The national guilt and grief over the Sewol Ferry tragedy that appear to have drowned all other everyday affairs of the nation over a month have now transformed into anger and indignation toward inadequacy of the government and the injustice of capitalistic greed. The government-sponsored Joint Funeral Support Committee reported on May 11, 2014 that over 1.72 million people have visited the Memorial Altars for Sewol Ferry victims nationwide, and about 500,000 people personally visited the Ansan Memorial Altar.  Over 200,000 people visited the memorial altar in Seoul Plaza, where candlelight vigils are also being held.

The Collective Mourning over Sewol Ferry Disaster

Here’s a news report on youtube which captures the sentiment of people: 

This tragedy has been well covered in the main stream media, and the details of the disaster and inadequate responses of the government may not have to be repeated in this article.  However, many reports in the U.S. fail to mention that citizens of the entire nations are supporting the families of victims and considering the sinking as their own affairs.  The sense of community in that sense is very strong and direct.   The quoted interviews of some parents on the youtube video above should be understood in that context.  People are feeling the collective guilt over the fact that school children were not protected from harm, and that these victims may have been their own children.

In that sense, the fact that comedy entertainment programs disappeared from the public channels, and late-night talk shows restrained to air anything comic or laughable since the tragedy more than three weeks.  Over 1.72 million people visited to the memorial altars from all over the country, often times travelling 2-3 hours on weekday nights.    The entire nation was grieving the tragedy in a very personal and communal way.

Igniting Rage beyond Grief

Accordingly, it may not be surprising that a great number of people are joining the candlelight vigils. The tone of the candlelight vigils held in various cities has also changed over the time, Hangyoreh reports on May 11, 2014 (for original article written in Korean, please click here), from the apologetic and sympathetic commemoration to righteous indignation and stronger demands to take steps in preventing future accidents.

As reported in an earlier post in this blog, the labor unions (KCTU) and the progressive movement celebrated the May Day with commemoration of the Sewol Ferry disaster.  KCTU called for direct responsibility of the President Park Geun-hye and asked people to move beyond grief into rage so that a change would be made.  In effect, KCTU clarified the Sewol Ferry tragedy “as ‘massacre committed by political power and capital’ due to ‘capitalist greed that abandoned safety and sense of responsibility for the sake of increased profit,’ and concluded that  privatization and government deregulation of the public transportation will only protects capitalist profit and would not consider the public safety as the utmost concern.

There has continuously been candlelight protests calling for the resignation of Park Geun-hye, in relation to the NIS gate and restoration of democracy.   After the Sewol Ferry tragedy, the progressive movement focused on the sloppy governmental disaster response system and the government-business collusion and called on President Park Geun-hye to take responsibility and step down.  As a country which ranks 10th in military spending worldwide, After the response to the sinking of the Sewol indicates the current state of Park Geun-hye’s government.

After the May Day, consequently, the tone of candlelight vigils gradually changed and also the number of people participating in these candlelight vigils has increased.  The Voice of People newspaper (for Korean article, please click here) reported that over the weekend (May 10-11, 2014), the participants in candlelight vigils which were held in many cities increased dramatically, calling for accountability of the Park Geun-hye administration.  

20,000 people gathered in Ansan Candlelight Vigil on May 10, 2014

20,000 people came to the Candlelight vigil held in Ansan city, Gyeonggi-do, where the official Sewol Disaster Memorial Altar is kept, on May 10, 2014. By Kim Cheol-su

Park Geun-hye made a public apology after the ruling Saenuri Party requested the President to express “sincere regrets” about the issue, probably out of fear that the reputation will drag them down on the June 4, 2014 Local Election day.

Korea Herald reports,

Park’s visit to the southern port is seen as a desperate bid to settle public antipathy toward the administration’s inability to cope with the ship wreck.

The government has become under fire for its poor countermeasure against emergency and disasters while some of its officials have been suspected of having had inappropriate acquaintance with the Sewol owners and others involved in the accident.

People have realized through this tragedy the essence of President Park’s neoliberal policies. Who is responsible for Sewol Ferry disaster?  It’s not only the captain or the owner of the ship.  The bigger culprit is the government, which prioritized corporate profits over the public safety and neglected its regulations for it, and which builds strong military against the “enemy country,” but does not have a proper emergency response system for the citizens.

 Incidentally, May 18 is a commemoration day of Gwangju people’s uprising.  On May 17, 2014, a 100,000 people’s candle action commemorating the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster and calling for full governmental responsibilities is being planned for Seoul Plaza.  In addition, around 140 cities will also have separate candle actions on the weekend of May 16-18, 2014.   The way to remember the victims is to engage in action for change.  In that way, the victims will never be forgotten in minds of Koreans.