Nina Trige Andersen is a historian and freelance journalist. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

South Korean citizens made history when – armed with lighted candles and demands of justice – they brought down president Park Geun-hye and her conservative party in 2017. Director Nungcool and her crew documented the experience.

Light a Candle, Write a History – Candlelight Revolution

Nungcool

Record and Commemoration Committee / People′s Action for Immediate Resignation of Park Geun-hye

Many were horrified when Park Geun-hye took office as South Korea’s president in 2013: How could the daughter of a dictator come to power in times of democracy? Her father, Park Chung-hee, had taken control of South Korea by military coup in 1961 and ruled with authoritarian measures until he was assassinated by his own chief of intelligence in 1979.

Besides martial law and ruthless suppression of political opposition, Park Chung-hee also brought rapid economic growth to a country still struggling to recover after the Korean War. Thus, many hoped his daughter, who at an early age had become First Lady under her father due to her mother’s premature death, could retool South Korea’s economy.

«The secondary school students were sacrificed for the ruthless political economy of a country where multimillionaires systematically evade justice.»

Instead she ended up at the centre of one of the biggest political and economic scandals in South Korean history and is currently serving a 24-year sentence in a Seoul Detention Centre for abuse of power, bribery, coercion and leaking of government secrets. Even though the scandals surrounding her presidency were unravelling already from the spring of 2014, it took another three years for the parliament to impeach Park Geun-hye and remove her from office. And it happened only because the citizens took to the streets in unprecedented numbers.

The final countdown

The new documentary Light a Candle, Write a History – Candlelight Revolution, which had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October, documents the mass protests that finally took down the president: 30,000 participated in the first so-called Candlelight Demonstration on October 29, 2016, and at the second demonstration ten times as many came. By the fourth Candlelight Demonstration almost two million people in Seoul alone went out into the freezing cold to demand that Park Geun-hye step down.

Flying above the crowds, the camera captures the breath-taking sight of millions of candles in the dark winter streets. In an impressive coordinated countdown everyone puts out their lights, and a moment later lights them again in a wave starting from the centre and continuing down the long straight main roads of Seoul.

The anger against the government had been mounting, particularly since the tragic sinking of the ferry Sewol in April 2014, carrying 476 passengers from Incheon, Seoul to the island of Jeju. Most of the passengers were secondary school students on excursion and, though the ferry was close to the coast, only 172 passengers were rescued – not by the coast guard but by fishing boats and commercial vessels.

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