Andrew Yeo, an associate professor of politics and a fellow at the Institute of Policy Research & Catholic Studies (IPR), spoke about the future of democracy in Korea during Catholic University’s 2016 John Oh Memorial Lecture on Oct. 13.
Yeo directs the University’s Asian Studies Program and was recently named to a $1.2 million research task force organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to study the internal and regional relationships of North Korea. He stepped in to give the lecture in place of scheduled speaker Katharine Moon, professor of political science and Edith Stix Wasserman Chair of Asian Studies at Wellesley College, who couldn’t attend due to illness.
As part of his talk, Yeo gave a brief overview of South Korean history, focusing on the emergence of democracy there after decades of authoritarian rule. The country’s first successful democratic election of a civilian leader took place in 1993.
“Some might argue that this is where South Korea’s story of democracy concludes, with Korea entering the phase of democratic consolidation from the 1990s onward,” Yeo said. “While this is true, we have to remind ourselves that democracy is a work in progress.”
Today, it is not uncommon to see Koreans demonstrating against free trade or certain government policies. Though social movements can be signs of a healthy democracy, they can also signify that civilians feel they are not being heard through the traditional political process. South Korea has also had increases in human rights violations in recent years, and new challenges with racism and prejudice, because of increased numbers of migrants entering the country.
Yeo also spoke about North Korea, which has no democracy, but is home to a “shadow economy,” which could be laying the groundwork for future political change. Finally, Yeo spoke of the parallels between democracy in South Korea and the United States, showing that successful democracies develop gradually, often with fits and starts.
The lecture was sponsored by Catholic University’s Department of Politics in collaboration with the Asian Studies program, the Center for International Social Development, and IPR. It was supported by the family of John K.C. Oh, vice president of Catholic University from 1985 to 1989 and former professor in the politics department..
Topics raised in Yeo’s lecture will be revisited later this month, when the University, through IPR and with support from the Korea Foundation, will host an international conference on Thursday, Oct. 27, on "The Evolution of North Korean Human Rights Discourse and Activism.” For more information on that conference, visit iprcua.com/2016/10/27/the-evolution-of-north-korean-human-rights-discourse-and-activism-domestic-and-transnational-dimensions/