Going against the tide
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Dec. 2, Japan’s Foreign Ministry was stirred. The Mitte ward council in Berlin approved the permanent installation of the “Statue of Peace.” The Japanese government was disappointed because it thought the statue would be removed.
The Korea Council, a civic group for the Korean community in Germany, headed by Han Jong-hee, secretly pursued installation of the statue to avoid the Japanese government’s interruption. When the statue was unveiled in late September, Japan made an all-out effort to remove it. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi pressured the German foreign minister, and Liberal Democrat representative Masahisa Sato to send letters to the Mitte Ward Office and the Berlin mayor. They threatened that if the political issue between Korea and Japan was raised, it would damage Japan-Germany relations.
The Mitte council passed a resolution, quoting the Kono Statement. It mentions how the Japanese government had acknowledged its systematic and ethical accountability based on historic research and facts on sexual slavery in the Kono Statement.
The right wing in Japan, who claim comfort women were a historical distortion, are enraged. The Sankei Shimbun argued in its editorial that the Japanese government should retract the Kono Statement. It allows me to presume why the former Abe government was so eager to reverify it.
But Germany is strict on condemning war crimes, and Japan’s pressure actually backfired. German media TAZ pointed out that right-wing Japanese politicians still didn’t understand that they scored an own goal with their political moves.
Han, head of the Korea Council in Berlin, said that though Germany had been very passive about sexual crimes on women during the war, there were voices that the statue allowed them to realize the serious nature of the crime. She added that a German woman was willing to testify on sexual assaults by German forces during World War II.
Expressing regret on the decision to keep the statue, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said he hoped people from different countries would live peacefully together. In other words, he says the statue will trigger discord in Germany as it criticizes Japan. But many Japanese in Germany helped the installation of the statue and supported the cause.
There is a Holocaust memorial in Fukuyama City in Hiroshima Prefecture. A statue of Anne Frank is also in the garden. The memorial claims to be a place where visitors can learn about peace. The statue in Berlin is no different.