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(Part 4) A Historical Review of Gwangju Democratization Movement: Its Development and Historical Significance
Date : 2008-10-27     Hit : 4516
(Fourth part - Continuation) - 4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement

by Jeong Geunsig,
Department of Sociology,
Jeonnam National University


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



4. Restarting the Social Movement & the May Movement

The new military authorities who suppressed the Gwangju Minjung Uprising in May 1980 with military force hurriedly set themselves in the forefront of politics without a campaign celebration, as they had done after the December 12 incident. They made President Choe Gyu-ha step down and General Jeon Duhwan, the leader of the new military authorities, was inaugurated as president by means of the Congress for Reunification on the basis of the existing Yusin Constitution in August. The multi-step coup that started in December of 1979 finally came to its successful end. Chun then modified the Constitution and reinaugurated himself as President for a single 7-year term to open the 5th Republic. But this regime had already lost its legitimacy fatally in Gwangju; they could not help but depend on iron-fisted oppressive rule for their power.

1) New Developments in the Social Movement

Although the Gwangju Minjung Uprising failed to bring forth immediate democratization, it significantly awakened the political awareness of Korean citizens. With the Gwangju Minjung Uprising the democratization movement in Korea entered a new stage. First, the democratization movement went beyond the student movement and expanded to all fields of society, resulting in the activation of the movement in the young generation and expanded participation of the older generation. Second, the student movement overcame the limitations of existing in only a few colleges and universities and has expanded nationwide. Third, the regional movement became important in social movement wings. This was a significant change not only in the context of the nationwide organization of social movement groups but also in the context of bottom-up unity among regions. Fourth, ideologically, the character of the Korean social movement, especially the democratization movement, as a nationalistic movement and as a minjung movement was strengthened by degrees. The grass-roots minjung movements such as the labor movement and the farmers' movement were significantly activated.

With the rediscovery of the contradiction of a divided state, the Korean social movement in the 1980s was characterized by the ideology of nation, democracy, and minjung. Certain agreements were made regarding the idea that minjung's independence and the right to survive were the key task of Korean society, thereby leading to much controversy over which of the two received priority. In addition, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising made people understand the significance of regions in Korean society, activated different kinds of regional movement, and also activated citizen movement together with grassroots movements such as that of the laboring classes and farmers.

The biggest change was that the divided state entered a period of change starting in 1980. People renewed their understanding of the upper level forces that moved Korean society, and they began to publicly criticize and to mobilize people against those forces. Through the Gwangju Uprising, understanding of the America's role in contributing to the divided state of the Korean peninsula, the cold war system in northeast Asia, and the maintenance of the divided state was renewed, and this eventually gave birth to the national autonomy and the reunification movements.

Right after the Gwangju Uprising, criticism against the U.S. was strongly make mainly by college students in every corner of the country, let alone Gwangju. The American Culture Center of the U.S. Embassy became the students' targets. Protests against the U.S., who had directly and indirectly assisted the new military authorities during the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, expanded continuously from the arson of the Gwangju American Culture Center in December of 1980 and to the arson of the Busan American Culture Center in March of 1982, to sit-in demonstrations at the Seoul American Culture Center in May of 1985. Protest and criticism against the U.S. led the way to the reunification movement which was represented as the correct understanding of North Korea. The anti-American movement in the 1980s gradually differentiated from a vague understanding of North Korea to a pro-North Korean movement and an anti-North Korean movement. Gwangju in particular became the city where the anti-American movement continued most persistently. This was the result of the joint function of the agriculture-centered industrial structure of the city and the experiences of 1980. The existence of the global socialist system that had been maintained until 1990 also tacitly but fundamentally functioned in such a situation. It cannot be denied that an idealistic attitude existed which considered North Korea as an alternative; the dilemma of the movement group was that they were critical of both North Korea and of the U.S. at the same time.

But, with the beginning of the 1990s the situation changed. The reunification movement underwent qualitative changes when the realities of communism were revealed with the collapse of major communist systems after 1990. The reality of North Korea was also clearly understood through the nuclear crisis and food shortage. Especially, as the collapse of the North Korean general economy was revealed, the idea of North Korea as an alternative became degraded to an object of assistance out of nationalistic love for fellow people. The reunification movement, which had been rapidly taken up in the 1980s, achieved a fundamental and qualitative shift in the early 1990s.

The second influence of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising on social movement was that it greatly expanded and qualitatively elevated the labor movement and farmers' movement that had begun in 1970. If the labor movement in the 1970s was a democratic labor union movement at local work places with female laborers at the center, that after 1980 leaped beyond unionism and became more radical. It was further encouraged to produce nationwide organization through the association of local units and nationwide general strikes. In labor-intense regions, 'Gwangju' became a new stimulus to labor movement and led the movement to have a nationwide outlook. The Farmers' movement also was influenced by the Gwangju Uprising and achieved nationwide organization and activities during the 1980s.

