Park attends memorial of Gwangju massacre

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Park attends memorial of Gwangju massacre

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President Park Geun-hye, fourth from left, stands while “The March for Thou,” a popular anthem for the May 18 democratic uprising, is played by the Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra and Incheon City Opera Orchestra on Saturday at the 33rd anniversary of the Gwangju massacre in the namesake city. Park did not sing along. It is the first time in five years the national leader visited the National May 18 Cemetery to join the commemoration. [Joint Press Corps]

President Park Geun-hye attended the 33rd anniversary of the Gwangju uprising and massacre in the namesake city Saturday, the first time in five years the national leader visited the National May 18 Cemetery to join the commemoration.

But Park’s visit was overshadowed by a boycott by family members of the massacre victims over a controversy as to whether the anthem of the pro-democracy, anti-dictatorship movement, “The March for Thou,” would be played.

The ceremony held in the southern city of Gwangju was attended by around 2,000 people, including members of the ruling Saenuri Party and high-ranking government officials as well as lawmakers from the major opposition Democratic Party.

But many seats at the event were seen empty as the association of victims’ families, local civic and political groups declared they would not attend because the anthem was not designated as an official song for the ceremony remembering the 10-day uprising from May 18, 1980 and the subsequent bloody crackdown.

“I feel the sorrow of family members [of the victims] and the city of Gwangju every time I visit the National May 18 Cemetery,” said the president in an address Saturday before half-empty seats at the ceremony. “I believe achieving a more mature democracy is a way to repay the sacrifice paid by those [killed in the massacre.]”

Korea’s first female president also said that in order to move on to a new era, it must “transcend regional differences and [historical] pain.” Before giving the address, Park paid her respects at the graves of people who died during the anti-government uprising.

In a show of the kind of national unity the president often talks about, Kim Bum-il, mayor of Daegu, and Lee Jae-sul, chairperson of the Daegu City Council, also participated in the event, the first time heads of local government in the Gyeongsang regions did so.

After Park’s address, “The March for Thou” was played and sung by the Seoul Royal Symphony Orchestra and Incheon City Opera Orchestra.

As the song was played, some people including newly elected DP leader Kim Han-gill rose from their seats to sing along. Park, holding the national flag, also stood but did not sing along to the song. The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs sparked a controversy over the song earlier this month when its minister Park Sung-choon said “The March for Thou” would not be designated as the official commemorative anthem. Park also said the ministry would begin a selection process to designate an official song.

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.

Park’s comment prompted a backlash from not only liberal civic and political groups but also from members of the Saenuri Party.

The Veterans Affairs Ministry reaffirmed its stance on the song Thursday saying, “It is inappropriate for participants at the government ceremony to sing the song while swinging their fists.” Some conservatives view the lyrics of the song provocative and confrontational. President Lee Myung-bak, Park’s predecessor, attended the Gwangju ceremony only once in 2008 in the first of his five years as president.


By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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