Remembering June 3

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Remembering June 3


Lee Hong-koo

A recent academic seminar to commemorate the student movement of June 3, 1964, protesting a treaty between South Korea and Japan to normalize ties offered septuagenarian scholars and statesmen a valuable moment to remember the rebelious passion of their youthful days and share insights for today’s youth. The generation that is now referred to as the first wave of the student democracy movement agreed that the challenges that led to their June 3 movement - safeguarding the spirit of a free democracy and a national identity - are as alive today as a half-century ago, as history continues as an unending dialogue between the present and the past.

The intelligentsia and students had not outright opposed talks between Tokyo and Seoul under President Park Chung Hee to normalize diplomatic and economic relations 20 years after Korea was liberalized from Japanese colonization. But they could not accept the two countries entering a diplomatic arrangement without a sincere and unambiguous atonement and apology from the Japanese for their past military aggressions and encroachment of Korean sovereignty. They also rebelled against the talks being led by a military regime instead of independent activists who had risked their lives to fight against the Japanese during their 1910-45 colonial rule. Regardless of the historical evaluation of the June 3 movement, Koreans would have been more self-conscious about their modern-day relationship with Japan had the students then not asserted themselves so clearly about democratic and national rights.

The heroes of the 1964 protests shared insightful comments and research papers brimmed with long-brewed wisdom and experience. Lee Bu-young, an adviser to the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy and head of the National Movement to renegotiate the 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty, drew nods with his argument questioning the legitimacy of the basic agreement to normalize relations between the two countries. He claimed Seoul must renegotiate and rewrite the bilateral treaty as it cannot effectually answer for colonial aggression because Korea had no international backing to demand war compensations after having been excluded from the signing of the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco that formerly ended World War II.

Yi Tae-jin, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, challenged the validity of treaties and agreements with Japan in his paper based on rich historical documents and sources pointing to coercion and illegality behind Japan’s annexation of Korea, a view shared widely not only among Korean but also Japanese scholars.

Chances that the two countries will ever enter talks to re-define bilateral ties are unclear. But since bilateral ties can hardly be described as being based on progressive, sincere historical principles, accurate understanding of international laws and norms, and the principle of reciprocity for equal and common goals for Asian community members, the two countries must seriously consider re-evaluation of their bilateral relationship. The Pan-Asian vision by great independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun and the March 1 Declaration of Independence offers direction to the path of common peace and mutual benefit for the countries of the region.

Kim Do-hyun, former vice minister for culture and sports, pointed out that nationalism and a spirit of democracy have been the pillars of Korean politics over the last half-century, and they often led to conflicts and tensions. Nationalism fueled independence and the resistance movement during the colonial period, while the spirit of democracy was a driving force in the days of the Cold War, ideological contest and division of the peninsula. Korean grass-root movements sadly have been a step behind the historical current. Our people failed to respond well when the country lost its sovereignty to Japan. To uphold our traditional values of democracy and nationalism, we must sharpen our collective ability to read and respond correctly and readily to global currents.

Suh Jin-young, professor emeritus at Korea University, said Korea must seek a consensus on the balance between constructive and dynamic forces, between realism and idealism, between nationalism and democracy, by outgrowing the conflicting ideologies of rule and resistance. Retired diplomat Min Byung-suk pointed out that unlike the first student uprising against the autocratic republic on April 19, 1960, the 1964 civilian movement had been motivated by national interests to redress past wrongs by Japan. It raised social awareness of how people can play a crucial role in a country’s foreign affairs.

The older generation is now most concerned with how the values of democracy and nationalism can help the country weather new challenges. We must safeguard our sovereignty amid a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape due to the dramatic rise of China. Civilian diplomacy faces a big test to make wise choices during perilous times. To pass the test, we must step beyond the 1987 constitutional framework and find a national paradigm more oriented toward civilians and the community. It is a historical mission for both the old and young generations to unite to muster pan-national wisdom and energy to rebuild the country.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 2, Page 31

*The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hong-koo

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