[OUTLOOK]Make May a month of peaceMay is the most beautiful time of the year in Korea. This month also bears special meaning in modern history.
On May 16, 1961, Park Chung-hee took power through a military coup. On May 18, 1980, civil demonstrations took place in Gwangju against the newly installed military government. These are also known as the Gwangju massacre.
While the military coup of 1961 crushed the seed of democracy that was about to sprout, the demonstrations in 1980 were a turning point for the development of Korea’s democracy after decades of military rule.
The government has been working on healing the wounds from the massacre. Demonstrators in the Gwangju massacre have been compensated, and May 18 is designated a memorial day. Prizes and awards granted to those involved in the atrocities have been confiscated.
Nobody now regards the citizens of Gwangju as “mobs” as they were viewed in May 1980. The 1980 Gwangju demonstrations have finally regained their due honor.
This year, Gwangju city plans to hold two large-scale events this month ― a joint ceremony commemorating the sixth anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration, and a conference of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
The city has gone through drastic change in only a quarter of a century since May 1980, which is hard to see in other places in the world. This change exemplifies the dynamics of our society.
The 1980 demonstrations are said to have set a new standard and goal in the fight for democracy in Asia and the Third World.
In May every year, many people visit Gwangju, the “shrine of Korean democracy.” This year will be no exception.
However, the city has other problems these days. Conflicts between workers and management that started in April have led to violent clashes.
The May 31 local elections are supposed to be festive events where citizens choose the right people for their local communities. However, some have tarnished this by using political connections with central power figures to pursue selfish interests.
The city was not like this 26 years ago. The people of Gwangju shared rice balls and took turns guarding their neighborhoods.
All citizens worked hard to build a unified nation, regardless of their gender or ideology. They all wished for the same things ― peace, reunification and democracy.
In May 1980, Korea was suffering from dictatorship and suppression by military power. Our country then was just tiny and powerless.
However, we have since successfully hosted the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. As the world’s 11th-largest economy, we are entering the center of the world as a powerful country.
Things need to be changed now. Protesters in Pyeongtaek picked up metal pipes and said they would rally in memory of the Gwangju massacre.
But things are not the same as in the demonstrations of 26 years ago.
These days, military intervention takes place only when the authorities authorize the use of power. Civic groups are more active than those in most other countries. Minority groups can freely make their voices heard, as seen when Democratic Labor Party members succeeded in taking seats at the National Assembly.
In a democratic society, peaceful rallies should be allowed to take place.
However, violence cannot be sanctioned for any reason, and it does no good to anybody.
Probably because May is the best time of the year, many holidays such as Children’s Day, Parent’s Day and Teacher’s Day fall in this month. Children, parents and teachers symbolize love and peace.
But the May 16 coup d’etat and the May 18 demonstrations still make us feel uncomfortable.
Can’t we make May a month of peace? Citizens’ enhanced awareness of politics and a new culture of peaceful rallies are needed more than ever to match our country’s social and economic status on the world stage.
* The writer is a professor at Administration School of Chonnam National University.
by Oh Jae-yiel