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PSPD  l  People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Archive
  • 2003.11.08
  • 1444
Sung-Tae Hong

(rayhope@chollian.net)

Professor of Sociology, Sang-ji University)

The Birth of Rohsamo

Rohsamo is the Korean abbreviation for 'people who love Roh Moo-hyun'. Perhaps the name 'In-Sa-Mo', which means 'people who love Inmul and Sasang(people and thoughts)' is the catalyst spreading this kind of name. Anyway, Roh-Sa-Mo, among numerous Sa-Mo's, has a unique status in Korea. How come?

Rohsamo is the first fan club established by voluntary citizens who support an incumbent political figure. This type of gathering is quite rare even in the rest of the world. It is quite difficult for an incumbent politician to draw people's favorable attention. It is even more unusual for a politician to watch voluntary supporters establishing a fan club for him or her. Just these facts provide enough reason why we should pay attention to 'Rohsamo'.

Here, let us hear Rohsamo's account of the birth of itself. The day goes back to the general election of April 13, 2000.

The birth of Rohsamo

On the night of Roh's defeat in the general election, his website was filled with a rush of comforting comments from his supporters, which broke down the web server several times. His website, full of resentment and anger, saw the posting of 'Old Fox’ (Lee, Jung-Ki, one of his supporters) on April 15, proposing the establishment of Roh's fan club. It soon started registering club members. The registration rush was overwhelming.

Accordingly a temporary BBS exclusively for the club was opened on April 17. This was the birth of 'Rohsamo', the first fan club for a political figure in Korea. The membership increased rapidly to more than 300 within 10 days. The age of the members ranged from teenage to 60's. The members were from around the country.

Regional Support Groups

The fervent support club organization online set a fire in its offline body. Its first meeting was held in Daejeon, easily accessible from all over the country. Each branch based in Seoul (April 29), Kwang-ju (April 28), and Pusan (April 29) held a meeting for the preparation of the launch of the club. Metropolitan Area, Ho-nam Area, and Young-nam Area branches were launched.

May 7, 2000 Preparation meeting for establishing the nationwide fan club

Roh’s fans gathered from around the country. People from high schoolers to housemakers ran to Daejeon in spite of their busy work. This was a moment that witnessed the Roh-win online in the offline gathering. In this meeting, an outline and blueprint for the subsequent operation of the club was discussed and some specifications about the launching convention were agreed upon. Lee Bong-ki, representative of the metropolitan branch, was elected as the temporary representative of the organization.

May 17, 2002 The Official Website of Rohsamo opens.

The Official Website of Rohsamo opened according to the agreement reached in the establishment working group. This online club was made virtually without any assistance from Roh's official bodies.

June 6, 2000: The General Meeting and Official Launch of Rohsamo

The first general meeting of the club was held in a PC room in Daejeon. The place for the meeting, which was determined considering the characteristics of the club, that it is an on-line community, drew a lot of attention since the place was so exceptional.

Over 100 members gathered at the launching ceremony. This was broadcast via Ohmynews.com, one of the most influential on-line news media outlets in Korea. During the meeting, an electronic poll was administered determining the constitution of the club and 'Rohsamo engagements' was adopted as its constitution. Kim Young-bu, chairman of the metropolitan branch, was elected as the representative of the nationwide club. The launch was a precious accomplishment for average citizens 45 days after Roh's defeat in the election.

This brief history shows that Rohsamo is an organization of Roh's volunteers, who support Roh for his reformative policy. But the role of this organization is not limited to supporting Roh. It became a representative body expressing citizens’ yearning for a reform process in Korea. Roh is noteworthy as a political figure: Rohsamo is more noteworthy as a political support group.

Rohsamo’s Activities

As the 'Red Devils', established in 1995, performed so brilliantly in World Cup 2002, Rohsamo, launched in the spring of 2000, showed its competence in the Minjoodang’s (Millennium Democratic Party's) primary election for the presidential candidate in 2002. The complicated situation in the MDP forced the party to elect its presidential candidate by the direct vote of electors. Rohsamo didn't let this opportunity pass by.

