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[Herald Interview] Woman who saved Statue of Peace in Berlin

Berlin’s Mitte district parliament rules the Statue of Peace can stay for a full year as planned

Han Jung-hwa, chair of Korea Verband, speaks in defense of the Statue of Peace during a protest in November. (Korea Verband)
Han Jung-hwa, chair of Korea Verband, speaks in defense of the Statue of Peace during a protest in November. (Korea Verband)
The Statue of Peace, which symbolizes the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, stands in a central district in Berlin known as Mitte.

It was the first of three such statues to be installed in a public place in Germany. But in October, it was on the verge of being removed due to strong opposition from the Japanese government. Many activists and nongovernmental organizations in Germany gathered around the statue and raised their voices about the importance of keeping it in place.

After discussing the issue with those involved in the decision-making process, including neighbors, Berlin’s Mitte district parliament ruled that the statue can stay where it is for a full year as planned.

One of the groups at the core of the movement to retain the statue was Korea Verband, a Berlin-based civic group that helped set the statue up in September. In an interview with The Korea Herald, Han Jung-hwa, chair of Korea Verband, expressed her affection for the neighborhood.

“Mitte means ‘center’ in German. It’s a place where many locals pass by, and is located very close to a well-known subway station. It’s also a residential area, so most residents in the area think of the Statue of Peace as their own.”

In 1993, in the Kono Statement of Apology, Japan acknowledged having forced women to work in military-run brothels during World War II. However, the country still objects to the Statue of Peace, which now appears in many parts of the world as a reminder of the past.

Four months have passed since the statue was installed in Mitte, and Han spoke of what she had witnessed in and around the area since that time. “As far as my experience shows, no one ever sees the statue and thinks, ‘Japan is a bad country.’ Instead, as soon as people see the statue, instead, they say, ‘Oh, we’ve also gone through a similar devastating past.’

“When you look at the statue, you feel something, and talk about what resonates with you at the moment. I think that’s the power of art, the power of the Statue of Peace. So my honest remark to the Japanese government is that they do not have to worry at all about being criticized as a country.”

While speaking about the protests last month to keep the statue in place over Japan’s objections, Han recalled an event in front of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. 
Protesters sit next to 200 empty chairs symbolizing 200,000 victims of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, in front of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. (Korea Verband)
Protesters sit next to 200 empty chairs symbolizing 200,000 victims of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, in front of the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. (Korea Verband)
“We managed to put 400 chairs in the middle of the square. Every Statue of Peace has an empty chair next to the young woman. Two hundred people came to sit on chairs next to the symbol, signaling the message, ‘We are the women.’ The intention was to shed light on what historians say, that about 200,000 victims around Asia were forcibly recruited into wartime sexual slavery.”

Asked about her plans for 2021, Han said, “Our goal for next year is to make the statue a permanent standing art piece. We have also started a history education program, and hope society is always open to dialogue between past and present among future generations. But before all subsequent action plans happen, I want to take a decent break with my fellow members of Korea Verband, and congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved so far.” 
Video and article by Kim Hae-yeon (hykim@heraldcorp.com)
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