Fighting for an apology

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Fighting for an apology

The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.



On Feb. 28 — the day before the centennial of the March 1 Independence Movement — I saw a statue of girls in Hong Kong. After a five-day vacation, I was on my way to the airport, and there, I saw a familiar girl seated.

The statue was erected by a civic group in Hong Kong in July 2017. Near the girl, who was dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean dress), two other girls were seated. The three girls represent the Korean, Hong Kong (Chinese) and Filipino women subjected to sexual slavery by the Japanese military. They are located on the walkway that connects Central — the busiest district in Hong Kong — and the International Finance Center. The area is akin to Seoul’s Myeong-dong. Nearby is Japan’s Hong Kong Consulate General.

The bronze girls wear faint smiles. There is a message board installed next to them, filled with messages in various languages from around the world.

The messages read, “It is still not late. The Japanese government needs to apologize sincerely. Feel sorry for the rest of your lives” and “Apologize until the people who receive it say enough.”

On the day of March 1, Korean residents in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China gathered and staged an hour-long silent protest, demanding that the Japanese government apologize — yet Japan did not respond at all. Japan’s silence amid calls for an apology is nothing new.

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s recent remarks were controversial. In an interview with foreign media on Feb. 8, he spoke about the comfort women issue, saying “One word is enough. I think it is desirable for the prime minister, who represents Japan, or the Japanese emperor, who will step down soon, to apologize.” The Japanese government protested.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the interview was regrettable, and that it contains inappropriate content; Foreign Minister Taro Kono even used the word “rude.”

Meanwhile, the number of victims who ought to be the recipients of apologies is quickly decreasing. On March 2, Kwak Ye-nam, a survivor, died at 94, leaving the once 240 registered victims at 22.

In “I Can Speak,” a movie depicting the comfort women’s painful struggles, the protagonist, Na Ok-bun, portrayed by Na Moon-hee, asks those Japanese people who deride her efforts, “Is it so hard to say, ‘I am sorry?’” As the Japanese government delays its apology, it becomes increasingly difficult to console the victims’ pain.

Someone had laid yellow chrysanthemums before the bronze girls.

I hope the Japanese government will soon apologize with sincerity, and that the girls will no longer be disappointed. Unfortunately, there is not much time left for them.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 4, Page 29
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