The people of Myanmar are struggling against a military regime now. Myanmar citizens want democracy, so they protest. It is the Buddhist monks and university students that led the protests. Many countries are currently watching the situation unfold in Myanmar. Korea watches even more closely because Korea also experienced a situation not unlike Myanmar.
The June 10 civil uprising of 1987 was resistance in opposition to a military regime. Many Korean people joined this uprising and university students were at the helm. Students were concerned about Korean politics and criticized the government. In addition, they sacrificed themselves to achieve the democratization of Korea.
In this way, many university students were worried about politics and thought that politics were important. And now, twenty years have passed. Has thinking about politics changed between university students of the 1980s and the students of today? Today’s university students are more indifferent to politics.
Kim (24), university student said, “I think politics is very difficult. I don’t know political terms and it is not my major field of study. So I am not interested in politics.”
Jung Da-young (21), university students, said, “I hear the news of Korea political problems through radio, television and newspapers. However, I don’t think deeply about these political problems. Also, I haven’t joined a political organization.”
If university students’ major is not related to politics, they may not think much about politics, like Kim or Jung.
Actual Condition of University Students’ Politics Awareness
The Sookmyung Times surveyed Sookmyungians’ politics awareness to know the actual level of students’ politics awareness. 128 Sookmyungians participated in this questionnaire.
The first question is ‘Are you interested in political problems?’ Four students answered ‘I am very interested in political problem.’ 26 students answered ‘I’m interested in political problem.’ 64 students answered ‘I’m interested in political problems a little.’ 32 students answered ‘I am not interested in political problems.’ About 25 percent students are not interested in politics. It is more than the sum of students who answered ‘very interested’ and ‘interested.’ It means that political indifference has spread to many students at Sookmyung.
The second question is ‘Do you participate in political groups or activities other than voting?’ 12 students answered ‘Yes,’ while 111 students answered ‘No.’ Third, we asked, ‘Is there a political party which you support?’ 34 students answered ‘Yes,’ and 93 students answered ‘No.’ This survey shows that most students’ politics awareness is very low. Why are they unconcerned with politics?
Progress of Democratization
Twenty years have passed since the Korean students demonstrated against the military regime. The Korean political atmosphere has changed. Twenty years ago, Korea was not a democratized country so university students were gravely concerned about the democratization of the country.
Korea people suffered under a dictatorial government and they had to think about politics and do something to gain democratization in the 1980s. The June 10 Civil Uprising represents that movement. Chun Doo-hwan was president at that time and he plotted to prolong his rule. Koreans resisted steadily.
As part of this resistance, Park Jong-cheol, a Seoul National University student, was tortured to death by police. This event was a catalyst that brought students and Korean people in general into the movement. This is how the Korean society of the 1980s made university students more political.
Korean society is now democratic because of the pro-democracy movement. University students also do not have to think about politics deeply. Politics don’t directly affect university students adversely. They can live peacefully without concern for politics. These factors bring about their indifference.
Substantive Issues More Important than Politics
Today, students have substantive issues that they worry more about. The biggest is the issue of Employment. SMT confirmed this in a survey. The SMT asked, ‘Why are you indifferent to political problems?’ 11 students answered, ‘It is difficult.’ 28 students answered, ‘Distrust of Korean politics.’ 39 students answered, ‘There are many substantive issues to solve like Employment.’ 15 students answered, ‘I don’t feel necessity to know about politics.’ That is 46 percent students are indifferent politics because they solve many substantive issues.
University students spend a lot of time developing their abilities. They must study English and their major field to get a job. In addition, they prepare for job interviews and tests. According to the Korea National Statistical Office, the unemployment rate of people in their twenties was 7.3 percents in 2006.
That is more than double the number of the overall Korean unemployment rate (3.3 percent.) If students who are preparing to get a job are included unemployment ratio, it more than quadruple overall unemployment rate. High unemployment holds back university students so they have to try to solve this problem. This situation also brings about political indifference.
Koreans have a prejudice against students who are politically active. If students are politically active, most people think that they may be troublemakers in the future. Actually, there are some universities that prohibit students’ political activity through school regulations.
For example, Yonsei University’s regulation was written that ‘We can punish students who organize or join political groups and do political activities.’ 20 national universities and 48 private colleges prohibit activities that violate their university’s education purpose and function.’ Kangnung University and 16 other private colleges announced a prohibition against joining political parties and social groups which aim to be political.
What is the message? Do not do any political activity in this university. Also these universities expel students from school or punish students who break this regulation.
Universities explained that the reason these schools keep such regulations is to maintain the existence of neutrality and to keep an academic atmosphere. However, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea proposes to eliminate these school regulation and advice. They also said that universities haven’t been able to fully explain why political activities are a disorder to the school system. They are based on negative prejudices against political activities.
Ready to Become a Friend to Politics
Many social groups were organized to change students’ political awareness. University students can join and learn about politics through these organizations. For example, We Korea Impact (Weki) does activities both on and off line. Weki was made by 100 university students and their purpose is to improve election turnout. They will do performances and intend to campaign. Weki assures us that they will improve the election culture and open electorate’s eyes.
Another group is the Elite Intensive Course & Elite Integrated Club (EIC) which The Federation of Korean Industries supports. EIC members gather every Friday and they learn about the economy and political theory. Also they debate political problems with other participants. All Korean university students can join EIC.
University Student Politics Academy also helps students advance their political interest. If you join this academy, you can hear politician’s special lectures and can meet presidential hopefuls.
New Idea for University Students
United New Democratic Party introduced mobile vote to elect their presidential hopeful. It is first in Korea so some experts are worried about illegal voting. However, mobile vote started on October 9th and has progressed favorably. People can vote for the candidate they choose when they want and where they want through mobile vote. Also it captured the attention of university students.
Lee Hee Jin (24) who is a university student said, “It is very familiar with me. Politics is distant from me but cellular phones are very familiar. Therefore connecting politics with cellular phones is good and I feel friendly towards politics.” Political parties also use funny User Created Content (UCC).
They manufacture UCC to appeal to university students. For example, Lee Myung-bak imitates Mabbaki. University students can see these UCC very easily and they feel politics friendly through funny UCC. And Democratic Labor Party debates discussion through UCC. People can ask their question through their own UCCs.
Awakening of themselves
Although the previous generation paved the way to a democratic society, students are indifferent to political activities because they haven’t yet awakened themselves. Therefore it is essential to awaken their important role in politics. University students are not bound to regionalism and kinship, so their interest and participation can change current politics. And they must know it. If political indifference continues, democracy will be meaningless. University students are the owners of the future democratic society.