Conservatives, liberals join hands to honor Gwangju’s beloved

Posted on : 2022-05-19 16:41 KST Modified on : 2022-05-19 16:41 KST
Yoon had requested all PPP lawmakers to participate in the commemoration, stressing his resolve for national unity
President Yoon Suk-yeol attends a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju, where “March for the Beloved” was sung in unison. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol attends a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju, where “March for the Beloved” was sung in unison. (pool photo)

“Leaving behind neither love, honor, nor name…”

When “March for the Beloved” — a song that commemorates the victims of the May 18 Democratization Movement — resounded across the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju’s Buk District on Wednesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol rose from his seat and sang the protest song while holding the hands of Hwang Il-bong, the president of the May 18 Memorial Injured, and Park Hae-suk, the president of the May 18 Bereaved Families Association, who were seated on either side of him.

People Power Party (PPP) leader Lee Jun-seok as well as Park Ji-hyun and Yun Ho-jung, co-chairs of the Democratic Party’s emergency leadership committee, also stood side by side and sang the song with clenched fists.

This marked the first time a president and lawmakers from the conservative camp sang “March for the Beloved” in a chorus during a memorial ceremony for the democratic uprising that took place 42 years ago.

After arriving at the cemetery around 9:50 am on Wednesday, Yoon wrote in the cemetery’s guest book, “The spirit of May will help unify the nation and protect us from crises and challenges.” Next, he walked across Democracy Square and a further 200 meters to offer flowers and burn incense at the May 18 Memorial Tower with bereaved families of the May 18 movement and students from Chonnam National University, Chosun University, and Seojin Girls’ High School.

As a presidential candidate, Yoon had not been able to reach the tower during his November and February visit to Gwangju due to local citizens blocking his way in protest of his statements defending Chun Doo-hwan.

PPP leader Lee Jun-seok and Democratic Party emergency leadership committee Co-Chair Park Ji-hyun attend a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju, where “March for the Beloved” was sung in unison. (pool photo).
PPP leader Lee Jun-seok and Democratic Party emergency leadership committee Co-Chair Park Ji-hyun attend a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju, where “March for the Beloved” was sung in unison. (pool photo).

Once Yoon took a seat after paying his respects at the memorial tower, a hundred or so citizens gathered in front of the electronic display installed at the cemetery to watch the broadcast of the commemoration ceremony. While listening to Yoon’s commemorative address, citizens even responded with applause when Yoon said, “I and the new administration will do our best to sublimate the values those who fought for democracy defended, and advance toward the path of prosperity.”

During his speech, Yoon also stated, “The values of liberal democracy and human rights constitute a philosophy of unity that ties our nation together. Therefore, the spirit of May, which protected liberal democracy through blood, is the cornerstone of national unity.”

After the commemoration ceremony, Yoon offered flowers at the grave of the late Jo A-ra, who was an honorary president of the Gwangju YWCA, and paid his respects at the graves of those still missing from the struggle for democracy in Gwangju.

Numerous PPP lawmakers were also in attendance. Yoon had requested all PPP lawmakers to participate in the commemoration, stressing his resolve for national unity. Out of 109 PPP lawmakers, 99 were present at the ceremony, the remaining 10 citing parliamentary duties for their absence.

Democratic Party lawmakers in attendance included co-chiefs of the party’s emergency leadership committee Park Ji-hyun and Yun Ho-jung, as well as floor leader Park Hong-keun and lawmaker Woo Sang-ho.

From the Justice Party, party leader Yeo Young-guk, floor leader Lee Eun-joo, and Bae Jin-gyo, co-chair of the party’s election committee, participated, along with lawmaker Sim Sang-jung.

President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers a speech at a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju. (pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers a speech at a memorial ceremony for the 42nd anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising, held at the May 18th National Cemetery in Gwangju. (pool photo)

Cabinet members who accompanied Yoon included Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Choo Kyung-ho, Foreign Minister Park Jin, Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon, Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop, and SMEs and Startups Minister Lee Young.

After the ceremony, Lee Jun-seok met with reporters and stated, “This is the culmination of our party’s genuine efforts oriented toward the Honam region throughout the past two years. [. . .] I’m deeply moved, and I hope our transformation is the irreversible kind that does not regress.”

He continued, “I think it’s extremely meaningful that Yoon came to the May 18 commemoration ceremony as his first engagement in the provinces and as his first national commemorative event. The Yoon administration will be taking greater steps towards national unity.”

Meanwhile, the cemetery bustled with citizens as early as 30 minutes before the ceremony began.

The May 18th Memorial Injured, an association dedicated to those injured in the uprising and its brutal suppression, put up placards that read, “We welcome the president paying his respects,” and, “Include the spirit of May 18 in the preamble to the Constitution.” Members of an association for those arrested during the May 18 movement also held signs that read, “We are people of national merit in name only, as we don’t receive veterans’ benefits!” and, “May 18 veterans receive 0 won in benefits!”

Sixty-year-old Ryu Gu-seong, who attended the ceremony as a member of the May 18 Memorial Injured, said, “I learned from a news article a few days ago that President Yoon and all PPP lawmakers would be coming [to the ceremony], and I thought that something that should have rightfully been done was finally being done.”

“The hurt conservative parties inflicted on us in the past through statements disparaging the May 18 movement will not be healed by this occasion alone. [Conservative politicians] should attend the commemoration ceremony every year and consistently demonstrate their sincerity toward Gwangju citizens,” he added.

By Oh Yeon Seo, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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