It’s an International Island of Peace. It’s one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. There are multiple World Heritage sites on this island.
And they want to build a naval base here, on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline we have.
It will disrupt the lives of thousands of people, it will destroy this beautiful island, and for what? Ugly military buildings and a convenient place to fight China, should (God forbid) it come to that.
A more hideous, unconscionable violation of human rights, peace and democracy is difficult to imagine.
From the website www.savejejuisland.org:
The South Korean Government is constructing a naval base on Jeju Island. Officially named the “Island of World Peace” by the late President Roh Moo Hyun, Jeju was the site of a 1948 massacre in which more than 30,000 civilians were estimated to have been slaughtered during a democratic uprising.
Located strategically in the Korea Strait, the island’s potential to become a military target in the event of an armed conflict in this tense region would increase exponentially with the addition of a naval base. The threat this poses to the men, women and children of Jeju Island is unconscionable, and it can be avoided through halting the base construction.
Since plans for the naval base were announced five years ago, 94 % of Gangjeong residents have voted against the base and used every possible democratic means to block its construction in their pristine fishing village. Yet their protests have fallen on mostly deaf ears.
The home for this proposed military facility is the tiny village of Gangjeong, which is surrounded by three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites and nine UNESCO Geo-Parks on an island that is designated a Global Biosphere Reserve. Construction is accelerating daily with the dredging of the island’s seabed and its coral communities currently underway.
Many observers of the region believe that the Jeju Island naval base will serve as a port of call for the U.S. military’s sea-based component of its ballistic missile defense system.
This is not only an issue of protecting the environment or preventing military expansion. Human rights and free speech are also at stake. Villagers have been arrested during nonviolent protests. Police and construction workers have assaulted elderly members of the community, who represent a large portion of the activists.
Jeju Island is under attack. “Touch not one stone, not one flower,” is its residents’ battle cry. Will you join them?
We need more outrage from the international community.
People like Robert Redford (yes, the Robert Redford), author and professor at MIT Noam Chomsky and activist and author Gloria Steinem have all spoken out in condemnation of the naval base. Al Jazeera English visited the area towards the end of 2011 and made this fabulous documentary.
“Secrecy and hypocrisy have let this military base get under way. Facts and activism can stop it before it’s too late,” Redford told the Korea Times.
Steinem wrote of her own visits to Jeju Island and the connection she feels to the place: “[I have] been unable to shake the memory of its beauty, and traditions that may be remnants of an ancient culture of balance … Jeju isn’t called the most beautiful place on earth for nothing.”
“I fear South Korea is a tail being wagged by the Pentagon dog, ” she said.
“The resistance is a grassroots movement that goes well beyond the issue of the island’s militarization. Human rights, the environment and free speech are also at stake. Though small and remote, Gangjeong is an important battleground for all who believe in social justice worldwide,” said Chomsky.
“Gangjeong villagers know full well what their future holds if their cry for peace is not heeded: an influx of South Korean and foreign military personnel, advanced armaments, and a world of suffering delivered to a small island that has already endured enough. The irony is that the seeds for future superpower conflict are being sown on an ecological preserve and island of peace.”
From an island, country, continent or hemisphere away, we cannot go and lie down in front of the bulldozers. We cannot physically sit in solidarity with the protesters, at the camp or in prison. We cannot swim out to the rocks and hold up flags.
So we do what we can, with what we have. Words, blogs, social media, online petitions. We can add our voices to those of the Gangjeong villagers and say, we don’t want this either. This is not right. We are here with you.
*All photos courtesy the Facebook group “No Naval Base on Jeju”.