Special exhibition hopes to shed light on Gwangju uprising
“The atmosphere is so tense that even the sound of our breathing is getting on each other’s nerves,” wrote Kim Hyun-kyung in her diary dated May 23, 1980, while she was staging a sit-in at the South Jeolla Provincial Government’s former building in Gwangju.
Features first-person accounts from government and citizens involved
Kim was a third-year student at Chonnam National University at the time and among dozens of other students and civilians gathered at the building to protest Chun Doo Hwan’s seizure of power in a military coup five months earlier.
Kim survived to tell her tale of the May 18 movement 40 years ago.
Many others did not.
A special exhibition launched last week at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul is hoping to bring more of their stories to light.
“This is the first time that a large-scale exhibition on the May 18 movement is being held in Seoul,” said Chu Chin-oh, director of the museum, at the opening ceremony of the exhibition on Tuesday. “It is our hope that the exhibition will bring the May 18 Democratization Movement closer to the people and remind them that what happened in Gwangju was not a regional event. It was a national one.”
The movement was probably the most important milestone in Korea’s struggle for democracy in decades past but still remains subject to intense dispute over its significance between opposing ideological sides in the country.
The May 18 movement, also called May 18 Democratic Uprising by Unesco or the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, took place from May 18 to 27, 1980, when thousands of citizens joined a public uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju to protest Chun Doo Hwan’s seizure of power in a military coup five months earlier. Chun’s military junta deployed troops to the city in a brutal crackdown.
The violent nature of the event was the spark of a struggle for democracy that ultimately culminated in nationwide protests in June 1987 and gave birth to Korea’s current democratic system.
"...what happened in Gwangju was not a regional event. It was a national one.” - Chu Chin-oh, director of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History
Open through Oct. 31, the exhibition, “May, When the Day Comes Again,” includes written and verbal accounts of what took place from May 18 to 27 in Gwangju, from the perspectives of both the government and ordinary citizens.
Some items on display have been added to Unesco’s Memory of the World Programme.
“Items registered by Unesco that are being displayed publicly for the first time are the original copies of written instructions for an emergency martial law decree and a short film in English the government produced in 1980 after the uprising, to put out a message to the world that ‘all is O.K.’ when it wasn’t,” an official of the National Archives of Korea told the Korea JoongAng Daily.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]