The Kwangju Uprising, the Struggle of All PeopleToday is May 18, the 20th anniversary of the May 18 Kwangju Uprising. In Kwangju, various events, including an international academic meeting, will be held. The leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties will pay reverance at the Mangwaldong Cemetery where many of the victims are buried. The attention given to the Kwangju Uprising shows the importance that the Korean people have placed on the resistance of authoritarianism in Korea's short history of democracy. This can also be seen in the April 19 Revolution.
The Kwangju Uprising 20 years ago made us so ashamed and was so very painful. At that time, journalists could not report all the facts because of the military authorities' censorship, and so the Korean people were prevented from learning all the facts, with the truth distorted or hidden. The memory of that time reminds intellectuals, politicians, and civilians of their sense of guilt over how they submitted to an unjust authority and turned their heads from the truth.
It is no exaggeration to say that the democratization struggle in the 1980s, with its triumphs, was brought forth by the Kwangju Uprising. The uprising not only become a driving force for the democratization struggle against the new military authority, but it also created the ideology for the overthrow of patriarchal and authoritarian ideas, customs, and cultures, leading to the June 10 Struggle and an end to the 30-year-old military rule.
Today should be a day for recollection and rumination on such things. The Kwangju Uprising should not be of significance to only a certain region, a certain class, nor a certain political party. It should be recognized by all people as an event that sparked the push for democratization and a start for democratic thought.
However, the significance of the Kwangju Uprising is not accepted by all as part of the nationwide struggle for democratization, but is discussed only in regional aspects. There are some who think that the Kwangju Uprising is only receiving attention because of Kim Dae-jung's relationship to the area. If the Kwangju Uprising is viewed through the interests of a certain region or a certain political party, its historial significance will fade away.
In order for the significance of the May 18 Kwangju Uprising to be recognized nationwide and perpetually, it should be understood for its effects on the democratization movement in the 1980s. Like the April 19 Revolution, the Kwangju Uprising must be regarded as a nationwide struggle of people against military authority.
In addition, the citizens of Kwangju must stop concentrating on the persecution they suffered. Now that the truth has been revealed and their honor restored, they have to take an open and amicable attitude. It is also important that the Mangwaldong Cemetery be declared a national cemetry and the victims treated as men of the highest merit. Most importantly the struggle of Kwangju's citizens must be raise to the status of the struggle of all people.
by Kang Chan-ho