Bills held after liberals boycott set of meetingsThe ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy once again came head to head yesterday, raising the prospect of putting more than 100 pieces of legislation related to the public’s livelihood on hold for months to come.
This time the partisan showdown was not related to a set of political agendas but whether the highly symbolic “The March for Thou” should be designated as the official song to commemorate the May 18 Gwangju Uprising.
Tensions rose last week after NPAD politicians boycotted meetings convened by the national affairs committee on Thursday and Friday at the National Assembly, demanding that Saenuri lawmakers work in a bipartisan manner to designate the song as the anniversary’s official commemorative anthem. The opposition’s absence forced the national affairs committee to table more than 100 bills, which included amendments to better safeguard clients’ personal information at financial institutions in the wake of massive data leaks earlier this year.
Choi Kyung-hwan, floor leader of the Saenuri, made it clear that the ruling party would not accept the NPAD’s demand, claiming it was unprecedented and unfair.
“To single out ‘The March for Thou’ as the official commemorative song could cause questions over fairness,” the three-term lawmaker said yesterday during a party meeting at the National Assembly. He pointed out that other national holidays, such as the National Liberation Day of Korea on Aug. 15 or Independence Movement Day on March 1, do not have official songs.
“The opposition is pursuing a strategy to hold all bills related to the national affairs committee hostage by making impractical demands,” the floor leader said, describing the NPAD’s move as “nonsensical.”
The opposition fired back at Choi’s remark, calling it “very inappropriate and disappointing.”
“?‘The March for Thou’ has been sung for 34 years since the May 18 Democratic Uprising in the course of the country’s history to achieve democracy,” said Lee Yoon-seok, an NPAD spokesperson. “Choi’s rejection of the song’s designation illustrates his judgment, which dishonors the history of democracy in this country and the National Assembly.”
The controversy over “The March for Thou” started when the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said last year ahead of May 18 that it would not play the song for the commemoration, claiming that it was often used in place of the national anthem at events held by labor and progressive groups.
The ministry’s decision quickly drew strong backlash from civic groups and the Gwangju city government, as well as from members of both the ruling and opposition parties.
The ministry eventually bowed to growing protests and allowed the song to be played at the memorial but did not designate the song as the official anthem to honor the victims of the 1980 uprising against Chun Doo Hwan’s military government.
During the 10-day movement, from May 18 to 27, 1980, citizens took up arms and formed civilian militias in opposition of the government, claiming control of the city.
A bloody massacre followed after Chun Doo Hwan ordered military troops to crack down on the protests. According to official government data, 191 civilians lost their lives during the uprising, though civic groups and the victims’ families claim more than 600 were killed. The incident was branded by the Chun government as an unlawful revolt instigated by Pyongyang sympathizers and North Korean spies, but liberals claim the movement that eventually brought democracy to Korea started in 1980 in Gwangju.
BY KANG JIN-KYU [firstname.lastname@example.org]