Third, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising activated local residents' movements as well. Until the late 1970s, politico-economic resources were concentrated in Seoul, and social movement also progressed with Seoul as its center. Together with the Busan-Masan Uprising, the Gwangju Minjung Uprising leaped beyond general expectation in that a massive public resistance took place in a provincial city, not in Seoul. The Gwangju Uprising even made social movement activists think of strategies to activate local movements surrounding Seoul. It also practically disproved that the idea that everyday the movements of urban residents were less important than laborers' or farmers' movements. Besides, the Gwangju Uprising also awakened the idea that nationwide unity is inevitable for the democratization of overall society. The importance of nationwide unity informing a social movement was well evidenced through the June uprising of 1987.

A movement with nationwide unity, or the June uprising in 1987, was made possible through the activation of the national reunification movement, the minjung movement and local movement for which the Gwangju Uprising had become the seed. The June uprising in turn ushered in the era of full-scale citizen society. Of course, passing through the June uprising, the conflicts between two different lines of movements--class struggles and a nationalistic movement--grew worse and the regional chasm within the social movement groups also grew bigger. However, local citizen society movement also began to take its shape. New social movements such as the environmental movement or women's movement began to grow to their full scale after the June uprising.

2) The Formation and Progress of the May Movement

Though the Gwangju Minjung Uprising itself has great historical significance, what is more important is its influence on Korean democratization and east Asian democratization. The ideology of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising was succeeded by the so-called 'May movement'. The fundamental spirit of the Gwangju Uprising seemed to be self-realized through the June uprising in 1987 and struggles for revelation of the truth after 1988, but it was underestimated and distorted by the worse regionalism after 1987 and by the regional union for hegemony which became structuralized in 1990. The establishment of the 'civilian government' in 1993 can be interpreted as a distorted fulfillment of the ideology of the Gwangju Uprising. The May movement for the fulfillment of the ideology of the Gwangju Uprising did not permit vagueness of the civilian government. The May movement expanded nationwide as the movement for punishing the army in 1995 and functioned as the force that eventually sent former presidents to prison, unprecedented in the Third World, and achieved a power shift between the ruling and the opposition parties at the end of 1997. This shift practically proved that democracy and justice can also have victory in the Third World.

The collective heroes who were sacrificed in the Gwangju Uprising achieved eternal victory in the history of human rights, but those who survived were forced to carry political submission and the yoke of self-humiliation. 'Gwangju' experienced terrible hardships because of its actual defeat. The yoke participants were to wear was that of 'the other' in cold war ideology and 'the other' in regionalism. Gwangju was destined for rebirth through self-training under such a yoke. The procedure of this rebirth started with struggles against the military regime for the survival of the victims of the uprising, or the bereaved families and the injured, and also started with citizens' question about the role of the U.S. in the course of the uprising. Particularly, this reassessment led to citizens publically questioning the U.S.A's role in northeast Asia or in Korea, which had been buried deep in the trench of cold war ideology after the Korean War. Protests against a second term of military government and against the U.S., occurred in the forms of arson, sit-in demonstrations, or self-immolation by fire in Seoul, Busan and Gwangju; many people were sacrificed in this process. Most of them wanted to be buried in the Mangweol-dong Cemetery together with the victims of the Gwangju Uprising. The May movement thus started with the struggles of those who were directly involved in the May incident such as the bereaved, the injured, or those who had been arrested; the May movement was gradually elevated as conscientious students and citizens took part in it.

The May movement did not walk on a peaceful road, instead it walked on the road of tremendous hardships. As soon as the Gwangju Uprising was over, Martial Law Headquarters officially announced, through the final report on the so-called 'Gwangju incident', that a total of 170 people including 144 civilians, 22 soldiers, and 4 policemen died; and a total of 380 people including 127 civilians, 109 soldiers and 144 police were injured; and a total of 1,740 people were arrested and out of them 730 are under investigation. Though they quickly amended the number of deaths to 189, nobody would believe this announcement, because this report concealed the truth and reduced the number of victims. If anyone raised question about the report or spoke of the reality of the uprising, he or she was arrested on the charge of spreading groundless rumors. What was true and 'false was continually reversed.

