The last time President Park Geun-hye visited the May 18 ceremony was in 2013, soon after her inauguration. Since then, she has not attended the event for various reasons, such as a meeting with Iranian vice president that had coincided Wednesday’s ceremony.
The move has been widely seen as a gesture to avoid political conflict. Since its commemorative song “March for our Beloved” was made unofficial in 2009, the ceremony has been at the center of ideological debate.
But from the perspective of former foreign correspondents, who were invited to this year’s ceremony in respect for their coverage of the bloodied uprising 36 years ago, Park is the only leader who can resolve the deadlock.
“I don’t understand why she is holding back,” said Bradley Martin, who covered the May 18 uprising as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.
“All she has to say is that this song is not about North Korea and the beloved refer to the people of our country and people of our city,” he said in a group interview with The Korea Herald.
Right-wing activists and politicians have claimed that the song has an element of being pro-North, claiming the word “beloved” refers to Pyongyang’s late leader Kim Il-sung. The song was written in 1982 to honor the victims of the pro-democracy movement and has been often used during civic demonstrations.
|From left: Bradley Martin, Donald Kirk, Tim Shorrock and Norman Thorpe (Yonhap)|
Tim Shorrock, who was a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, said that the president should exercise her leadership to embrace the dissenters.
“The president can take steps to heal wounds and to push ahead even though you disagree,” said the 64-year-old reporter.
On recent reports that former president Chun Doo-hwan denied responsibility for ordering the Army to shoot at the protesters, the veteran reporters said that his claim was not consistent with what they saw in Gwangju.
“The shooting went off for several days. But we have never heard of any punishment for anyone. So now if he didn’t order, why didn’t he punish them?” said Martin. “Let’s put it stronger, he is a monster and a fool,” the 73-year-old reporter said.
Asked if Chun should make an official apologize for the victims of the families, the reporters said that it was “too late.” Donald Kirk, who was with the Chicago Tribune, said that the man’s gesture would not “create much of an impression” and that the victims wouldn’t take it as a sincere apology.
The reporters agreed that the May 18 uprising left a significant impact on the nation’s democratic development as the condemnation against the violent crackdown forced Chung to yield to peaceful transition toward democracy in 1987.
“The government couldn’t be trusted to avoid the use of force so the U.S., unlike in 1980, in 1987, told them to keep the Army out of this. There are very important influences from Gwangju that help the transition in 1987,” said Norman Thorpe, a former reporter for the Asian Wall Street Journal.
By Yeo Jun-suk