A meaningful step forwardThe May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement memorial service was held on Monday, in remembrance of those who died in the mass rallies against the cruelties of the military regime in 1980 and the civilian massacre. The movement is an important legacy that planted valuable seeds for democracy in Korea and is recognized as peaceful civilian movement internationally.
The regime of general Chun Doo Hwan established through a military coup deployed the military to brutally quench peaceful protests by civilians and students. Over 7,200 have died, were injured and remain missing. The victims’ families and relatives in Gwangju are still going through pain. The civilian massacre remains the most shameful event in Korea’s modern history.
Civilians in Gwangju were framed as rioters, but the victims were recognized as pro-democracy activists through a special act in 1995. Under the law, the key figures behind the Dec. 12 military coup were prosecuted. May 18 was designated as a national memorial day in 1997, and the victims were commemorated as national veterans in 2001.
But much of the truths remain unanswered. It is unclear who ordered the gunshots and why guns were fired at civilians from a chopper. The brutalities against civilians and the allegations of secret burials of protesters have also not been explained. A fact-finding commission was finally launched last year through a bipartisan law.
At Monday’s memorial service, President Moon Jae-in said, “If truths are uncovered one after another, our broken hearts can be slowly healed. Then, we will be moving toward forgiveness and reconciliation. The day will arrive faster if those who know the truth speak up.” Truth finding cannot be delayed any further.
Truth uncovering also should be the beginning of national unity. Too much wrangling had been wasted on ideological disputes led by extremists. Conservative party figures were vehemently rejected by Gwangju people. But this was not seen at Monday’s service. There were no rallies, protests or sneering in Gwangju. Civilians politely responded to the apology from representatives of the United Future Party. The sight marks a meaningful development.
Joo Ho-young, new floor leader and acting leader for the main opposition UFP, apologized for indecent remarks by its members about the May 18 movement. The apology came late but still is better late than never. The gathering raised hopes for political unity.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 19, Page 30