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305번 게시글
(Part 1) A Historical Review of Gwangju Democratization Movement: Its Development and Historical Significance
Date : 2008-10-27     Hit : 4768
by
Jeong Geunsig,
Department of Sociology,
Jeonnam National University

1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising (References)


1. Introduction

Both the Gwangju Minjung Uprising [Translator's Note: Minjung can be translated into 'people' or 'grassroots'] in May of 1980, and the democratic power change in 1998 took place in Korea, the forefront of the global cold war system after World War II, and are recorded as exceptional events rarely found in third world democratic history. The Gwangju Minjung Uprising showed not only nobility of brave resistance against state violence that infringed human dignity but also definitively deprived the oppressive military authoritarian regime of its legitimacy. The May movement, which proposed to implement the lesson of the Gwangju Uprising, or 'the spirit of Gwangju', has established its position as a movement that achieved contemporaneous victory which elevated Korean democracy one level by overcoming political isolation and frustration, and eventually producing the fruit of the democratic power change in 1998.

This paper outlines 'the Gwangju democratization movement' from 1980 to 1998, on the verge of the 20th anniversary of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, and reassess its historical significance in the ever-changing political horizon. In this paper, I define 'the Gwangju democratization movement' as the historical movement of struggle for the implementation of democracy and justice that started in May of 1980 and lasted until the confirmation of the democratic power change at the end of 1997. This Gwangju democratization movement consists of 'the Gwangju Minjung Uprising', which refers to the 10-day struggle in Gwangju and its vicinities from May 18 - 27 in 1980, and 'the May movement' which followed, claiming the so-called 'five principles of resolving the Gwangju problem' after the Gwangju Minjung Uprising was over. If the former was a citizens' collective uprising for democracy in Gwangju and neighboring small towns, then the latter was a long-term and periodic democratization movement for the revelation of reality and for the succession of the ideology of the Gwangju Uprising in the medium of the historical sacrifice through the Gwangju Uprising.

'The Gwangju Minjung Uprising'

How to define and name the historical event that happened at a specific time and the series of social movements which proceeded for a rather extended time causes fights among different groups sometimes, yet at the same time such disagreement is an index that reflects change in historical recognition. The concept of the Gwangju democratization movement, referring the historical event in May 1980, was originally adopted by the government during the 1988 National Assembly Hearing on Gwangju when the opposition parties were bigger than the ruling party at the beginning of the 6th Republic, the latter military authoritarian regime. The government used this concept to avoid the term 'the Gwangju Minjung Uprising', which was in common use among social movement groups at that time. But the concept of the Gwangju democratization movement is not appropriate for a historical event that took place for a short time.

How to define the massive citizen resistance and struggle of 10 days in Gwangju and its vicinities in May 1980 was one of the most important issues in the Korean social movement circle in the 1980s. Until now 'the Gwangju Minjung Uprising' has been referred to by many different names. The Gwangju Incident, the Gwangju Righteous Undertaking, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising (Gang Man-gil, 1990; Chung Hae-gu, 1990; Son Ho-chol, 1995), the Gwangju Citizens' Uprising, May 18, the Gwangju Armed Insurrection (Lee Jong-ro, 1989) or the Citizens' War (An Byeong-ug, 1999) are some examples. The exact title of a historical event should be a concept that summarizes the nature and character of the event. However, the title of a historical event is defined by the combination of the historical context when the event took place and the present-day situation, and cannot help but undergo changes in accordance with changing historical interpretation. The key points in this case are (1) Should we include the place name of Gwangju in the name of the historical event? (2) Who should we define as the subject: citizens or minjung? (3) How can we define the essence of the event: a righteous undertaking, a movement, an uprising, an insurrection, a revolution or a war? Through discussion of such questions, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising has been decided as the most universal title, but the more abstract term of May 18 Gwangju Uprising is also used.

The May Movement

To define the May movement in abstract terms, it was the strenuous struggle following May 1980 with the purpose of revealing the truth of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising and succeeding in its spirit. In a broader perspective, the democratization movement in Korea after 1980 proceeded without any exception in the context of following the spirit of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, and thus this movement as a whole can also be called the May movement. On a more restricted perspective, however, the May movement refers to a series of movements staged by citizens of Gwangju, including the bereaved families, the injured and the arrested people from the people's uprising, and this movement aimed at the so-called five principles of resolving the Gwangju problem: the revelation of truth, the punishment of the murderers, compensation, the recovery of (citizens and victims') honor, and the commemorative projects for the succession of the spirit of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. This movement developed in the medium of memorial and commemorative ceremonies which took place every May after 1980, and included struggles, in all parts of society, for the succession of the spirit of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising.

