False Claims to the democracy movement
The author is a former professor of Dongyang University.
It feels like yesterday, but 42 years have passed. When we were young, Gwangju was our soul. If the older generation was unable to escape the memory of the Korean War, our generation lived with the trauma of the Gwangju massacre our entire lives. Just as we were tired of the older generation’s Korean War stories when we were young, the youngsters now are probably tired of our stories about the May 18, 1980 democratization movement.
Just because we were tired of Korean War stories, it didn’t mean we ignored the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers and patriots who were killed while protecting freedom. We just hated the military regimes’ practice of exploiting their sacrifices to maintain their power. The youngsters tired of hearing about the Gwangju democratization movement are probably not that different. They are not looking down on the sacrifices of the democracy fighters but hating the generation of former student activists who are using their sacrifices to maintain their established power.
President Yoon Suk-yeol requested all lawmakers of the People Power Party to attend the commemoration ceremony of the May 18 Democratization Movement, and Chairman Lee Jun-seok reaffirmed that Yoon’s pledge to include the democratization movement in the preamble of the Constitution is still valid. It is meaningful. It was just a few years ago that the conservative government banned the singing of “March for the Beloved” and the party’s lawmakers held controversial events to disparage the movement.
It is hard to understand why the conservatives are disparaging the democracy movement. All presidents produced by the conservative party were elected by the direct election system introduced by a constitutional amendment, the outcome of the democracy movement. Without the May 18, 1980 uprising, we would have been electing a president in indirect elections under a dictatorship. It was actually the accomplishment of the conservative Kim Young-sam administration that two military villains were sent to prison and the cemetery in Gwangju of the democracy fighters was honored.
The democracy movement is everyone’s, going beyond a separation between the conservatives and the liberals. And yet, the liberals have long monopolized it as if it is their own, while the conservatives disparaged it. Taking the opportunity of the latest commemoration ceremony, attended by all lawmakers of the conservative party, I hope the democracy movement will become a pride for us all.
In front of the cemetery, a memorial stone of the late Chun Doo Hwan was placed on the ground so that the visitors can step on it. Chun was the villain of the Gwangju massacre and he never apologized or repented when he was alive. But I wonder if such an emotional response is the right way to pay our respect to the democracy fighters.
During the presidential race, Lee Jae-myung stomped on the stone and said, “Yoon must have not stepped on it.” It is like the tradition of “Fumi-e” during the Edo era of Japan. At the time, the government outlawed Christianity and forced people to step on an image of Christ or the Virgin Mary. Those who hesitated to do so were singled out as Christians.
I hate Chun but I would be hesitant to step on the stone. The reason is aesthetic. I feel that way of expressing hatred is too feudal. And I might not be the only one. But those making the demand to step on the stone will quickly make a conclusion that people like me are followers of Chun.
“Fumi-e” was a violent mechanism that pulled an invisible belief from within to make it manifest.
Freedom of conscience is the basis of democracy and also the spirit of our constitution. Those buried in the cemetery sacrificed their lives to fight against a military dictatorship and protect those values. Honoring them in this way is a betrayal to the values they fought to defend, no matter what excuse is used. There could be no greater way to more completely insult their sacrifices.
Using the democracy movement, which should have been a symbol of unity, as a tool of exclusion is seriously infringing upon the spirit of the democracy movement.
It is the asset of all people who agree with the basic order of democracy, regardless of their ideologies. Whether a liberal or a conservative, we must never forget that our politics are on built atop that particular asset. The democracy movement must not be disparaged or insulted. This year’s commemoration ceremony should serve as a starting point for unity.