[Interview] Green Korea United activists - Lee Yu-jin & Hartmut Welscher
Interview by Jonathan Davis
Source :  Jonathan Davis
How long has Green Korea been around and how did it get started?
Lee Yu-jin: We’ve been around since 1991. In the late 80s there were a lot of demonstrations with people trying to make Korea democratic. After that people started to know about a lot of problems in society and environmental pollution was one of the main ones. People started to make groups like Green Korea. Some of the original members are still with our group. At this point we have 15,000 members, 10 local chapters, and a full-time staff of 30.
Can you describe the average member of your group?
LYJ: A lot of different people are involved. There are junior high school students, university students, businessmen, doctors and lawyers.
How about the foreign volunteers?
LYJ: There have been foreign volunteers in the past that participated in campaigns with us, but up until last year we never realized how important they were. But the number of foreigners in Korea has been getting larger and a lot of them are interested in getting involved. Since last year there has been an effort to get the foreign volunteers more organized. At this point we have about ten foreign volunteers in Green Korea.
Hartmut Welscher: It’s difficult because people are coming and going and not staying for a long period of time in Korea. People are here for six months and then go back home, or when they are here they’re too busy with work. In my case, I did some political activities in Germany and wanted to get involved with something here. I think that like many other foreigners, I cannot live somewhere without being involved in something.
What sort of programs does Green Korea offer for foreigners?
HW: There are some eco-villages around Korea, which are farms that are trying to live in harmony in nature. We are trying to organize a program where foreigners can visit these farms and stay there for a while. We are also trying to get together hiking trips, just go hiking for a week and walk through one of these national parks.
LYJ: Also the education program and the meditation program. But we also encourage foreigners to help with everything we do like campaigns and surveying.
What sorts of campaigns has Green Korea been involved in?
LYJ: When Taiwan decided to export nuclear waste to North Korea we sent some representatives to help set up a campaign. It actually ended with the Taiwanese government backing down and not exporting the waste. Within Korea, we do a lot of work trying to prevent destructive construction projects like dams, highways, and golf courses. We go there and campaign against it. With all of our campaigns, we use various methods. We organize demonstrations, lobby important decision makers within the Korean government, and try to talk with locals in order to get them to join our efforts. Also, we are constantly trying to make people aware of the environmental problems at the US bases in Korea. For a long time no one was talking about it, but we talked and talked and talked. Nowadays, the US military…they are…well not exactly…but they are thinking about it.
There is a lot of talk about environmental pollution and peace on the group’s web page, but only the American military is specifically named. Are the Americans the only ones polluting Korea?
HW: I don’t think that there is an anti-American slant to the group. The peace issue is really urgent right now because the war is going on right now. I think that if this were another war involving other people there would still be a protest. And the base issue is just one among many. Green Korea is concerned with the American bases and also a lot of issues related to the Korean government.
LYJ: We are an issue-based group. We are not anti-American. There have in the past been groups like that in Korea, but Green Korea is not one of them. We survey American bases and Korean military bases, too. Korean bases also have problems with environmental pollution.
HW: I think that it’s a sensitive issue. People tend to not separate between policy issues and people. It is the same all over the world; if you are against a country’s policies then people living in that country are going to be offended. It is the problem with having a national identity. That’s why foreigners who get involved with organizations like Green Korea are very important. It shows that these campaigns have nothing to do with the American people but with government policies.
What would happen if Green Korea were in charge of Korea?
LYJ: I never thought of that. I think we would just keep on doing our work.
HW: Green Korea is not a political party. We would fight for all the things we are fighting for now. But changing peoples awareness is a long process.
Is lack of awareness the biggest problem in Korea?
HW: I think that especially when it comes to environmental issues, awareness of the people is so important. The green movement in Korea has a really short history; in the past there were more urgent things like fighting for democracy.
LYJ: Awareness is making people see that buying more things is not going to make them happy.
Is there any last thing you want people to know about Green Korea?
LYJ: Our web page address is greenkorea.org.
Interview by Jonathan Davis
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