Though the following social movement showed that truth cannot be suppressed by force, a great deal of blood and tears had to be shed. The first resistance was the suicide jump of a college student, Gim Ui-gi, from the Seoul Christian Building on May 30, only three days after the uprising was subdued. Gim Ui-gi distributed an article proclaiming the reality of the Gwangju incident while he jumped off the building. On June 9, a laborer, Gim Jong-tae, set himself on fire. After that, efforts to publicize the 'truth of the Gwangju incident' continued here and there in the country.

The statements of religious people also played an important role during the May movement, and their voices were understood as an expression of rage over the abuse of human dignity, the most fundamental condition and at the same time the premise for the survival of human society. In 1984, students of 12 colleges and universities in the Seoul area staged demonstrations on campuses in commemoration of the 4th anniversary of the May 18.

The first organizational movement, despite all kinds of persecution and disturbing manipulation, came from the bereaved families who lost their family members during the uprising. They established the Council of May 18 Bereaved Families right after the May uprising and decided on 'the recovery of the victims' honor and the unified channel of suggestions and requests from the bereaved families. In May 1981, the first memorial ceremony of the May 18 took place in Mangweol-dong and about 50 of them were arrested at a street demonstration. This signified the beginning of the May movement by the bereaved families.

In March, 1982, though Jeon Duhwan, reduced the punishment of Gim Dae-jung and Chung Dong-nyon in time for his visit to the U.S., from the lift-time imprisonment to 20-year imprisonment, the uprising began to grow bigger. In June, those who were injured during the uprising met the first meeting of the initiators; in August, 18 members inaugurated the Mudeung Mountain Social Gathering of the May 18 Injured (later changed the name to the Council of the May 18 Injured). In this way, as one year passed, many May 18-related organizations arose. These organizations led commemorative events in May of each year after 1980 and challenged the legitimacy of the ruling power.

The clergy of the Archdiocese of Gwangju of the Catholic Church made a very symbolic proclamation The Gwangju incident is not over yet in May of 1982, and this became the premise of the following public belief and thoughts. Struggles grew more and more elevated and they began to have periodic characteristic of rapid elevation in May of each year. The military government at that time attempted to dismantle the Mangweol-dong Cemetery in order to prevent the matter of May 18 from becoming a political issue, and in March 1983, several tombs were actually moved by the bereaved families. But this manipulation for moving was not so successful. The May movement actually started with this Mangweol-dong Cemetery as a symbolic base. The military government began to perceive the possibility of Mangweol-dong Cemetery becoming a base of the democratization movement in the 1980s. But their manipulation turned out to be a failure and the situation progressed as had been expected.

On May 18, 1983, the dissident leader Gim Yeongsam, who was under house arrest start started a hungerstrike, demanding the guarantee of his free political activities. On the 4th anniversary, May 18, 1984, citizens had a memorial ritual and staged a demonstration on Geumnam Street, about 80 participants were arrested. The seed of resistance during this period grew in Protestant and Catholic churches. The Catholic Church played an important role, especially in the resistance through memorial, and the Catholic Center on Geumnam Street became an important place. Together with these demonstrations, the New Democratic Party outnumbered the government-controlled opposition party, the Democratic Korean Party, and became the biggest opposition party in the general election in February, 1985. Then the 5th Republic regime withdrew sanctions on the political activities of 14 politicians including Gim Dae-jung, Gim Yeongsam and Gim Jong-pil. With this kinds of favorable situation, the demand for the revelation of the truth of May 18 began in earnest. On Liberation Day of the same year, a laborer, Hong Gi-il, self-immolated by fire on Geumnam Street and self-immolations followed one after another from then on. Most of those who protested by self-immolation by fire in the 1980s and the early 1990s either had local connection with Gwangju or a strong psychological identity with 'the Gwangju incident'.

The May movement entered a new stage with the June uprising in 1987. in May 1987, memorial sincerity filled the whole country with the help of timely protests against the concealment of Bag Jong-cheol's torture. The memorial project of that year functioned as the catalyst that drove protests against the pro-Constitutional measure, announced on April 3, to nationwide protest the death of Lee Han-yeol, the Yonsei University student who died by a direct shot of tear-gas, brought forth a determined phase of resistance. The so-called June 10 uprising, or 'People's Rally Protesting the Concealment of Torturing to Death and the Abolishment of Pro-Constitutional Measures', was the total conclusion of the May movement in 1987. In particular, the struggle for the burial of Lee Han-yeol in the Mangweol Cemetery, dramatically expressed the changed atmosphere following the June 29 proclamation, and Geumnam Street and Mangweol-dong in Gwangju secured their positions as the center of symbolic rituals for democratization.

