‘Comfort women’ statue to go up on Italian shore, the 14th outside of Korea

Posted on : 2024-06-20 17:31 KST Modified on : 2024-06-24 10:43 KST
The Statue of Peace will feature an inscription calling on Japan to “responsibly acknowledge its war crimes against women and humanity and do justice to the memory of this atrocity”
The Statue of Peace in Berlin’s Mitte. (courtesy of Korea Verband)
The Statue of Peace in Berlin’s Mitte. (courtesy of Korea Verband)

The Italian island of Sardinia, which sits in the Mediterranean, is installing its own Statue of Peace dedicated to victims of Japan’s “comfort women” system of sexual slavery. While similar statues across the world are at risk of removal due to diplomatic pressure from the Japanese government, Sardinia has chosen to erect a new statue, whose inscription will call for the Japanese government to take responsibility for its war crimes against women during World War II. 

On Wednesday, the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan announced that the city of Stintino in northwestern Sardinia will hold a ceremony for unveiling its Statue of Peace on Saturday. The statue will be erected on public grounds. Facing the beach, the statue will be placed around 200 meters away from Stintino’s city hall. At the unveiling, a local choir will sing the Korean folk song “Arirang.” 

This will be the first time that a Statue of Peace will be installed on public property since the erection of the Berlin statue in September 2020. The inscription on the statue will include the following:

“It is sad that the Japanese government continues to deny the existence of comfort women and has sought to remove Peace Statues in various countries, including Germany, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

In doing so, Japan should responsibly acknowledge its war crimes against women and humanity and do justice to the memory of this atrocity.”

“There have been revisions of inscriptions on various statues regarding Japan’s lack of responsibility, but the Italian statue will directly call out the Japanese government and its attitude,” said Lee Na-young, the chairperson of the Korean Council. 

The latest version of the statue is the fruit of the efforts of the Italian people and the city of Stintino. 

The coast of Stintino, in Italy’s Sardinia. (courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Tourism)
The coast of Stintino, in Italy’s Sardinia. (courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Tourism)

Having learned about the history of the “comfort women,” Stintino resident Rosamaria Caiazza spoke about it with her good friend, who happened to be a human rights lawyer by training, Rita L. Vallebella, the mayor of the city. Their talks paved the way for the statue to be erected. 

In December of 2023, the Korean Council sent a proposal letter to the city of Stintino regarding the installation of the Statue of Peace as a donation. One month later, in January, the city passed a city council resolution approving the art installation. Then, in April, the city completed the registration application for the statue with the central Italian government, allowing for it to officially arrive in Italy. 

Vallebella told local newspaper La Nuova: “I am proud to welcome the Statue of Peace, which is a universal symbol of the fight against crimes against women, both in times of peace and war.”

As of June 2024, there are around 30 memorials, commemorative plaques and Statues of Peace honoring the victims of Japan’s “comfort women” system around the world. The Statue of Peace memorial first began appearing abroad with the installation of the statue depicting a young girl sitting next to an empty chair in front of Glendale Public Library in California in 2013. The statue erected in Sardinia is the 14th to be erected overseas. 

But where the statues have gone up, organized efforts obstruct their erection by the Japanese government and local embassies have followed, leading to some of the statues coming down. On Dec. 28, 2018, one such statue installed at a women’s shelter in San Pedro, Philippines, was torn down due to diplomatic pressure only two days after first being installed. 

Currently, fights are still underway to save Statue of Peace memorials erected in Germany from removal. At the center of that fight to keep the memorials is Korea Verband, a local civic group that helped bring the statues to Germany in the first place. 

In March 2023, a Statue of Peace known as “Nujin” was precipitously removed from Kassel University in Germany due to pressure from the Japanese government. The statue had been erected on campus in July 2022 by the school’s student government. Together with Korea Verband, students at the university conducted a signature campaign to urge for the return of Nujin to her rightful place. A petition with over 5,800 signatures was delivered to the president of Kassel University on March 18.

There are also mounting concerns that the Statue of Peace that was erected in Mitte, a borough in central Berlin, in September 2022 may be removed. While members of a district council in the German capital proposed a resolution to ensure the statue’s permanent standing, even if passed, it will lack binding legal force. Korea Verband has set a goal of collecting 1,000 signatures from Mitte residents opposing the removal of the memorial by August, at which time they will deliver their petition to the district authorities. 

Nataly Jung-hwa Han, the head of Korea Verband, has appealed to authorities, saying that the Statue of Peace has gone beyond the “comfort women” issue to play a pivotal role in bringing people together to confront a variety of injustices, including wartime sexual violence and racism toward migrants. Still, the Berlin statue’s future remains uncertain. 

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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