Rohsamo's launch of the committee for the primary election

The action committee called a meeting dealing with the agenda of the primary election, which had adopted a new election process, on Dec. 22, 2001. This meeting discussed the revolutionary change of the primary election process based on competition and direct votes by people, and also discussed the role of Rohsamo in the upcoming political situation. The members decided to participate actively in the primary election. The action body for the primary action was launched, and Jin-sol and Kurumdari, the representatives of Dae-gu/Kyung-buk (southeast part of Korea), took the roles of executive coordinators of the action body, which focused on the organization of action bodies based in each region of Korea.

Participation in the Primary Election and Victory of the People

Rohsamo's participation in the primary election, in which the elected is determined by the direct votes of people, worked a miracle. About 400,000 people participated in the primary election through Rohsamo, which took about 21 percent of the whole voters, reaching up to 1,900,000. Rohsamo turned every spot of the primary election into a place of festival. This was accepted and interpreted as a new model of people's participation in the political process. The primary election ended up with Roh's victory, with the lead in 10 of the total 16 precincts.

Roh was a political figure who had not been elected in his political birthplace. In this respect he has a serious defect. However, this failure was due to 'region-based politics'. Roh's 'defect' was in that he had tried to eradicate the region-based political strategy destructive to the politics of South Korea. Rohsamo is a people's organization voluntarily supporting Roh's consistent reform drive about this chronic disease in the Korean political system.

The primary election, in which the elected is determined by the direct votes of people, has the implication that the intent of people is directly reflected into the election process. Korean politics had been based on a crony system. Crony politics is based on bossism. The party is composed of a boss and his subordinates. The boss recommends subordinates as candidates, and subordinates obey the head. The election process is just a formal act justifying this inner system. People's indifference to politics in Korea can be attributed to the aversion fostered by this crony politics. The primary election was a crucial occasion for fixing this problem.

Rohsamo participated vigorously in the primary election process and contributed greatly to the election of Roh, a reform-oriented politician. On one hand, the primary election was an institutional foundation of Roh-wind. On the other hand, Rohsamo is a main force to drive Roh-syndrome: the potential of Roh-wind was realized by the voluntary organization. In this sense, Rohsamo became a name of hope. This hope is not so much about making a minor political figure a presidential candidate as about making people's yearning for political reform come true. Clearly, Rohsamo and Roh-wind were historically significant. Their importance will not fade away even if Roh turns his back on the people's yearnings for a better political system and institutions.

Copying Rohsamo

As Rohsamo secured an unexpected and unique success, a rush of discourse on this experimental organization came out. Rohsamo drew the attention of many people and media outlets and became the title of many news articles. Rohsamo's fame meant Roh's fame. Organizations copying Rohsamo's example began to be established, such as 'Changsarang' (Love Chang), the support group for Lee Hoi-chang, and 'Mongsarang' (Love Mong), both of whom are presidential candidates.

Among these, Changsarang insists it has a longer history than Rohsamo. Based on this assertion, Changsarang charged MBC (Munhwa Broadcasting Company) with incorrect coverage of Rohsamo. Let us see briefly about the chronicle of Changsarang.

* 1996: Lee Hoi-chang Forum opens in Hitel, Nownuri, and Chollian.

* 1996: The first regular meeting held in Chongno. Official Name: People who love Lee (50 participants. Managers mainly consisted of college students. Members ranging through different age groups, from highschoolers to 60's)

* 1997: Several acting bodies open in the presidential election in 1997.

* 2000: Official website of Lee Hoi-chang opens and the forum in Hitel closed. Chollian forum runs until now.

* Feb 25, 2001: Changsarang movie event held. Lee and club members watch a movie together.

* Mar 9-16, 2001: Event given for the thousandth member of Changsarang.

* Mar 17, 2001: A meeting of Changsarang members in Chongno, Seoul.