The ruling forces, who retreated a step backward because of the June uprising in 1987, proclaimed amnesty and restoration in July of that year of about 2,000 political prisoners including 18 who were involved in the Gim Dae-jung conspiracy for internal disturbance and 17 who participated in 'the Gwangju incident'. Giving amnesty, the ruling forces considered the possibility of divisions within the democratization movement groups. The opposition group was divided into two parties with Gim Dae-jung and Gim Yeongsam as their leaders, respectively; the democratization movement groups were divided between the idea of critical support and the idea of a single presidential candidate.

Since the May memorial events in 1988 were based on the preceding year's June uprising and the open political space in the midst of bigger opposition within the House, they began to have both memorial characteristics and festive characters. Various kinds of independent memorial projects were carried out around colleges and universities and religious circles, and they gathered together at the citizens' protesting rally on May 19, becoming the biggest of its kind with about 100,000 people participaing. It was the moment when the distance between the Peaceful Democratic Party and the Gwangju citizens approximated its closest point. The political landscape in which the three opposition parties were greater in number than the ruling party provided an opportunity to approach closer to the reality of the Gwangju incident more closely.

In the National Assembly, the public hearing on Gwangju to reveal the truth about May 18 was held from November together with the public hearing investigating corruption the 5th Republic. The list of military personnel who had been awarded national medals for their contribution to the military suppression of the Gwangju Uprising was overtly reported, and many military leaders sat on the witness' stand This public hearing showed that the government could not have been maintained without their controlling Gwangju citizen's anger. At the same time, the public hearing was the result of a balance between the enraged forces demanding the truth and the forces managing the anger that it might not threaten the 6th Republic regime itself. President No Taeu changed the definition to the Gwangju Democratization Movement through a special announcement at the end of November. The government also solicited reports of the number of the dead and injured and 1,838 people reported and 1,473 people were recognized. The public hearing partly accepted the Gwangju citizens' demands, but on the other hand it fell short of reveling the truth. In particular, the question of whether the U.S. interfered with the suppression, which was an issue at time, was hardly touched at all. Because of this, the public hearing on Gwangju was evaluated as a result of 'the management' of the truth of Gwangju at 'an appropriate level' through compromises between political forces.

Though former President Jeon Duhwan was 'sent' to the Baegdam Buddhist Temple. This punishment for his responsibility gave more weight to his responsibility for corruption in the 5th Republic than to his responsibility for May 18. In a sense, this punishment was done to the one who already had lost power, and thus decrease its significance by half.


The merger of the three parties following the conclusion of the public hearing on the Gwangju incident dealt a fatal blow to efforts to reveal the truth about Gwangju. The shock of the three-party-merger was tremendous on Gwangju and Honam people. That was accepted not only as an articulate appearance of a united system against the Honam region but also as the betrayal of a group of democratic forces against Gwangju. This party merger was the second isolation that Gwangju had to suffer after 1980. Because of this isolation, the strategy of the May movement focused on how to overcome regional isolation.
The sense of being betrayed by the party merge was expressed in the 10th anniversary events for May 18 in 1990. 'May 18 Inheritance Rally' was held with the participation of about 100,000 people as many as the one in 1988.

Despite these protests, the Democratic Free Party, the major ruling party, resulted from the merger of three parties, rapidly processed 26 bills and the Bill Regulating Compensation of Those Involved in the Gwangju Democratization Movement(1990) was one of the bills processed. This bill named the historical event in May, 1980, as Gwangju Democratization Movement, and designated the time of this event as around May 18 in 1980. 'The Gwangju incident' was no longer defined as 'a riot instigated by the agitation and groundless rumors of traitors but was defined as an effort by Gwangju students and citizens for democratization in the middle of a nationwide democratization movement at that time.

This bill was a product of the political situations at the time of the merge of the three parties. Therefore, it approached the truth of the event more closely when compared with the 5th Republic, but like the anti-Honam regional unity system, it chose to avoid the truth of May 18 and avoided punishing of those who were responsible for it. To put it more precisely, the bill retreated a great deal more than the Bill on the Restoration of Honor and Compensation for the Victims of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising of Righteousness which had been suggested by the agreement of the three opposition parties in December, 1989, when the opposition was bigger in the National Assembly. The government bill vaguely defined the historical significance and precise time of the event, and it also defined the object of the bill as those who were related to the Gwangju Democratization Movement with the precise meaning of related not specified. This vagueness later gave births to controversies in interpretation.

