The new military rule in South Korea is being accepted in a mood of quiet resentment tinged with fears that the country's seven-month-period of instability is not yet finished.
The military crackdown on May 17, folowed by widespread arrests of dissidents, is resented by people in many walks of life as a power play by a group of generals, not the restoration of stability promised in public statements.
One veteran foreign diplomat with execellent contacts among Koreans described the resentment as far greater than anything he had witnessed during the regime of president Park Chung Hee, who was assassinated last October.
It has spread beyond the ranks of dissidents and politicians who opposed Park, and embraces many who had stayed out of politics. The diplomat cited as an example working men and women who this spring were permitted to strike and demand large wage increases for the first time in South Korea's history. Strikes are again forbidden.
Despite continued promises of constitutional reform and eventual elections, most people interviewed in recent days expect a prolonged military government ruling from behind the scenes.
"There is no doubt that people want more freedom in expressing what they want to support," said a lay religious leader, Kim Byung Wook. "It is sad to see the possibility is so far away."
With political dissent again a punishable offense, South Koreans are reluctant to speak against the government except in private. Those who give interviews are frequently visited and warned by surveillance agents. One university student described it as a condition in which "people are forced to remain in a state of seeing nothing, hearing nothing and speaking nothing."
The extent of government repression is not yet known to most South Koreans. Through the censored press, the government has acknowledged only 34 arrests, including several politicians and former government officials accused of corruption. Other sources have said more than 150 dissidents have been jailed in Seoul, and many more have been jailed in other cities.
For the past seven months, South Korea has careened along like an out-of-control airliner given to sudden dives and abrupt climbs. Park's assassination was followed by a coup within the military, which was in turn followed by a period of liberalization that brought unprecedented freedom of movement and dissent.
Then came the May 17 military takeover, sweeping arrests of politicians and dissidents, and the violent suppression of a full-scale rebellion in the provincial capital of Kwangju.
The sudden changes have built up an anything-can-happen sort of anxiety. "We are scared because we don't know what will come next" said a middle-aged executive of a trading company. A veteran bureaucrat who has survived all the twists and turns was asked how he is faring under the strain. "I am alive," he said.
Ecomonic problems have contributed to Korea's anxiety, and have further undermined support for the military government, according to observers here.
One foreign diplomat said former president Park was respected by the average nonpolitical Korean as the man who led the country to an unprecedented economic prosperity, based on nearly a decade of 10 percent annual growth. The generals now running South Korea, he said, do not command that fundamental respect, and many fear they will drive foreign investments out. "They have no legitimacy," the diplomats said.
Koreans are not reluctant to describe their economic fears, many of which are traceable to two developments under way even before Park's death, sagging exports and roaring inflation. A shopkeeper, Song Choon Shik, said his sales are down 40 percent this year and he may shut down.
Tourism, which had revived this spring, has collapsed again following the military takeover and the violence in Kwangju. Hotels usually crowded in this season are only 50 or 60 percent occupied. Taxi drivers are despondent. Chin Man Ki says he drives longer hours, but his earnings have declined 30 percent.
An unusually candid newspaper editorial described an atmosphere of "gloom" in people's private behavior and suggested that things will get better. "
"Hearty laughter is a rare thing in the streets, offices and tearooms, and even in homes, where deep sighs dominate the atmosphere more often than not," said the English-language Korea Times.
"In private conversations, mainly expressed are suspicion, criticism and distrust, and exchanged are information of unknown sources that only increases anxiety in our minds rather than removing it."
The editorial pointed hopefully to the government's promises of democratic reforms within a year. Most people interviewed doubted that free elections will be held, pointing out that several prominent politicians have been jailed and that others are being questioned.
One common joke has it that the government will someday tolerate a campaign of sakura candidates. Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry, but during the 35-year Japanese occupation Koreans gave it a sarcastic connotation meaning "ornament" and in a political sense it now means a candidate representing someone other than he purports to represent.