05/19/2016, 14.02
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Gwangju massacre an "open wound for all Korean society"

The president of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, speaks to AsiaNews about the importance of commemorating the victims of 1980: "They represented a turning point for the country, and remembering their sacrifice is a must for those who love democracy. But peace is the only way forward, and only dialogue can build it". The government forbids to singing of the symbolic anthem of protest, that set the stage for the end of military dictatorship in South Korea.


Daejeon (AsiaNews) - The wound inflicted on Korean society by the Gwangju massacre "is still open. The victims of the protest provided the basis for a turning point for the whole country, and commemorating their sacrifice is a must for those who love democracy. But peace is the only way forward, and only dialogue can build it", says the president of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, Msgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, commenting to AsiaNews on the controversy that surrounded the commemorations of 18 May.

The primary issue at stake concerns the position of the current government, led by conservative President Park Geun-hye. Her prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, participated along with other national leaders in the commemoration of the "Gwangju Uprising", but remained silent during the song "March for our Beloved". During the years of military dictatorship, this anthem represented the people’s desire for democracy and was an open indictment of the dictator Park Chung-hee, father of the current leader, in power at the time.

In addition, several protesters clashed with police as they tried to hang banners depicting a father and daughter comparison: "We did not want to provoke  - says one of the participants - but only to disclose what everyone knows. Namely that the current Park has learned too well the lesson of the late Park and that our democracy is at risk. "

On May 18, 1980 in the city of Gwangju, South Korea’s sixth most important city by population, a clash broke out between students of Chonnam National University and several battalions of the armed forces stationed in the area after the announcement of the closure of  the University. The young people were protesting about the decision taken by the government, and accused the government of "wanting to kill the free thought." The riots progressively spread to the whole city, which became a symbol of anti-authoritarian protest and rising up of Korean civil society, which demanded political reforms towards democracy.

In nine days of violent clashes and repression by government forces, there were many victims. According to the government of the time, the dead counted 144; according to sources of the international media and various NGOs, they exceeded 1000. The anger and the public outrage at the massacre led to a further strengthening of the democratic movement, who managed to alienate the military dictatorship paving the way for subsequent reforms.

Today, says Msgr. You, "all this is still valid. The movement has been a foundation of democracy, which opened the way for the end of the dictatorship. But we must think about the future of the country and its stability: without ever giving up truth and justice, we must seek to build dialogue and relations with others. Also, especially with those who do not think like us. "

Just this morning the secretary of the Conservative Party of Gwangju, linked to the President, went to see Msgr. You - Bishop of Daejeon - to talk about the situation: "I offered comfort in a very challenging time. And I reminded him that as Catholics we try to always get the best result possible in front of any situation. But we do not always succeed: and when we do not, we must always keep in mind that the result is positive if it is obtained by aiming for the best solution".

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