Liberal bloc boycotts May 18 ceremony

By Yoon Min-sik
  • Published : May 18, 2014 - 20:55
  • Updated : May 18, 2014 - 20:55
Prime Minister Chung Hong-won spoke Sunday to a partially empty audience at the official ceremony of the 34th anniversary of the May 18, 1980, pro-democracy movement in Gwangju, as people from the liberal bloc boycotted the event en masse.

The mass boycott was in protest of the government’s refusal to designate “March for Thee” as the official commemoration song for the Gwangju uprising. The song has often been linked to liberal and labor movements and has been sung at various antigovernment protests.

Authorities also rejected the liberals’ request to sing the song in unison, instead having a choir sing it. 
A number of families boycott a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the May 18 democratic uprising in Gwangju, Sunday. (Yonhap)

The collective singing of the song had been customary since the civil uprising’s annual commemoration was upgraded to a state-organized event in 2003, but the practice was discontinued in 2009 by the administration of then-President Lee Myung-bak.

Prominent opposition figures including Kim Han-gil and Ahn Cheol-soo, the coleaders of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, did not show up at the event, nor did the family members of those who lost their lives in the 1980 movement.

It marked one of the largest boycotts by the bereaved families.

The deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol also affected the event. The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which was in charge of the proceedings, said the ceremony was simplified in consideration of the nationwide mourning for the Sewol’s victims.

President Park Geun-hye did not attend the event, handing the task of the main speaker to her deputy Chung. He hailed the May uprising as the “driving force of the democracy that we enjoy today.”

A separate ceremony to commemorate the Gwangju uprising was held in Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul later in the day. The event was attended by several candidates of the upcoming local election in June, including former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who recently stepped down to run for reelection, and former Saenuri leader Chung Mong-joon.

The May 18 Gwangju uprising was a pro-democracy movement in 1980 protesting the then-military dictatorship of Gen. Chun Doo-hwan, who seized power through a military coup. Hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded by the military during the nine-day protest.

By Yoon Min-sik (