A commemoration for allThe annual memorial ceremony for the May 18, 1980 massacre of citizens in democracy protests in the city of Gwangju has become the first-ever bipartisan event. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Song Young-gil and opposition People Power Party (PPP)’s acting chairman and floor-leader Kim Gi-hyeon stood next to one another at the May 18 National Cemetery and sang “March of the Beloved.”
The two rivaling party heads shared rice balls for lunch before the ceremony. Rice balls were handed out by street vendors to armed civilians standing up to military forces during the May uprising.
The victims’ family organization invited PPP lawmakers Chung Woon-chun and Sung Il-jong to their own memorial service. They were the first guests from the conservative party at the event to honor the victims because of their contribution to the passage of a special law to honor democracy fighters.
The May 18 movement should have been remembered this way. It should be a bipartisan celebration of the Korean democracy. Four decades have passed since that tragic May and yet political tensions still linger due to differences over fact-finding, honoring the victims, and apologies.
The conservative party is largely at fault. Instead of facing history straight on, it chose to turn away. A few even made misleading or slanderous remarks. Changes have taken place since former PPP head Kim Chong-in visited the May 18 cemetery and knelt to apologize last year. The PPP’s acting chief Kim also bowed low in a show of remorse. The moves should be genuine and not feigned for votes.
The liberal front also should also share responsibility. Many scholars observe that the country’s democracy has retreated under the reign of democratic forces. They treated the May 18 movement as an exhibitionist legacy to command the Jeolla Province as their voting stronghold and strictly fend off others. The DP railroaded with a number of punitive laws restricting freedom of speech and moved to expand privileges to the offspring of democracy movement activists. Choi Jin-seok, an honorary professor of Sogang University, declared, “The May 18 freedom is done. The May 18 democracy has gone astray.” Former lawmaker Kim Young-hwan returned his democracy movement veteran title in protest. He accused President Moon Jae-in and the democracy activist generation of shaming former dissident-turned-president Kim Dae-jung’s noble spirit.
A taped record of former president Kim’s remarks in 1983 was shared Thursday. “To get revenge in the same way against the people who had fired at people of Gwangju cannot relieve their pain. Restoring democracy by remembering their sacrifice is the only way to comfort them and resolve the national conflict,” Kim said. His words remain poignantly wise today as well.