The May 18 Memorial Foundation tries to inherit the May 18 Uprising’s spirit. They work not only in Korea but also globally. The Chonnam Tribune interviewed two foreigners taking on an international internship at the foundation – Gianna Francesca M. Catolico (Philippines) and Praveen Kumar (Nepal) about how they see the May 18 Democratic Uprising.
|▲ From left, Gianna Francesca M. Catolico (The Philippines) and Praveen Kumar (Nepal)
Q. What made you work as an intern at the May 18 Memorial Foundation?
Gianna: When I was studying for my master’s degree in Thailand, I was classmates with a former May 18 intern from Pakistan. He shared his knowledge and experiences related to the Uprising and the Foundation’s commemorative activities. I became interested in its vision, projects, and engagement with grassroots organizations in Asia. This urged me to apply for the internship program.
Praveen: I am quite impressed by the people of Gwangju and the activists that spread the May 18 Spirit nationwide. Even today they are active in demanding for the justice and honor of the fallen heroes of 1980, defending the history of May 18 and educating the next generations about the uprising. This is unlike many other parts of the world, including my own country. This is why I came to Gwangju to learn how the May 18 Spirit is being promoted and the people of Gwangju have continued their struggles for the justice of those who sacrificed their lives during the Uprising for the sake of democracy.
Q. How is the May 18 Uprising in the eyes of a foreigner?
Gianna: Not all foreigners are familiar with the Gwangju Uprising or the social movements that took place in South Korea after the Korean War. A lot of foreigners generalize and assume that South Korea’s biggest political migraine is North Korea. However, to foreign human rights defenders who collaborated with the Foundation and learned about the Uprising, it glistens as an epitome of the Gwangju people’s unwavering dedication towards democracy and human rights. Most importantly, many foreign human rights organizations look up to the Uprising and are replicating the May 18 spirit in their respective countries.
Praveen: As a foreigner, I could sense that even a movement that starts from a region or a part of a country can have an impact nationwide or has the potential to bring changes in the country. This is what the Uprising has proved.
Q. What is the importance of the May 18 Uprising?
Gianna: The Uprising hails as a cornerstone of all contemporary social movements in South Korea, leading to the June 1987 Democratic Uprising. It was also a benchmark for other protests in the 21st century, just like the Candle Light Protest in 2016 to impeach the former president Park Geun-hye. Last but not least, the May 18 Uprising made Gwangju an exemplary ‘Human Rights City’.
Praveen: It is very significant when we talk about democracy in South Korea. It is the May 18 spirit that has spread nationwide leading towards achieving democracy. Even today, 39 years after the Gwangju Uprising, people preserve the spirit. This is an incident so important that people do more than just remember. The spirit is kept alive through the promotion of democratic values and human rights.
By Lee Eun-ji, Student Editor