After the legalization of this bill, the government proceeded with compensation based on this bill in the midst of criticism that the bill was a temporizing measure. Relevant parties of the May uprising accepted compensation based on this bill through much discussions. The economic difficulties of a great number of the bereaved families and injured people contributed greatly toward its acceptance. Based on this bill, 2,226 people reported damage and the total amount of money paid for compensation reached 551 000. The government wanted to make things even with Gwangju through financial compensation based on the bill, and granting part of the land formerly occupied by the Sangmudae Base. This kind of compensation and appeasement had the fundamental limitation of assuming, for its logical basis, mutual responsibility by citizens and the army. Gwangju citizens were just and the suppression army was just, too. The 6th Republic, itself the product of several centuries of Korean politics and the 5th Republic, had no reason to deny its root for itself.

The May movement of 1991 was activated by the suicide of a Jeonnam National University student, Park Sung-hee. About 10,000 people paid homage to her at the Mangweol-dong Cemetery, and about 100,000 citizens gathered at the memorial event on Geumnam Street. On May 20, struggles around the burial of a Myongji University student, Kang Gyong-dae, greatly elevated the 11th anniversary memorial atmosphere.

The May movement met yet another turning point with the inauguration of Gim Yeongsam's administration in 1993. Through a special statement in May, 1993, President Gim Yeongsam announced his comprehensive measures on the Gwangju matter. He mentioned that the Gwangju Democratization Movement was a peak standing upright in the road toward democratization, and stated that Today's government is a democratic government, along the continuum of the Gwangju Democratization Movement. He also promised that he would promote different kinds of commemorative projects and additional compensation for the victims on the basis of an evaluation. He admitted the incompleteness of reports and compensation in 1990, and solicited additional reports. But this promise was understood as 'a party of language' fully furnished with grandiose words.

The reason for this was the rejection of 'the revelation of the truth' and 'the punishment of the responsible'. He was criticized for blindly emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation even without revealing the truth, even without knowing who was responsible for the incident, and even without clear suggestion of what to leave to historical assessment.

The May 18 policy of Gim Yeongsam's regime confronted a serious challenge as the period of the preion for public action against military leaders became an issue. In July, 1995, the prosecuting authorities made the final decision that the crime of internal disturbance could not be applied to the new military authorities with regards to 'May 18' on the ground that the period of preion had expired. But this decision paradoxically functioned to revive the extinguishing flame of judgment. Protests against this decision began nationwide from the end of July. In Gwangju, the Gwangju-Jeonnam Joint Committee for the Fulfillment of Prosecution of the May 18 Murderer began its activities, and nationwide demonstrations were prepared under the leadership of People's Committee for the Revelation of the May 18 Truth and the Succession of the Gwangju Uprising Spirit. All National Committee for the Legislation of the Special Bill for the May 18 were organized and held six national rallies until November. Nationwide, about 3,500 professors and thousands of teachers supported legislation of a special bill and the introduction of special prosecutor in protest of the prosecuting authorities' disposition not to institute a public action. The Association of Professors for Democracy sued the Prosecutor General to the Impeachment Court and about 100 professors of law pointed out errors in legal interpretation.

The situation turned favorable for social movement groups as the secret fund of former President No Taeu was disclosed in the National Assembly in October. In November, former President Roh was arrested and President Gim Yeongsam ordered the legislation of a special bill on the May 18 incident. Former President Jeon Duhwan was arrested in December. Then came the legislation of the Special Bill on May 18. The key content of this bill was the punishment of the assaulters and the recovery of the victims' honor with the purpose of correcting history distorted in the past.

Throughout a number of hardships, the Gwangju incident of 1980 was connected to the democratic power shift at the end of 1997 with the help of the May movement. The democratic power shift can be basically be said to be the delayed and restricted actualization of what 'the Gwangju incident of 1980' had aimed at. The longer the democratization had been delayed, the larger the sacrifices and struggles it called for. The 'restricted' actualization refers to the fact that the power shift was made possible by political association with conservative political forces instead of by the union of democratic forces. It also points out that overcoming the divided state and the problem of regional imbalance were still left as unresolved problems. However, the democratic power shift functioned as the force to soften the Honam people's sense of isolation and to change self-contempt to the pride atf being the leaders of Korean democratization.

3) The Five Principles for the Resolution of the Gwangju Matter

The May movement has prepared important bases for the revelation of the truth of the massive civilian massacre and the historical restoration of honor. They are the Five Principles for the Resolution of the Gwangju Matter. These five principles are the revelation of the truth, the punishment of those who were responsible, the recovery of honor, compensation and the commemorative projects for the inheritance of the spirit. They were made concrete in the mid-1980s and have become the guide for the overall period of the May movement.