Perspectives and Analyses

The Gwangju Minjung Uprising is the deterministic clash in Gwangju in May 1980 after the collapse, in October 1979, of the first period of the military authoritarian government, also called the Yusin system. This clash took place between the ruling block, whose center was military authorities who proposed to maintain the existing power structure and political system, and a great majority of citizens who wanted to escape political oppression, to restore democracy, and to again live as humans. The ruling block won this deterministic struggle by using force, but was fatally damaged in terms of its morale. From this damage, the ruling block had to face challenge from Korean citizens seven years later, and they could not help giving up their political power 10 years later. Then, from what perspective should we view such a great event in history?

Certain historical events or social movements have, beyond their internal continuum of motives, bigger macroscopic structural-historical frameworks of time related to the surrounding state of affairs. Historical events that happen in contemporary Korean history have the broader macroscopic historical-structural context in that the event (1) lies within the context of the town or region where they happen, (2) lie in the context of one country's history, or (3) work within the context of the present divided Korean society, or the northeastern Asian cold war system.

A historical event differs in how it reveals its background state of affairs or deeper structural reality, depending on its qualitative character. If we say that an event which has more historical significance or has a longer influence tends to change phases easily or reveals its structural character more easily, then one such example in the latter 20th century is the Gwangju Minjung Uprising. It went beyond the specific regional context in which it occurred and became a field test for the possibility of democracy in Korea. It also worked as a factor to reveal the nature of cold war system in the Korean peninsula and eastern Asia.

The historical events in contemporary Korean society after 1945 lie in the structural-historical time of the divided state. The structure of a divided state is perceived as the frame that consistently distorts democracy, human dignity, and independence, which are most important in human life. Though a clear theoretical explanation is not yet obtained as to the relationship between the divided state and political democracy, it is assumed that there is an inalienable relationship between the birth and decomposition of the divided state, and the distortion and restoration of democracy.

To understand it historically: The divided state came into being through massive civilian massacre and a war in the midst of interactions among nation-internal and external forces, with the divided state establishing an authoritarian system instead of a democratic one. But in the midst such situations, the social movement advocating democracy and human dignity had grown continuously, this growth worked as the force for establishing of a democratic government in a direct way, and for ending the divided state in an indirect way. The character of power under the divided state was most typically expressed, both in South and North Korea, in the full mobilization system with the military authorities at its peak. One example was the military authoritarian regime, which is again bisected into the earlier military regime from 1961 to 1979 and the later one from 1980 to 1992.

Democracy in Korea has been ideologically educated largely under an American influence since 1945; however, at its practical level, it has been ceaselessly distorted by the divided state and the power block in favor of the divided state. Overcoming such distortion has been the backbone of the social movement so far. Although the Korean social movement has its roots in the structure of the divided state, it cannot but progress always for the cause of restoration or establishment of democracy. In addition, this has become the ground for the democratization movement to shout for political democratization, focusing on the political system instead of democracy in everyday living.

Since the 1960's, the Korean political system, as well as the formation of the pro-democracy movement, has bee closely related to economic development strategies driven by the authoritarian regime and its consequent regional industrial imbalance. An unbalanced development strategy has made the imbalance in social classes and regions intertwined. The imbalance in the distribution of industrial facilities between the Yeongnam and the Hoanm regions together with the centralization of resources around Seoul, has functioned as the structural factor for creating a political chasm. In such a context, the power block is inclined to promote regional supremacy, and to politically protect certain region, thus partly exercising the control effect that the imbalance among social classes may not support.

From this perspective, this paper will examine first the background and motivational progress of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, and then examine the progress of the May movement and its historical significance.

 
 
Continuation....

1. Introduction
2. The Background of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
3. Development Procedure of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising
4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement
5. Conclusion: The Significance and Prospect of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising (References)


 
 

Source: http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr/cnu518/index.html
Rights: Chonnam National University May 18 Institute/Prof. Gyonggu Shin (http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr) ( ggshin@chonnam.ac.kr)
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