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Implications of the Apology by Chun Doo-hwans Grandson, Chun Woo-won: Focusing on the Perspective of Transitional Justice
Date : 2023-05-09     Hit : 376


 

 

Implications of the Apology by Chun Doo-hwans Grandson, 

Chun Woo-won: Focusing on the Perspective of Transitional Justice 


Lee Yeong-jae (Hanyang University)



1. The Meaning of the Apology by Chun Woo-won, a Young Man in his 20s

 

On the night of March 26, Chun Woo-won, grandson of Chun Doo-hwan, who was in charge of the May 18 massacre, notified the May 18 Memorial Foundation that he would visit Gwangju and apologize to the victims and bereaved families. On the last day of March, Chun Woo-won really did visit Gwangju. It is highly hoped that Chun Woo-wons trip to Gwangju will not end as a one-off incident, but will serve as an opportunity for May 18 transitional justice to be solidified.

 

The Gwangju apology of Chun Woo-won, grandson of Chun Doo-hwan, has several important meanings. First, a young man who could have distanced himself from the May 18 massacre and could not be blamed too much, for an incident from his grandfathers time and had nothing to do with himself, sincerely sought forgiveness and apologized for the May 18 incident. Chun Woo-won stated, “Even the opportunity to apologize is a privilege” and thanked the victims and the people of Gwangju for giving him the opportunity to apologize. The May Mothers extended their hand to the sincere apology and said, “We appreciate your courage.” Second, it was the first apology from among the members of Chun Doo-hwans family. This was in stark contrast to Chun Woo-wons grandfather, Chun Doo-hwan, who said, "I only have 290,000 won," who died after denying the truth to the end without uttering a word of apology for 41 years (died 2021). Third, it served as an opportunity to understand, at least in part, how the main perpetrators manipulated memories and arbitrarily distorted the May 18 incident, focusing first on their families and close associates. Chun Woo-won stated that in his childhood he was taught that “May 18 was a riot and my family was a victim.”

 

Judging from the assessment conveyed by Kim Beom-tae, director of the May 18 National Cemetery, who greets mourners more than 30 times a day under the scorching sun in May and guides them in their visit to the May 18 National Cemetery, Chun Woo-wons apology was trustworthy. Director Kim has guided numerous people, including politicians, on visits to the shrine, but he said that watching Chun Woo-wons visit made his eyes redden for the first time. Through a press release, we were able to witness the sincere apology of Chun Woo-won, a young man in his 20s, and many people, including the bereaved families and victims of the May 18 incident, were comforted.

 

 

2. Definition of May 18 and the Transitional Justice

 

The period from liberation in August 1945 to before the democratization movement in June 1987 can be called the first phase of clearing Koreas past. The first phase is a period in which various past settlement tasks such as Japanese colonial rule, liberation, division, war, and coup détat have accumulated one upon another. In the first phase, there were several attempts to settle the past, but most of them failed due to obstruction by the ruling powers.

 

During the second phase, which is the period between triumph of the democratization movement in June 1987 and the death of Chun Doo-hwan (and Roh Taewoo) in 2021, full-fledged democratic implementation had begun, thanks to the June 1987 democratization movement. The central axis leading the second phase of making Korea’s past transparent is settlement of the past regarding the May 18 Democratic Movement. During this phase, the demand for truth finding and punishment of those responsible developed amidst public support and acted as a driving force to promote democratization. In December 1995, the Act on Special Cases Concerning the May 18 Democratization Movement, etc. and the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Statute of Limitations for Crimes Disrupting Constitutional Order were enacted, laying the foundation for important institutional achievements in the settlement of the past. Since 2000, influenced by a May 18 settlement of the past, a large number of past settlement tasks that have not been resolved during the first phase have erupted. These include Jeju April 3, mysterious deaths, democratization, and pro-Japanese and colonial remnants.