Reveling of the Truth

Throughout the overall period of the May movement, the most important demand was for the revelation of the truth. At first, the truth was publicized through various kinds of leaflets or books mainly by those who participated in the Gwangju Uprising. Gradually the revelation of the truth was demanded on the institutional level. As the opposition took the majority in the National Assembly in 1988, this demand was accepted and a public hearing on Gwangju was held, during which the outfit of the event was revealed to a considerable level. But, since this public hearing was a politically compromised one, it could not a complete revelation of the truth, Instead it retained the position of mutual responsibility between the suppression army and the Gwangju citizens. When the ruling party and two opposition parties merged in 1990 after the public hearing on Gwangju, it produced a ruling block that regionally isolated Gwangju, and efforts to reveal the truth were crippled.

After that, the revelation of the truth had to take painful bypasses. This matter did not advance much under Gim Yeongsam's regime, and it is still unsatisfactory at the present moment after the power shift in 1998. The complete revelation of the truth has not been achieved yet because of the complicated structure of the political reality and of the cause for regional reconciliation. The overall plan of military operation and the highest responsible officer were not revealed, nor the matter of secret burial resolved. Though U.S. interference was revealed to a certain extent, it was covered up because of diplomatic relations between Korea and the U.S.

Since the revelation of the truth was the most important among the five principles, the fulfillment of the other four principles, without satisfactory fulfillment of this principle, could not but have a somewhat distorted character.

Punishment of those Responsible

The revelation of the truth was directly connected to the punishment of those who were responsible for the Gwangju Uprising. This matter includeded the command to open fire on May 21 and the overall responsibility of the suppression operation; it was difficult for the punishment of the responsible party to be obviously made without clear revelation of the truth. At the heart of this matter was the deprivation of those who had received awards for their contribution to the December 12 military coup and the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. The former presidents, who were the most powerful among them, were also included.

The demand for punishment of the murderers was suggested in the leaflet titled Let us punish the May 18 ringleader!, distributed by the General Student Council of Jeonnam National University in May of 1985. In this leaflet, five people including Jeon Duhwan, were called Five Enemies, but as the truth of the event was revealed later, the people to be punished changed. The punishment of responsible began to happen a roundabout manner during the 6th Republic. Former President Jeon Duhwan was sent into exile at Baegdamsa Buddhist Temple after the conclusion of the public hearing on the 5th Republic, which progressed parallel to the public hearing on the Gwangju in the National Assembly. But the exile had a stronger aspect of punishment inflicted to the person responsible for corruptions in the 5th Republic than the punishment of the one who was responsible for the Gwangju massacre. The matter of responsibility for the Gwangju Uprising was not over yet.

In July of 1995, the prosecutory authorities under Gim Yeongsam's government made the final decision about the inapplicability of the May 18 crime of insurrection on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. Protests against the decision began to developed nationwide. In the end, former President No Taeu was imprisoned, President Gim Yeongsam ordered legislation of the special bill about May 18, and former President Jeon Duhwan was imprisoned, too. Although the special bill about May 18 in 1996 had as in its essence the punishment of the assaulters and the recovery of the victims' honor with the purpose of correcting false history, the imprisonment of the two former presidents still had limitations in that they were not imprisoned for their responsibility for the Gwangju matter, but for all kinds of corruption and graft cases.
Recovery of Honor

The first naming of the Gwangju Uprising as well as the distortion through that naming happened during the developmental stages of Gwangju citizens' push for democracy. The initial name distorted the essence of the event by linking it to the existing logic of the cold war, to specific political forces, and simply degraded the democratization movement as something caused by regional animosity. Through the press the ruling block at that time denounced, the participants of the uprising as rioters or 'communists' and humiliated them as unreasonable people agitated by regional animosity. Such distorted propaganda greatly influenced those people who did not know the truth. In the meantime, some leading figures were punished under the charge of insurrection conspiracy. Thus, the task of recovering honor required not only legal but also social measures. This demand for the recovery of honor was also the process of fighting for institutional recognition of citizens right to resist a discredited and unjust state image, and a careful, sophisticated resolution was nedded.

In the earlier period of the 6th Republic, President No Taeu changed the definition of the Gwangju incident to the Gwangju Democratization Movement through a special statement in November, 1989. In terms of law, measures to recover honor were made, such as 'The Gwangju Compensation Bill' in 1990, a special bill on the Gwangju incident proposed in 1996. In 1998, a court decision established the innocence of some Gwangju leaders. Once the trial of the two former presidents, Jeon Duhwan and No Taeu, was over, May 18 was designated as a national commemoration day. This was a great achievement by the 17-year old May movement. The bereaved families, the injured and those who had been imprisoned are asking for the May 18 Cemetery to be declared a national cemetery and the May 18 victims be declared victims for national benefit. They believe these measures will complete the restoration of honor.

