Anthem of the Gwangju uprising stirs debate again

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Anthem of the Gwangju uprising stirs debate again

With less than two weeks before the 33rd anniversary of the Gwangju uprising and massacre, a comment by the patriots and veterans affairs minister indicating the ministry may exclude an anthem of the pro-democracy, anti-dictatorship movement has sparked opposition from political and civic groups and family members of massacre victims.

The controversy began when Minister Park Sung-choon said during a visit to his Gwangju office Thursday that the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs will push to designate an official song to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising in Gwangju that started May 18, 1980 and the bloody crackdown that followed.

The Veterans Affairs Ministry has earmarked 48 million won ($43,870) to select an official May 18 song. Some May 18 related organizations believe the government is actually trying to push aside “The March for Thou,” the song most associated with the uprising.

“Unlike other official songs that are sung to mark other state holidays, there are differing opinions regarding ‘The March for Thou.’ .?.?. We will explore some options regarding the selection of an official song and make a decision [after this year’s ceremony],” the minister said.

“?‘The March for Thou’ has been sung to remember the spirit of the May 18 uprising since May 1980,” said Kang Un-tae, mayor of Gwangju. “The budget earmarked for a song selection should be spent on other initiatives in the event.”

Other organizations including the May 18 Memorial Foundation issued a joint statement Friday vowing to boycott the government ceremony next Saturday if the ministry excludes the singing of the iconic anthem.

In the course of the 10-day Gwangju uprising from May 18 to 27, 1980, citizens took up arms and formed civilian militias, claiming control of the city. The militias were crushed by the special forces dispatched by the military government.

According to official government data, a total of 191 civilians lost their lives during the uprising and crackdown. But civic groups and family members claim 606 people died.

The uprising was branded by the Chun Doo Hwan government as an unlawful revolt instigated by Pyongyang sympathizers and North Korean spies. Liberals trace the anti-dictatorship movement that eventually brought democracy to Korea to Gwangju. In 1993, President Kim Young-sam proclaimed his government was built on the Gwangju Democratic Movement.

“The March for Thou” made its public debut in 1981 when it was written for a shamanistic, posthumous marriage between a civilian militia member named Yun Sang-won, who was killed at the age of 30 during the last phase of the uprising, and Park Ki-sun, a labor activist who died because of bad working conditions in 1979.

The song gained wide popularity among democratic activists and became the anthem of the movement.

People are now wondering if President Park Geun-hye will attend the commemoration in Gwangju. The anti-dictatorship, pro-democracy movement reviled her father, strongman Park Chung Hee. But in 2004, Park, as chairwoman of the conservative Grand National Party, attended the memorial on May 18 with then-President Roh Moo-hyun.

By Kang Jin-kyu []
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