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THE MAY 18
MEMORIAL FOUNDATION

Meaning

The Meaning of The May 18th Gwangju Democratic Uprising
Revival of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising
Though the streets of Gwangju City seemed to be restored to their former tranquility, the sorrow of the people bereft of loved ones lost in the uprising made it clear that the full impact of the Uprising was yet to come. In the year following the Uprising they formed a united front and inaugurated the 5·18 Bereaved Family Association to demand the restoration of the victims honor and to remember the fallen authorities. On June 13th, 1982, the people who were injured during the Uprising held their first meeting, and finally, on August 1st of that year, 18 members gathered at Moojin Church and inaugurated the Moodeungsan Social Meeting of those Wounded during the 5·18 Incident (later renamed the Meeting of those Wounded by the May 18th Gwangju Democratic Uprising).

In this way, many other associations related to the May 18th Uprising came into being .Together they formed a new social movement and initiated the observance of a memorial event in May every year after 1980.

In the meantime, the citizens and students also struggled to keep alive the spirit of the May Uprising of Gwangju. On May 30th, three days after the Gwangju Democratic Uprising had been suppressed, Kim Ue-gi, a student of Seogang University, killed himself by jumping off the building of the Seoul Christian Association while distributing leaflets which disclosed the real state of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Since then, the effort to inform the public of the truth about the Gwangju incident has continued unceasingly throughout the country.

In addition, the first strong protest against the attitude of the United States Administration which, directly or indirectly helped the New Military Power during the uprising, occurred in December, 1980, when the Gwangju U.S. Cultural Center was set on fire. From that time, an anti-U.S. movement continuously spread, leading to the burning of the Pusan U.S. in March of 1982 and the stay-in strike within the Seoul U.S. Cultural Center in May of 1985.

The despotism of the 5th Republic was, however, eventually faced with a critical situation owing to a subsequent uprising in June 1987, the people's campaign for the amendment of the constitution under the banner of direct election. In the end, the government came to accept the people's demand for democratization through what is called the Declaration of June 29. A special committee for the liquidation of the 5th Republic was formed in 1988 because the party in power was numerically inferior to the opposition party in the 13th National Assembly. This change of affairs also provided a chance for the Gwangju citizens to disclose in detail the truth about the Gwangju Democratic Uprising in May of 1980 to the public, and thus a special hearing was held.

The long campaign for democratization provided an opportunity for the justification of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising and for the restoration of the city's honor. Thus, the New Military Power which had interrupted the democratization process and trampled on the order of constitutionalism came to stand trial for their crimes against the people of Gwangju and Korea.

The Meaning of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising

The torch of tThe Gwangju Democratic Uprising which once burned vigorously, turning the sky crimson, was put out by the army's Chungjung Operation early on the morning of the 27th. However, its spirit burns on in the hearts of all the people who survived, now emitting an even brighter light.It was not a disgrace but an honorable event, full of glory. The eternal spirit of the Gwangju citizens did not spring from either a mere love of their own home town or a simple rebellious spirit but from a deep desire for democracy that even the oppression of the authorities and their distorted propaganda could not erase. The truths of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising which Gwangju citizens experienced in person were as follows:

First of all, almost all the citizens voluntarily fought in the face of the cruel violence of the paratroopers. Considering the situation, it was impossible to participate in the Uprising unless one was ready to risk all things including one's life. Nevertheless, the Gwangju citizens resisted injustice as one body in the name of all Korean citizens, so it was not just a heroic uprising by one or two individuals but a unified people resisting oppression. In the end their efforts brought them a glorious victory. Even when they were denounced by the government as lowly elements and rioters, Gwangju citizens went their own way, believing that their uprising against the inhumane violence of the military was the only way to defend their right to live and to stand up for justice.

Secondly, during the whole period of the Uprising, Gwangju City coped with the crisis through humanitarian cooperation. The Gwangju citizens who were making a living shared their possessions with each other, and being dependent on each other, they encouraged each other in their isolated situation. They shared food with those who were in need of it, donated blood to the wounded, and willingly helped anyone who was in need of assistance. While the leaders of the Uprising took pains to remedy the difficult situation, the citizens helped each other get by.

