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Assessment for Honamese in Korea, South

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Honamese in Korea, South, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 19 June 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Korea, South Facts
Area:    98,480 sq. km.
Capital:    Seoul
Total Population:    46,417,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The HoNamese have only one of the four factors that increase the chances of future protest: South Korea's recent transition to democracy. The election of a HoNamese President has significantly improved the group's political and economic status, and Roh Moo Hyon, the current president, has not shown so much partisanship in terms of regionalism yet. However, recent widespread labor unrest in response to economic restructuring and accusations of corruption leveled against the governing regime could lead to a return of YoungNamese rule. It is not clear if such a move would result in a reversal of recent HoNamese gains.

Analytic Summary

In contrast to most countries in the world, South Korea is ethnically, culturally, and linguistically homogenous. However, its fault lines revolve around regional tensions. Differing regional perceptions have existed throughout Korea's history and date back as far as the unification of the three Korean kingdoms in the 7th century. But it has been in the post-WWII period that they have become manifested in differential political and economic access and status.

The major division is between the YoungNam who live in the southeastern region of the Kyongsang provinces and the HoNam who reside in the southwestern region of the Cholla provinces (REGIONAL = 1). There has been some HoNamese migration across the country, primarily in search of better economic opportunities (MIGRANT = 3). Members from both groups primarily identify with others based on their region of birth.

Beginning in the early 1960s under the autocratic rule of President Chung-hee Park, regional differences moved beyond psychologically held beliefs to active discrimination. In order to maintain support for his military coup, Park relied heavily on his YoungNamese kin who were recruited for elite political and administrative positions. The HoNamese, who opposed his rule, were politically marginalized. Divisions also emerged in the economic arena as South Korea's successful industrialization largely benefited the YoungNam Kyongsang provinces. Successive presidents through the early 1990s were also YoungNamese, and despite government promises to reduce regional political and economic differentials, few substantive policies were enacted.

A major defining incident in HoNam-YoungNam relations occurred in May 1980 when the government crushed an opposition revolt in Kwangju, the capital city of South Cholla province. Referred to as Kwangju massacre by the HoNam, it is alleged that up to 2,000 demonstrators were killed. The issue of accountability for the military's actions was to mar regional relations until the mid-1990s when two former Presidents were sentenced to jail for their involvement.

President Young Sam Kim, who was elected in 1993 as South Korea was undertaking democratic reforms, did make some efforts to reach out to the HoNamese. Kim, a YoungNam, was responsible for ensuring culpability for the Kwangju incident and he also sought to actively promote investment and development in the Cholla region.

Corruption scandals that implicated President Young Sam Kim, coupled with a large civil disobedience movement that was the result of limiting workers' rights and the fallout of Southeast Asia's financial crisis, provided the backdrop to South Korea's elections which were held in December of 1997. Longtime dissident, Kim Dae Jung, who is from the Cholla region, won the Presidency, although he did not receive a majority of the votes.

President Kim's election was expected to herald a new era of relations due to his efforts to transcend regional cleavages; however, numerous problems have plagued the new regime. These include major labor unrest as South Korea sought to restructure the economy in response to the Asian financial crisis; opposition charges that Kim was pursuing corruption cases against members of the former regime; reported corruption by his close colleagues; and allegations that he was disproportionately providing political and economic benefits to the HoNamese.

Concerns over his declining political base provided the impetus for President Kim's formation of a new political organization, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDA). In parliamentary elections in April 2000, the MDA came in a distant second to the former ruling party, the Grand National Party. This result created further political instability in South Korea. In the international arena, President Kim Dae Jung has fared much better. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts to reconcile with North Korea.

Political and economic discrimination against the HoNamese stems from historical neglect and/or restrictions, but in recent years their status has significantly improved. There are remedial public policies in place to improve the group's economic status and since President Kim's victory there have not been any political restrictions (ECDIS98-03 = 1; POLDIS99-03 = 0).

The HoNamese are primarily concerned with maintaining their political rights and participation although a significant section seeks widespread autonomy. Economic issues include desires for a greater share of public funds and economic opportunities along with better working conditions.

Broad-based conventional organizations represent group interests. These include the Millennium Democratic Party which was formerly known as the National Congress for New Politics (NCNP) party. Some one to two-thirds of group members support these organizations (COHESX9 = 4).

HoNamese political activism dates to the early 1960s and since then group members have engaged in significant protest actions including widespread demonstrations (PROT60X = 4). In recent years there have been lower-level activities (PROT98-00 = 2). No protests were reported from 2001 to 2003 (PROT01-03 = 0). Except for sporadic violent acts during the 1980 opposition revolt, there has been no other anti-state rebellion (REB80X = 1; REB 98-03 = 0).


1. Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

2. Kim, Chong-Chul and Chang-Jip Choi (1991) A Study of Regionalism (in Korean), Seoul: Hak-Min Sa.

3. Lee, Shin-wha (1989) "Regional Conflict in South Korea: Concerning the Conflict between two regions, YoungNam and HoNam," a term paper, University of Maryland at College Park.

4. Nexis Library Information, 1990-2003

5. Yang, Sung-Chul (1994) "South Korea's Top Bureaucratic Elites, 1948-1993: Their Recruitment Patterns and Modal Characteristics," Paper to be delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Boston, Massachusetts, March 22-26.

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