my brother. Soaking his whole body with the gasolin in the village hall, old man Lee Chi-woo walked to the bridge at the entrance of Bora village and set fire on his own body.

» Lee Gye-sam, teacher of Milsung High School, Milyang, Gyeongnam

Seventy four year old old man Lee Chi-woo deserted this world in that way. The charred body of an old man is, like the case of Yongsan disaster victims, still in the freezer. It is not known whether those who should feel the responsibility are repenting any bit. The frosty winter world under 10 degrees below zero seems like full of electricity but no one asks where it comes from or which hellish way it comes through. Horrible violence by our own country and people’s indifferent to it. There is a charred dead body of an innocent old man squeezed torn in the name of ‘totalitarianism for living comfort’. His body makes me shed tears.

Lee Gye-sam, teacher of Milsung High School, Milyang, Gyeongnam

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One comment

  1. This was shocking news, you see the cause of old man. the government every where is tying to destroy and construct towers for there benefits, which really harms human race…its hard to every country has some problems!@bose

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