Gwangju residents vow to sing their own anthem

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Gwangju residents vow to sing their own anthem

The Gwangju city government and residents, as well as the liberal community, declared yesterday that they will go ahead and sing a controversial pro-democracy anthem at today’s ceremony to mark the anniversary of the democratization movement in the southern city, in protest of the central government’s reluctance to endorse the song.

The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said Thursday that a choir performance of “The March for Thou,” the song most associated with the May 18 democratic uprising in Gwangju, will take place during today’s ceremony to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the event.

The ministry, however, said it did not designate the song as the official commemorative anthem.

It is inappropriate for the song to be sung formally at the government event, the ministry claimed, because it was often used in place of the national anthem at events held by labor and progressive groups.

The ministry, however, said it decided to allow a choir to perform the song at the ceremony because of the continuing practice for the citizens of Gwangju to use the music to remember the 10-day uprising from May 18, 1980 and the subsequent bloody crackdown.

The decision was fiercely protested by Gwangju residents and the liberal civic groups. They said they will stand up during the choir performance, holding the national flags in their hands, and sing along.

It, however, remains to be seen if the ministry’s plan to have the choir performance will actually take place. The Gwangju Metropolitan Government said yesterday that it will not allow the city’s choir to attend the ceremony in protest of the ministry’s plan.

The city and 310 civic groups in the region yesterday also jointly issued a statement and criticized the ministry for presenting a compromise. They said the ministry showed its “narrow-minded and crude understanding of history” and disparaged the democratization movement’s spirit.

They also demanded Minister Park Sung-choon resign and the government issue an apology, urging President Park Geun-hye to come to the ceremony today and sing the song along with the participants.

Some civic groups said they will boycott the event today and hold a silent protest in front of the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju. They also decided to collect 1 million signatures to demand the resignation of the minister.

Some local politicians also said they will boycott the ceremony to express their anger at the government’s treatment of the anniversary.

The Democratic Party, the largest liberal opposition, said its leaders will attend the anniversary event today.

It also remains to be seen if President Park will attend the anniversary event today or not. Any plan for the president to appear in public is kept embargoed until the event takes place for security reasons. Park paid a visit to the May 18 National Cemetery when she was a presidential candidate.

Her predecessor Lee Myung-bak attended the ceremony in his first year of the presidency, but did not participate the following four years.

Throughout the 10-day Gwangju uprising from May 18-27, 1980, citizens took up arms and formed civilian militias, claiming control of the city. A bloody massacre followed when the Chun Doo Hwan regime sent special troops for a crackdown.

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

The uprising was branded by the Chun government as an unlawful revolt instigated by Pyongyang sympathizers and North Korean spies, but liberals say the anti-dictatorship movement that eventually brought democracy to Korea started in Gwangju in 1980.

On the eve of the anniversary, a series of commemorative events, gatherings and cultural performances took place yesterday at various locations around Gwangju.

Families of the victims who died during the uprising and crackdown hosted a memorial event at the May 18 National Cemetery.

Civic groups and Gwangju Mayor Kang Un-tae, South Jeolla Governor Park Joon-yung and politicians presenting the region attended the event.

Ahn Jung-hyeon, head of Gwangju Regional Office of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, also joined.

During the memorial service, the participants, including Ahn, sung “The March for Thou,” aloud.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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