Disrespect intendedThe 35th anniversary of the pro-democracy movement, dubbed the May 18 democratization movement, was observed at a memorial service at the national cemetery in Gwangju on Monday. But families of the victims and civilians shunned the government-sponsored service and held a separate one at a former site of the South Jeolla provincial government complex. More than three decades have passed since the tragic incident in which citizens were brutally killed and injured by the military regime, but the conservatives and liberals remain bitterly divided.
The government is first and foremost at fault. Choi Kyung-hwan, deputy prime minister for the economy, attended the memorial ceremony and read the president’s opening remark. Since May 18 was designated a memorial day, the service was always attended by the president or the prime minister. This is the first time a deputy prime minister represented the state at the service. The opening remarks were short and insensitive. It is no wonder families felt enraged by the lack of sensitivity. The speech briefly paid respects to the victims and went on to list the achievements of the government and President Park Geun-hye.
While she was campaigning, President Park promised to work toward national unity. The actions of her presidency have done nothing of the sort. She attended the May 18 memorial service in her first year and skipped last year’s and this year’s. Voters who believed in her promises must feel betrayed. It is also incomprehensible why the government maintains its ban on the song “March of the Beloved” which had been sung in chorus for the 11 years since May 18 was made as a memorial day. In 2013, 162 lawmakers, including ruling party members, passed a resolution to make the song the official tune for May 18. But conservative groups claim the “beloved” refers to North Korean founder Kim Il-sung and banned the song in the official ceremony for the third year. Victim families and civilian groups have not been attending the government ceremony since last year because of that.
The scene at the government ceremony was ridiculous. Saenuri Party Chairman and House Speaker Chung Ui-hwa sang along with the song while waving the national flag. Choi stood with his mouth shut. In May 1980, Gwangju’s finest fearlessly threw themselves against tanks. Their blood became the seeds for democracy in our country. Whether the president really appreciates the meaning of the democratic movement is questionable. Citizens of Gwangju will have to change. They must not throw water bottles at national leaders. But national leaders should not disrespect the martyrs of Gwangju or they will deserve bricks thrown at their heads.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 19, Page 34