Marking the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Movement, members of the government and the ruling party including President Moon Jae-in will participate in the commemoration anniversary. A memorial service took place on Saturday in Gwangju in the presence of politicians and citizens home and abroad.
The democratic movement in which citizens upheld the values of democracy against injustice is Korea’s proud heritage to be recorded in the history of global democracy and human rights. But it is a wound still unhealed for Korean citizens even after 40 years. The person who gave the firing command, which resulted in a massacre has not been identified yet, and controversies over civic deaths, missing persons and helicopter shooting are still ongoing. A committee to reveal the truth of the May 18 movement recently started investigation. This time, it should unveil the truth that no one can deny.
Politicians also need to reflect on whether they worsened the wound by turning the movement into a political dispute. “Some members of our party made unrefined remarks that disparaged the May 18 movement,” Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the United Future Party, said in a statement. It is regrettable that he apologized for the remarks of a year and three months ago after suffering a crashing defeat in the general elections. The ruling party plans to adjust the law to strengthen punishment for distorting the history of the movement in the 21st National Assembly. It needs to make sure that the law does not suppress various interpretation and expressions about the movement whose full truth has not been revealed yet. Making it untouchable would undermine the spirit of democracy. Regarding constitutional approach, a prudent approach is required as including the movement in the preamble of the constitution may trigger another controversy over politicization.
The movement became the foundation of the June Democratic Movement in 1987. What made it possible was the sacrifice of citizens in Gwangju as well as efforts of everyone who upheld and practiced the spirit of the movement. It is a heritage of all Korean citizens that cannot be owned or undermined by political orientation. But citizens still feel angry, agitated, inconvenient and doubtful even after 40 years. President Moon said investigating the truth is to reconcile and march towards the way of unification in an interview with Gwangju MBC aired on Saturday. For the movement to become a seed of unification, not division, a sustained effort to reveal the truth is a must so that citizens could have the common memory of the movement.