 

The third phase is ongoing from 2022 to the present. The goal of the third phase of May 18 is to solidify transitional justice. The goal of transitional justice in the transition period of the third phase is to consolidate through increased social recognition and consensus on the historical and democratic values of the May 18 Democratization Movement. Transitional justice is not fixed but socially flexible and serves as a social mirror that continuously reconstructs the world of our daily lives. The compensation obtained by May 18, punishment of those responsible, retrial by the judiciary, and courtesy to those of democratic merit are undoubtedly important achievements in terms of institutional settlement of the past. Despite these achievements, it is difficult to say that May 18 transitional justice has been properly observed in Korean society. Even now, reports on the distortion of May 18 are constantly being posted on the website of the May 18 Memorial Foundation. Chun Doo-hwan died while arguing in his autobiography in 2017 that it was a legitimate and inevitable measure rather than giving an apology regarding May 18.

 

Transitional justice is built based on past events that need to be corrected, but on the other hand, it is future-constructive justice toward future-oriented goals that Korean society should aim for. Unless the injustices of the past are properly clarified, the honor of the victims is restored, and forgiveness and reconciliation are achieved based on the sincere apology of the perpetrators, the legacy of this past “injustice” will become a serious roadblock that threatens the procedural and distributive justice of the present and the future, and undermines social justice for future generations. The third phase of the May 18 transition phase, which is currently in progress, has arrived at a point of forming future tasks and creating opportunities for real action.

 

 

3. Reconciliation by Holding Hands, Not Forced Reconciliation

 

Reconciliation based on the recognition by the victims and bereaved families becomes the first step to further solidify transitional justice. Reconciliation is the driving force that creates an opportunity for a country and its institutions to go beyond the simple procedural dimensions of a transitional period and pursue higher goals in building a more stable and fair society. In terms of transitional justice, this is why reconciliation is just as important as justice itself.

 

Until now, May 18 has been far from reconciliation. There has been only one request from the perpetrators to force reconciliation. After accepting direct elections through the June 29 Declaration in 1987, then-presidential candidate Roh Tae-woo proposed that he would do his best to heal the “Gwangju Incident” to the best of his ability, a major wound in our Korean history, and to forgive and for reconcile with each other. This was the only attempt for “reconciliation” related to May 18. However, this cannot be seen as reconciliation in that it was a forced reconciliation unilaterally proposed by the perpetrators at election time and failed to receive recognition from any of the victims or bereaved families. The bereaved families of May 18, related organizations, and the camp of the democratization movement responded to this unilateral and forced request for reconciliation with “Reveal the truth” and “Punishment of those responsible.” The streets were again covered with acrid tear gas.

 

Recently, a new form of reconciliation by the perpetrators family, although not the perpetrator, has begun. It is worth noting that this reconciliation is different from the previously proposed forced reconciliation. As for the generation of the children of those perpetuating May 18, Noh Jae-heon visited the May 18 Democratic Cemetery in 2021 and expressed his will to apologize, and in the generation of Chun Doo-hwan’s grandchildren, Chun Woo-won visited Gwangju for the first time and apologized. The key to reconciliation is a change in the perpetrators attitude. As M. Lapsley emphasized, the perpetrators truth telling must be premised. Reconciliation does not come into existence when there is no remorse on the part of the perpetrator. Unlike retributive justice, which is based on judicial judgment, reconciliation is directed towards restorative justice, which is based on the perpetrator’s remorse and confession. Restorative justice based on reconciliation is characterized by the restoration of the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, and between the parties involved and the community.

 

 

4. In Conclusion

 

Reconciliation is much more difficult than the “amnesty” unilaterally promoted by state power in that it presupposes a relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, that is, a consensus of mutuality and acknowledgment. Reconciliation is possible only when it is accompanied by acknowledgment and agreement by the perpetrator to shoulder the blame from the perspective of the victim. In the end, trustworthy authenticity is what matters. There has been little experience of proper reconciliation regarding May 18. We hope that Chun Woo-wons courageous and sincere apology, will serve as an opportunity to further solidify May 18 transitional justice.

 


 

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