* Apr 2002: Changsarang official website opens.

* Jul 13, 2002: Headquarter managers elected for Changsarang workshop in Seoul Education Culture Center.

* Jul 18, 2002: Changsarang metropolitan branch launched. Executive managers of the directing body elected.

* Aug 2002: Changsarang official website reopens with major renovations.

This brief chronicle insists that Changsarang began with the launch of the Lee Hoi-chang forum in different communication services in 1996. If the same criteria is applied, Rohsamo's birth goes way before the date: Candidate Roh used PC communications prior to any other politician.

Changsarang's own chronicle shows the striking difference between Changsarang and Rohsamo. Changsarang gives no explanation of why, how, and by whom this organization was established. They just claim the birth of the organization dates back to 1996. On the contrary, Rohsamo gives a very clear account of the background, rationale, and people running the organization. According to Changsarang, its directing body was established in July 2002. What is the use of a directing body in a supporting group? Rohsamo has its representative and steering committee, definitely not a managing body: every member is a fan of Roh with equal rights and voice. A directing body presupposes a director and the directed. Members of Changsarang are probably the directed. However, Rohsamo, in which all the agenda and working items are shared via Internet, cannot breed any form of hierarchical chain of command. Rohsamo makes use of the egalitarian characteristics of the networked community. On the other hand, Changsarang takes advantage of the Internet as a medium to spread the 'directions' of the 'directing body'.

Park Won-hong, legislator of Hanara (Grand National Party), denounced Rohsamo as a pseudo-religious group of political tramps. First let us examine Park's use of the phrase 'political tramps'. Rohsamo is a political supporting group of volunteers. Many citizens spend their own time and money to contribute to political improvement. Why? They think the political system should be the final stronghold supporting public good and that it's high time to secure political reform for that cause. Considering this, how can one describe members of Rohsamo as political tramps? How about the term 'pseudo-religious group'? This slander is spread probably due to the fact that Rohsamo attracts many teenage fans. However, Changsarang also clearly states that it has many teenage members. In this vein, the slander against Rohsamo is totally unfounded. If Park's criteria for 'pseudo-religious group' are to be fairly applied, the politicians spreading slanderous, baseless rumor should be labeled as 'pseudo-religion worshippers'. This denouncement of Rohsamo is at most a product of jealousy and an obsolete strategy of old politics. If someone envies the unique success Rohsamo has achieved, she or he should try to be a reform-oriented political figure. Learn from Rohsamo; do not try to copy it.

Rohsamo as a New Cultural Trend

Rohsamo was noticed as a new political trend. It draw so much attention because it was a driving force for electing a minor, reform-oriented politician as the presidential candidate of the dominant party, as well as showing the possibility of political reform based on people's voluntary actions.

Definitely, Rohsamo has significant implications as a political trend. However, we should take a better note of the organization from the cultural perspective. South Korea acquired conspicuous economic improvement through its people's struggle and efforts, to be a politically-democratized and culturally diverse country. However, its political democratization is far behind its cultural diversity. This underdevelopment can be attributed to two main sources: lagging reform of the political system and outdated party structure. Especially, the underdevelopment of the power structure of political parties is a crucial problem in Korean politics. Rohsamo, which is built on a new cultural trend, aims to democratize the established party system. In this aspect, Rohsamo is an important indicator of change in Korean society.

New political movements can be categorized into two types: 'Anti-' type and 'Support' type. They are different in that the former shows definite opposition or aversion while the latter expresses support for someone or something. However they have in common the voluntary participation of people via the new media of the Internet. People doubting the dominant social regime and order in the new social environments made it possible for a new political gathering like Rohsamo to come into existence. This has much to do with attending to the cultural implication of Rohsamo. The Rohsamo syndrome is not a temporary political phenomenon. It is both a product of and a witness to a structural change of the society. It is more important to discuss the social implications of Rohsamo than the political results of the movement.
Hong Sungtae
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