• Updated : 2018.7.17 화 10:12
> Opinion > Perspective
Gwangju’s May 18: A Walk in the Hallway of Memories
Nguyen Huong 객원기자  |  tribune1968@cnumedia.com
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승인 2018.05.11  17:06:08
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This year is the 38th anniversary of the May 18 Democratization Movement. Obviously, there are numerous implications we can draw from this important chapter of Korean history that led to the birth of democracy in the 1980s. The Chonnam Tribune spoke with international students about their perspectives on the May 18 Gwangju Uprising. – Ed.

 
   
▲ International students sharing thier perspectives and opinions about the May 18 Gwangju Uprising

    Standing tall and respectful, the Yongbonggwan is the first thing one would see entering Chonnam National University (CNU) from the Main Gate. The clock on the exterior acts as an invitation to enter the interior for a trip to the past to learn about the people involved in the May 18 Gwangju Uprising – they were college students, but there was one major difference: they were fed up with the tyrannous oppression of the totalitarian government and took matters in their own hands.
    Following the assassination of Park Chung-hee on October 26, 1979, Chun Doo-hwan’s military junta took over the government and declared martial law across the whole country, banning political activities and shutting down universities. After decades of dictatorships following the Korean War, this was a breaking point for many in Gwangju. On May 18, 1980, students gathered at the Main Gate of CNU in defiance of soldiers, escalating it into a massive uprising – from 600 students to 10,000 citizens. The Gwangju Uprising commenced. Unable to settle the crowd, the military undertook Operation Chungjung (True Heart) to quell the Uprising with tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, and eventually real bullets, killing dozens and wounding thousands more.

Q: How did you first get to know about this historical event?
Hussein Aljawad: I heard about it from my friend who went to visit the May 18 Memorial Museum in Gwangju. Then I met an old Korean average person. We were just talking, and he gave me an English book about the incident that happened on May 18, 1980.

Sukei Lee: I first got to know about this event from my colleague at my NGO when we were organizing a talk on democratization movement. Out of curiosity, I went on researching more about it. Another friend of mine further introduced me to a Korean movie "A Luxurious Vacation" and that helped me understand the story more visually.

Q: Gwangju Uprising was the landmark of South Korean democracy. Is there a similar historical event regarding a democracy movement in your country that you know of?
Inga Bezrukovenko: Latvia has a long history of being under some other bigger power. Latvia is one of the three Baltic States. Apart from being a neighbor with other two Baltic States (Lithuania and Estonia), and Belarus, it borders Russia, while on the west it is surrounded by the Baltic Sea. All three Baltic States have been fighting for their freedom for a long time, and probably the most notable historical event was the Baltic Way. It cannot be really put in the same category as the Gwangju Uprising for many reasons, but it can be put in the same discussion about protests against repression and fighting for freedom and democracy. Also known as Chain of Freedom (occurred on August 23, 1989), it was a peaceful political demonstration against the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Around two million people participated in this demonstration by forming “a human chain” through all three Baltic States. The event, where all participants were holding each other’s hands, was organized by Baltic pro-independence movements, and was seen and recognized worldwide. It resulted in the Soviet Union admission of past wrongdoings and existence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, along with the declaration of its annulation. To this day Baltic Way is considered as one of the steps towards free and democratic Baltic States.

Q: Did you know that the presidential Blue House, the military and judicial authorities were planning a pro-Park coup to crack down on protesters against President Park last year? That could have been another “Gwangju massacre” if that decision had gone through. What do you think about martial law and human rights issues in this context?
Srijan Acharya: I was really shocked to know this. Last year when this movement was ongoing, I was here in Gwangju and fortunate to experience it directly. Honestly, in my life, I have never seen such a beautiful and democratic way of protest. Hence, I strongly oppose the idea of sending the army to break down the protest. I think every citizen should have the right to express their political ideology in a democratic way and last year that movement was one of the best examples of democratic protests in the world.

Hussein Aljawad: As for the martial law, I think that human rights and martial law are on opposite ends. I mean that if you have one then you lose the other.
Inga Bezrukovenko: In my opinion, involving the military would be completely wrong and an outrageous move. That would not only result in possibly stronger protests, but South Korea would receive a negative backlash from other nations and it would possibly change the situation with North Korea.

Q: The Gwangju Uprising first started right here at CNU by students. What do you think about that as a current CNU student?
Srijan Acharya: CNU became renowned in Korea because of that movement. Whenever I go to another city like Seoul or Busan, many Koreans praised my university many times, so definitely that was a happy moment for me. Thus, I feel very proud of my university.

Sukpei Lee: From getting to know the event from my colleague to the realization of the opportunity to be able to study at the same campus as the uprising participants, I cannot feel any more grateful for this. It further provided me with the motivation to become a "guardian of democracy" in my country because the fight to obtain democracy was so difficult.

Zico Mulia: As a CNU student and as a pro-democracy activist, I feel proud. The job of a student anywhere other than studying must be critical and dare to take concrete steps to change the situation of society and state to be more just and democratic. Students in my country, Indonesia, also did this during the reform era and in many other countries as well.

A Reflection on Ourselves
    “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke once famously said. Details may vary across countries, but the story of resistance against injustice echoes in every history book. It is of paramount importance that we acknowledge the incredible journey and profound agony that history has recorded. Identify the significance of every incident, both crimes against humanity and heroic acts, interpret their meanings, apply these to yourself and us, and finally, write the story of your life. We write our own history after all.
 

By Nguyen Huong, Guest Reporter

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