Compensation

In a law-governed country, the state is responsible for compensation when state power is misused. In the case of those who were sacrificed or experienced damages during the Gwangju Uprising, people demanded compensation, together with aforementioned other measures. In 1990, The Bill for the Compensation of Those Related to the Gwangju Democratization Movement was legalized. After the legislation of this bill, the government proceeded with compensation based on this bill in spite of criticisms that the bill was a compromised measure. A total of 2,226 people reported damages and a total of 142.5 billion won was paid in compensation, but this measure took the form of compensation instead of reparation.

In 1993, Gim Yeongsam's government later admitted the incompleteness of the previous report and compensation, and accepted additional reports of damage. At that time, 2,750 additional people applied for compensation and 1,843 people recognized received 39.1 billion won for compensation. After the power shift in 1998, a third compensation took place with additional reports of damage. In the third compensation, more people, including those who had been involved in a supposed conspiracy for internal disturbance, associated with Gim Daejungwere redefined as May 18-related victims. So far, 162 people were recognized as dead, 56 as missing and 2,915 as injured.

<Table 1> Compensation for the victims of May 18 (Unit: person & million won)


*The number in the parentheses indicates the number of those who were recognized through the second evaluation.
*In the statistics of the dead, 22 military personnel and 4 policemen are not included.
*Resource provided by Gwangju City Hall.


Commemorative Projects

The commemorative project of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising has grown by means of memorial events in May of each year. Since memorial actions had been officially forbidden until May, 1988, collective memorial actions themselves were a kind of struggle. The first organization for commemorative projects was a Steering Committee of the May 18 Memorial Project. After the June uprising, the ritual space had been partially expanded through strenuous fights for memorial events and the May events were partially legalized.

Commemorative projects were institutionally recognized and fully discussed in 1993 when Gim Yeongsam's government took power, and quickly advanced with the help of the Mangweol-dong Cemetery sanctification project. When the local government took the initiative in making visible and invisible plans for memorial projects, citizens who feared government leadership organized 'a Citizen Solidarity Group for Gwangju Sanctification and pressed the local government to faithfully reflect 'the Gwangju spirit'.

The first half of 1997 was a time when full-scale May 18 commemorative projects followed the inauguration of Gim Yeongsam's government. The sanctification project of the May 18 graveyard was almost finished, so this period can be said to have seen the actualization of the concept of the holy land of democracy, referred to as the symbol of Gwangju. The City of Gwangju prepared regulations to provide an administrative basis to manage the graveyard. But little by little, commemorative projects progressed not in the direction of making history but in the direction of commemorating the past in a specific way. This can be well represented in comparing the layout and outline of the old graveyard and the newly organized May 18 graveyard.

In 1999, the May 18 Memorial Park was organized on the former site of the Sangmudae Base. The military prison and other facilities were restored as they had been in 1980. With the decision to move the Provincial Hall, the question of organizing a memorial park was discussed actively, and about 20 places in Gwangju were designated as May 18 historical sites and are now taking their positions as historical sites.

On the other hand, the bereaved families, the injured and various imprisoned groups have tried to revive 'the Gwangju spirit' and to make minimum physical condition for their survival. When the government created divisions between the compromising and noncompromisign groups, consiiderable conflict ensured. In the 1990s, however, these groups began to integrate into noncompromising groups, eventually becoming the May 18 Commemorative Foundation at the end of 1994. The May movement groups, who had made great sacrifices for the May movement, were integrated into this foundation and the operation fund was transferred from the local government to the foundation. The May 18 Foundation's role will gradually increase, there are certain dormant conflicts among the May groups, such as nationwide expansion of the May movement, the operation fund, and coordinating the positions of citizen movement and the May movement.

4) Academic and Artistic Incarnation

The May movement has basically been supported by minjung's conviction that efforts to reveal the truth should be made. A full-scale approach to uncovering the truth of 'the Gwangju' was made by local social movement groups in Gwangju. They collected and compiled resources of the uprising and published a book entitled, Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age(1985). Together with this book, a collection of photographs with clear scenes of the uprising(published by the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Church) and a video tape from abroad provided people with an opportunity to remember the anger of these days.

