The LKP’s Gwangju mistakeThe nation is still divided over the tragic 1980 Gwangju Democratization Movement, although nearly four decades have passed. Citizens held rallies across the city to stop Hwang Kyo-ahn, head of the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP), from attending a memorial service for the movement. The party’s members infuriated the Gwangju people due to the members’ theory of North Korean involvement and riot activities during the movement. The protesters oppose Hwang’s attendance at the ceremony as his party has made degrading comments about the civilian movement that ended in hundreds of deaths by merciless armed soldiers. Hwang questioned whether there were political motives behind the fury against him and his party.
The rage is understandable as Hwang has not clarified his or the party’s position on the May 18 Gwangju uprising and yet insists on attending the ceremony. He should have acted more firmly against the lawmakers who floated the idea of North Korean involvement and implied the victims were anti-government rioters. But despite the fact that his actions were not enough, it is immature to ban the main opposition party head from attending a national memorial event. No one has the authority to define who can or cannot attend a state-administered ceremony.
Vulgar talk from politicians will hardly heal the country’s divisions. Lee Jeong-mi, head of the Justice Party, called Hwang a “psychopath.” This is so nasty and uncivil that is beyond comprehension in a mature democracy. The ruling party came to her defense, claiming that Hwang was commonly called this in the media. However, they can hardly be ones to criticize the LKP for wrist-slapping action on controversial lawmakers.
The Gwangju movement was a collective act of martyrdom in favor of democracy against brutal military forces and dictatorship. It was a watershed milestone for Korean democratization along with the April 19 student movement. The evaluation has been completed in a historical context and in court. The head of the LKP must atone for reviving this pain.
The LKP’s ethics committee voted to oust the lawmaker who defined the May 18 movement as a riot, but did not hold an assembly to make the decision final. The National Assembly’s ethics committee also has been mulling its own action, but this hit a snag due to wrangling over the formation of the advisory board. The LKP appears to be trying to buy time in hopes that the controversy would die down. Genuine action from the LKP would be a starting point for unity.
JoongAng Sunday, May 18, Page 30