No peace for South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, or fellow retirees, as noisy, rude protesters bombard his now-not-so-sleepy village
- Pyeongsan in nation’s south is home to about 100 people, including recently retired liberal president Moon Jae-in
- Conservative protesters, some earning money via live-streams, have upset Moon and other elderly locals, with several taken to hospital with stress
That was the dream he had cherished while struggling through daunting presidential tasks piling up on his desk every day during his five years in office.
But it took only a few hours’ journey for the 69-year-old liberal to get to his house, 300km (186 miles) from Seoul, and find the dream shattered – he and his wife were met by well-wishers but also by boisterous ultra rightists swearing with the help of loudspeakers and waving banners inscribed with foul words and comments.
The noise and nastiness, which has calmed down somewhat but is still going on, has also upset the village’s other residents, many of whom are elderly; some are said to have been hospitalised from the stress and insomnia.
Gathering near Moon’s retirement home in recent weeks are ‘professional’ agitators who have often staged anti-Moon rallies since Park, their darling, was disgraced before being succeeded by Moon.
In 2012 Park defeated him to become South Korea’s first female leader, but was convicted of abuse of power and coercion after being impeached in 2017. She was released from prison in December after serving nearly five years of a 24-year jail sentence.
But the very vocal protests near Moon’s home, with groups varying in terms of size, style and message (and with protesters mostly in their 60s), are not just about differences of opinion; some of those involved earn a living live-streaming their demonstrations on YouTube and feel the need to be increasingly extreme, to make more money.
“For right (wing) extremist YouTubers, these protests are related to their livelihood ... They receive donations from viewers and also earn money from ads. They tend to put on more and more obscene protests as viewers want ever more stimulating stuff”, columnist Oh Byung-sang wrote in the JoongAng Daily newspaper last month.
“South Korea is a heaven for such political YouTubers. It’s hard for them to give up their livelihood”, he said, adding that “such videos add fuel to hatred in the country’s politics... Abuse and propaganda spread with a speed of light, nurturing politically-biased cyber worlds”.
Leftists also tend to shift further to the left, deepening the country’s political polarisation, according to Oh.
As Moon’s repeated appeals for restraint have fallen on deaf ears, his family has filed complaints with the police against people in three protest groups, accusing them of defaming Moon, threatening to kill him and inciting collective violence.
For the protesters, Moon’s alleged ‘crimes’ are not all related to Park. They also include allegations he handed over state secrets to North Korea, diverted government money to buy clothes for his wife and undermined an alliance with the United States to appease China.
Banners put up by the protesters near his house have been full of foul words, some calling Moon “a son of a b****” and changing the spelling of his name to “Joe-in”, which means criminal, or “Jae-ang”, which means disaster. Some banners showed the words: “Execute Moon Joe-in” while another read: “Kill Moon Jae-ang, bang! bang! bang!”
Loudspeakers on the top of vehicles, about 80 metres from Moon’s residence, have blared out songs maligning him from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Protesters have also shouted abuse at anyone seen moving in the house.
Frustrated village residents have hung up their own banners on the walls of their homes that read: “The elderly are getting sick from the protests”. A banner was also placed at a community hall, which said: “Authorities! Guarantee the residents’ right to live!”
On May 24, about 30 desperate villagers marched along a road near Moon’s house, calling for the protesters to stop. “About 10 seniors in their 70s-90s were hospitalised for insomnia and stress due to the noise,” a local surnamed Lee told a newspaper.
Following villagers’ complaints and police interventions, the protests began dying down last week, with far fewer people involved now than in the first two weeks after Moon’s arrival in the village on May 10, although around 20 diehard protesters have continued with their action.
“Rallies are allowed even outside the presidential office. Things will be handled in accordance with the law,” he told journalists in response to a request by opposition Democrats for him to intervene to stop protesters harassing Moon.
Democratic Party spokesman Cho Oh-seop said Yoon’s comments gave the wrong signal to protesters who were going too far, and prevented police from stopping them.
So with no clear political will to stop them and with money to be made by at least some of the instigators, the protests, albeit much diluted, are likely to continue for the time being.