State power forbid any mention of 'May 18' until the mid-1980s, but discussion of' May 18' rapidly increased because of the June uprising in 1987, and new developments in politics. Different kinds of resources were circulated and testimonies made. Throughout the 1980s, almost all cultural and artistic movements in the fields of art, music, drama, and movies began to show remarkable achievements. Such artistic incarnations themselves were efforts to reveal the truth, or to communicate the minjung's interpretation. The appearance of new songs such as March for the Beloved One and War Account of Gwangju, new artistic expressions such as wood printing and hanging painting, dramatic expression such as The May of Gumhee and A Peony Flower, together with literary achievements since 1980, contributed a great deal to the creation of 'the holy land of democratization' in our history. The activities of the Visual Media Institute(1985-1988) and the Gwangju Community of Artists(1988-Present) represent the role of artist activists within May movement (Lee Tae-ho, 1997). The drama movement was no less influential than art movement in representing the Gwangju spirit. The dramatic tradition which started with the ground drama form was inherited by the Shinmyong Theater and the Tobagi Theater(Oh Su-song, 1997). Starting with Gim Jun-tae's poem, Gwangju! The Cross!, which was written right after the May uprising, authors presented their literature, depicting historical agonies during the uprising and the subsequent May Movement. Mun Byong-ran, Hong Hee-dam and Lim Chol-woo reprsent achievements of May 18 literature.

Academic discussion of 'the May 18' began with a survey of citizens' understanding, carried out by the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Church's Archdiocese of Gwangju in May of 1988. The first academic symposium was held in commemoration of the 9th anniversary in 1989 by the Institute of Korean Modern Historical Resources (Kim Se-gyun et al., 1990). At this symposium, the title, the problem of minjung power, and the problem of armed fighting became issues. But in 1990, when the public hearing on Gwangju was over and the three-party merger was complete, the 'localization' of the Gwangju Uprising became apparent and Gwangju intellectuals felt uneasy. So in 1990, situating the Gwangju Uprising within the national landscape again became a rpoble. In this context, the symposium commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Gwangju Uprising was more systematically held in Seoul(Lee Su-in et al., 1990). The academic achievement of the moment was providing a historical outline of the Gwangju May Uprising 'from a nationwide perspective'. Additionally, a tremendous amount of oral testimonies were recorded. In the historical sociological study, the oral history approach gained weight as questions were raised as to the necessity of the minjung history and local history which were deficient of written history. The oral history that was related to May 18 had dual significance--the fact-discovering oral deion and the oral deion as social expression. Testimonies of about 500 people who directly or indirectly participated in the Gwangju Uprising were recorded, transcribed and then published, which contributed to revealing the truth and served as crude resources for May 18 research.

The main forces of the May movement suffered from an extreme sense of regional isolation from the formation of the Honam-exclusive political union in 1990 to 1995 when the movement for punishing those responsible yielded results. Gim Dae-jung's loss in the 1992 presidential election, in particular, turned this sense of regional isolation to a political cynicism. The nationwide expansion of the Gwangju incident was not easy when confronted with regionalism. Because of this, the national expansion of the Gwangju incident advanced through globalization.

The efforts for globalizing the May spirit was led by the Citizens' Solidarity in 1993, and were continued through an internal symposium an international Perspective on the May 18 Gwangju Minjung Uprising in April, 1994, the symposium In humane Acts and Punishment in May, 1995; and the Internal Youth Camp in 1996. In the Internal Youth Camp, the essence of the May spirit was defined as human rights and peace. It was a good example for testing the possibility of international unity by means of the May spirit. Based on these experiences, in May, 1998, the Grand Council for the Proclamation of the Asian Human Rights Charter was held in Gwangju. Through this council, Asian citizen solidarity by means of human rights has advanced one step. Additionally, the May 18 Foundation hosted national conferences in Seoul, via the Korean Political Society in 1997, the Korean Sociology Society in 1998, and the Council for Academic Groups in 1999.

Though nationwide expansion of the Gwangju incident was a task shared with both local intellectuals and activists, its precise meaning was not understood. The framework for understanding of its precise meaning can be distinguished among practical paradigm, the discourse paradigm:, and the industrialization paradigm. The practical paradigm views the history, even from 1980, as 'a given event in the past' and understands its nationwide expansion as the faithful expression of political and historical tasks that objectively raised at the present time. It relatively emphasizes the nature of both the northeastern, Asian cold war system and the Korean divided state, and also emphasizes practical movement for their eradication. The second one understands that nationwide expansion is achieved by revealing the historical truth of the past and by making it a discourse. The performance of commemorative rituals in all regions belongs to the discourse paradigm. The re-examination of the Gwangju Minjung Uprising, in terms of either fighting to reveal the truth or in terms of universal human rights, is close to this paradigm. The third paradigm suggests that physical and institutional devices be made so that people from other regions nationwide may come to Gwangju. This paradigm emphasizes the cultural industrialization of the May events or the construction of facilities like the human rights museum, the planning of event projects, and the sophistication of commemorative projects. These three paradigms induce people to view the nature of the May movement differently but none of the paradigm can be overlooked.


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


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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