Thirdly, in the course of six days, from the time the army retreated till the time they occupied the city again, the Citizen's Army held command of the city. During that period the Gwangju people gave full attention to their moral consciousness. In spite of the complete absence of an official public system for peace and order, Gwangju citizens maintained peace and order perfectly. Although many of the citizens now possessed firearms, no incident took place in which their power was abused. Even financial agencies or jeweler's shops, where crimes are apt to happen even in peaceful times, were free from any criminal act. We find no parallel to this case in world history. The Gwangju citizens held on to their mature consciousness of democracy and community. The Gwangju Democratic Uprising in May of 1980 can only be seen as a people's uprising for the realization of democracy. The only places attacked by the citizens were those symbolizing the government's power or the mass media's lies. Ultimately, however, the battle between the Citizen's Army and the army under martial law was decided by physical strength, rather than justice or morality. With no outside aid at all, it is obvious that the Citizen's Army, equipped only with out-of date personal weapons, would be defeated by an army armed with the latest weapons technology.

Though the Citizen's Army suffered a setback in the end, contrary to all expectation, the army who won the battle lost the larger struggle for freedom. They could not erase the pride deep in the Gwangju citizens' hearts: a pride that continues to burn brightly. First of all, through the Gwangju Democratic Uprising Koreans came to see the role that the United States had played in this country in a new light. After the Korean War most Korean people, except for a few socialist groups, had seen the relationship between Korea and the United States in a positive light. When it emerged that the US had directly or indirectly supported the New Military Power during the Gwangju Affair, such a view rapidly disappeared, resulting in a kind of anti-Americanism. Next, The Gwangju Democratic Uprising brought Korea closer to democratization. The 5th Republic, which had seized power by denying the Gwangju democratization movement in the spring of 1980, maintained its oppressive and authoritative system in order to justify its usurpation of power. The May 18 Uprising succeeded in heightening the citizens' desire for democracy. From 1980 onwards, every May the people's desire to destroy the dictatorship was remembered in Gwangju and in all the large cities in this country. As a result, the despotic system of Chun Doo-Hwan was overthrown and Korea began its shift towards democracy, though still at a slow pace.

Finally, The Gwangju Democratic Uprising gave the people an opportunity to assert their identities as subjects with civil and political rights. The Gwangju Democratic Uprising was an unprecedented civil armed uprising which has changed the flow of modern Korean history. In less than twenty years the brutality and the exorbitant corruption of the fifth and sixth Republics have been revealed to the world, and at last they were convicted of their crimes in the name of history, justice, and law.

The Meaning of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising

It was difficult to bare all the historical facts of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising. Army information and evidence were secretly destroyed during the seven year reign of the 5th Republic. But the true state of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising has been proven through the Gwangju special hearing of the National Assembly, in spite of the fact that it was called into being by the ruling party of the sixth Republic.

However, the disclosure of the truth was not satisfactory enough to quench the people's thirst for justice. In the course of the hearings the government skillfully glossed over the issues which would directly or indirectly link people with the New Army Power or identify those responsible for the military's brutality. At the beginning of the civilian government, public prosecutors emphasized that punishment should be left to history rather than the state. But, as the national cry for the punishment of those responsible became stronger, public prosecutors launched a full-scale investigation. They described the people involved in the coup d’état for the first time in the history of a constitutional government. In this way they were brought to trial for obliterating fundamental human rights, the right to live, and the right to resist which are clearly stated in the constitution. They were judged by law and justice, not by history, attracting the attention of the whole world.

In spite of this the real facts of the case were still not disclosed. The people who possess the remaining vestiges and thoughts of that moment in history are still acting and resisting secretly in various fields of our society. However, no matter how hard they try to distort and conceal the real facts of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising; inevitably the truth will be disclosed in detail through the power of justice.

Every May 18th, the Gwangju Democratic Uprising comes to life again as an uprising of victory conquering yesterday's defeat. In as much as the present government claims to stand for a civilian role in accordance with The Gwangju Democratic Uprising and the June uprising of 1987, now is the time to begin preparing for a new step. The whole nation, not only the citizens of Gwangju, should embrace the spirit of the May 18th Gwangju Democratic Uprising and prepare for the future, rather than remaining living in the past.

We need to plan and prepare a future for our community full of dynamic possibility. Through the realization of a community which helps and trusts each other and chooses to live and let live, the spirit of the Gwangju Democratic Uprising will continue to shine brightly.
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