Professor Yang Yoon-Mo is now on his 27th day of hunger strike in prison on Jeju Island in South Korea. He is back in jail for interrupting Navy construction vehicles. Last summer Yang, while in jail for lying under a construction truck, nearly died as his 71 day hunger strike only ended when Jeju Island Catholic Bishop Kang convinced him to stop.
He restarted his hunger strike when sent back to jail and vows to continue as long as necessary. He explained, ’If Gureombi (the sacred rocky coastline) lives, I live. If Gureombi dies, I die. Do not cry for me. Cry for the future generations who may not be able to feel the beauty of Gureombi. Gureombi is the medium to connect myself and the sky. The self, the sky, Gureombi have become one. This commitment is a call from God.’
The fate of the rocks was on the minds of all the village as they gathered today outside the Seogwipo police station for a press conference where 6 or so villagers plus the Mayor spoke and where (as the only international) I also had to speak. I am just having to get over my nervousness about public speaking without notes - having each sentence translated does at least give me time to think! The village believe my vocal presence is important to show that there is growing international opposition to the naval base - that the issue is more than just a local affair - so I am urged to speak at every event. The village had recently bought a van with a p.a. system and this was used to good effect so we could all hear the speeches clearly, as could the police. Here is the Mayor speaking in front of the p.a. van. A letter was delivered to the Police Chief while the villagers waited and then we all came back to await the public announcement from the Jeju Governor. Seogwipo is the 2nd largest town on Jeju and only about 20 minutes away from Gangjeong and we all travel in the village bus.
There has been some intense political lobbying of the Governor of the Island, the Provincial (Island) Assembly and the Police Chief of Seogwipo Police Station by the Mayor and the Vice-Chair of the village who spent most of last night at meetings and negotiations. This was after an intense village discussion - open to us all - democracy really in action! We are all informed what is happening, who is seeing who and often invited to discuss the plans and process too.
At around 2p.m. we heard that the Governor along with the Island Council had issued a statement stating that the blasting would be postponed to enable further clarification. This sounded good but there were no cheers. There is little trust that a statement like that will stop the blasting. And when the Governor later came to the Seogwipo Police Station, (they have responsibility for all the explosives and the policing of the destruction site) he was apparantly snubbed and told the Police Chief had other planned meetings and could not see him. There is fear that the pressure from the Navy, USA, and Central Government is over-riding the local democratic process.
The sound of drilling (the holes for the explosives) was still audible when a few of us visited the port area overlooking the destruction site and there were bus-loads of police. Maybe we will learn more tomorrow. There have been 45 holes drilled in the rocks so far, and once started the blasting will continue for 5 months! Meanwhile, more information is emerging that some of the drill holes entered the underground water springs that provide the majority of the water for the whole island and water was being lost. There are fears that if the drilling goes ahead the fresh water of the whole island will be severely contaminated and depleted. Plans are afoot to try to halt the lorries bringing in thedynamite as the villagers do not trust the political statements about postponing the blasting. Some of the young people here are tweeting all the time and had heard that water engineers are being prevented by the Navy from checking on the water situation.
The same afternoon the weekly mass (they take place at 11a.m. every Monday and Tuesday) took place as usual at the base entrance. The Catholic Bishop of Jeju is behind the campaign and I am at present staying in the home of a retired Catholic priest who is now living in the village and providing a living space for Catholics who come to help out. I have asked to interview him for an article for the Catholic press. Apparently the Protestant church has not engaged in the struggle being more conservative.
Sung-Hee and I did our solo vigils at the gates before going to dinner with some journalists from the mainland who wanted to interview me. This was followed by the nightly candle-lit vigil where we were briefed by the Mayor and Chairman of the village and the usual sharing, songs and dancing took place. Jung-Min, a friend from Seoul, arrived with 4 others to help out in these coming tense days. The villagers keep saying that they just need to hold out until the elections in April but I fear that will not be the end and wonder how long these people can keep up such a pace of campaigning.
Love and peace, Angie.