Two photographs of the South Jeolla Province government office in Gwangu taken during the May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980 (top), and during President Moon Jae-in’s speech at the 40th memorial event on Monday. Pro-democracy protesters congregated near the building in the last days of the military clampdown leading to a massive bloodshed. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in on Monday again pledged to resolve controversies surrounding the May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980, and urged those involved in atrocities to come forward to open a “path of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Speaking at the event marking the 40th anniversary of the uprising in Gwangju, which was crushed by the military junta of Chun Doo-hwan, Moon said that the movement sowed the seeds of democracy that gave rise to today’s South Korea.
The event, held for the first time at the South Jeolla Province Government Office, which was civilian protesters’ last stand during the bloody clampdown, was attended by leaders of major political parties.
“The government will do all it can to reveal the truth of May 18. No aid will be withheld until the May 18 truth commission sheds light on all remaining truths that remain hidden,” Moon said.
Saying that distorting the truth about the uprising will not be tolerated, Moon said that questions surrounding the actions of the military during the uprising must be answered. Although there have been numerous investigations into the events that took place in Gwangju, major questions such as who gave orders to open fire on civilians, and the military using helicopter-mounted guns remain unanswered.
“Punishment is not the goal. It is recording history correctly. A path of forgiveness and reconciliation will open if (those responsible) work up the courage to tell the truth.”
Saying that all matters including the whereabouts of those who went missing, exonerating and compensating victims will be resolved, Moon reiterated his hopes to include May 18 Democratic Uprising in the Constitution.
“In 2018, I proposed a revised Constitution that includes ‘inheriting the May 18 democratization ideology.’ If the Constitution is revised at some point, I hope that spirit is maintained,” Moon said, saying that including May 18 movement in the Constitution will recognize the event as part of Korean history that cannot be “damaged nor denied by anyone.”
In his speech, Moon said that the solidarity shown by the people of Gwangju in 1980 remains alive in the Korean people, and that the “spirit of May” laid the foundations for today’s society, and Korea’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.
In line with Moon’s emphasis on resolving issues surrounding the uprising, the ruling Democratic Party held its supreme council meeting in Gwangju, and its leaders attended the memorial event. According to reports, the ruling party is also considering means to strengthen the authority of the May 18th Democratization Movement Truth Investigation Committee.
Leaders of the conservative main opposition United Korea Party including floor leader Rep. Joo Ho-young also attended the memorial, and paid their respects at the May 18th National Cemetery.
On Saturday, Joo issued a statement apologizing for comments by members of his party regarding the May 18 movement in the past. In the statement, he said that past comments by some conservative lawmakers were “unrefined and insulting” to the movement, and that such developments will not be repeated.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com