More than a songHow embarrassing it is that a country cannot whole-heartedly commemorate a state-designated memorial day simply because politicians and statesmen cannot agree on a theme song.
President Park Geun-hye this year was again absent at the ceremony at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju commemorating the 36th anniversary of the democratization movement.
She has not once attended the event during her three years in office. While politicians sang the anniversary theme song “March of the Beloved,” Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and presidential senior secretary for political affairs Hyun Ki-hwan, representing the cabinet and the president, kept their mouths shut throughout the performance.
Once the music started, members of conservative groups walked out. The minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, who was in charge of overseeing the event, could not attend because he was kicked out by participants angry about the prohibition of the song.
A ceremony aimed at paying tribute to the victims and ruminate on the meaning of the movement that served as a watershed for Korea’s democratization and end to military rule was ruined because of disagreement over a song.
The May 18 Democratization Movement was a civilian uprising against dictatorship. The bloodshed was the outcome of public aspiration for democracy. The sacred sacrifice by Gwangju civilians led to a nationwide democratization movement in June 1987 and established the Constitution, ensuring the democratic system we enjoy today.
The region remains the birthplace of democracy for modern Korea. For this reason the victims were laid to rest in a national cemetery and are honored through a state ceremony every year. An ideological divide has been ruining the event largely because of the government’s narrow-mindedness.
However, liberal opposition parties made matters worse by abusing the dispute over the theme song to stir antigovernment sentiment. It is wasteful to wrangle over a song every year. Politicians regardless of their party allegiance must pay respect to the victims of the May 18 movement and remember their legacy. They must draw wisdom from the Gwangju experience to unite people and society. The May 18 spirit must be freed from politics and genuinely honored as a proud part of our history.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 19, Page 34