South Korea′s self-appointed ′patriots′ protest against rapprochement with North Korea | In Depth | DW | 30.04.2018
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South Korea's self-appointed 'patriots' protest against rapprochement with North Korea

After the historic summit of the two Korean heads of state, South Korea's nationalists are mobilizing to oppose closer ties. But, the majority of the population remains optimistic. Alexander Freund reports from Seoul.

There are only a few hundred demonstrators, but they're making a lot of noise. These so-called "patriots" have converged on the capital from all over the country to protest against a rapprochement with North Korea and whip up opposition in Seoul to President Moon Jae-in. One day after the historic summit their deafening loudspeaker vans and outsize flags have taken over the city center.

It's mostly older, conservative Koreans who are taking to the streets in anger. They demonstratively wave the American flag alongside the South Korean. For them, the United States – and above all US President Donald Trump, whose likeness appears on countless flags and banners – is the last and the most important of the protecting powers, a bulwark against communism.

They whip up discontent among the protesters with rousing slogans and nationalist songs. Many of the older men demonstrating are in uniform; some wore it on duty in the demilitarized zone, precisely where President Moon and Kim Jong Un strode to meet each other the previous day. Already there is talk of a new era and the end of the war on the Korean peninsula.

Read more - North and South Korea: How different are they?

South Korea protesters (DW/A. Freund)

Protesters Han and An: "Moon wants to betray us!"

Trump, scourge of the communists

The "patriots," however, are having none of it. They consider any form of concession to North Korea to be high treason. Many are wearing T-shirts and carrying placards with the face of the deposed South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, who has since been convicted on charges of corruption and abuse of power. Unlike the current president, the conservative Park pursued a very confrontational course against North Korea.

The demonstrators despise the policy of detente adopted by President Moon, a former human rights lawyer who's been in office for less than a year.

Read more: Korean family reunions: too little, too late?

"Moon wants to betray us!” they cry. "We have to stop this at all costs! Long live the USA!" yells 82-year-old Han. The uniformed man beside him, who gives his name as An, salutes and agrees: "We have to stop Moon! The only possible form of reunification would be like Germany's – according to Western rules! I hate the communists!"

The demonstrators' anger is also directed not only at the social democrat Moon but also at China, which the "patriots" – some of whom are from the political far-right – say is acting increasingly aggressively in the region. Anti-Chinese flags and banners are also on display. Hyun, 36, says China is not to be trusted: "Beijing is still North Korea's protecting power; it doesn't really support the sanctions. The US absolutely should not withdraw from South Korea now and leave the field to the Chinese."

Read more: South Korean loudspeakers silenced for good as relations with North thaw

The majority want rapprochement

Although the nationalists' protest against any rapprochement with North Korea is a very loud one, they are in fact in a clear minority. Just before the summit the renowned opinion research center Real Meter carried out a representative poll among the population. It showed that more than 78 percent of all South Koreans would like a peace settlement with North Korea.

This broad support exists across the whole spectrum of South Korean society. President Moon got high approval ratings among both young and old, in both the urban and rural population, in socially liberal milieus and in the conservative camp. Moon's approval ratings may even have risen after the historic summit: After all, he was able to obtain numerous concessions from the North Korean leader in a very friendly atmosphere.

So the overwhelming majority of South Koreans are looking optimistically to the future. While maintaining a degree of skepticism, the majority of people see the joint declaration as an important step in the right direction. They agree that words must be followed by deeds; but even this is unlikely to pacify the self-appointed "patriots."

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