Debate roiling over how to sing “March of the Beloved” in Gwangju this week

Posted on : 2016-05-17 15:57 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Opposition parties say Pres. Park’s decision on song nullifies the results of their three party floor leaders meeting
Gwangju Massacre victims’ families and members of the public sing “March for the Beloved” at the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on May 16
Gwangju Massacre victims’ families and members of the public sing “March for the Beloved” at the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on May 16

South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs has rejected the request of the political opposition and organizations connected with the Gwangju Massacre to have the song “March for the Beloved” be sung in unison at this year’s memorial event for the massacre on May 18 and to designate it as the event’s official song.

Since this means that President Park Geun-hye has reneged on one of the issues insisted on by the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People‘s Party during her meeting with the floor leaders of the three major parties on May 13, it increases uncertainty about the possibility of political cooperation between Park and the opposition parties.

The two main opposition parties are expressing their stern disapproval by working together to submit a resolution calling for the dismissal of Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Sung-choon. Even the Saenuri Party is asking the government to reconsider its decision, leading to the prospect of more gridlock at the Blue House.

“At this year’s event, ‘March for the Beloved’ will be included on the official program and sung by the choir, and we will work to minimize controversy between those supporting and opposing the song by respecting participants‘ autonomy and allowing anyone who so wishes to sing along,” the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said in a press release on the morning of May 16. This maintains the Ministry’s current position of allowing participants to choose whether or not to sing along with the choir, rather than having all of the participants sing the song in unison.

The opposition parties and related groups have demanded that “March for the Beloved” be sung in unison. These groups say that the song captures the essence of the Gwangju Massacre and that it makes sense for everyone to sing it together. When Park met the floor leaders of the opposition and ruling parties on May 13, she told them that she would instruct the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to find a good solution that would not cause national division.

But the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs responded by saying, “Given the sharply divided opinions about ‘March for the Beloved,’ it is the view of veteran and security organizations and experts in the area that we should not provoke more conflict by forcing everyone to sing the song in unison.” The Ministry also reconfirmed its position that it would not designate ‘March for the Beloved’ as the official memorial song for the Gwangju Massacre.

“March for the Beloved” was sung in unison at the memorial service for the Gwangju Massacre from 1997, when the government designated the anniversary of the massacre as an official day of memorial, until 2008. But starting in 2009, during former president Lee Myung-bak’s second year in office, the program format was changed so that the choir would sing the song and participants could sing along if they wanted to.

On Monday, the opposition parties strongly protested the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs’ decision, claiming that the Blue House was behind it and stating that it nullifies the outcome of their meeting with President Park. By refusing to have the song sung in unison - something that even the Saenuri Party supports - the government is guilty of stirring up national conflict, the opposition says.

During a meeting of the Minjoo Party of Korea’s emergency measures committee, floor leader Woo Sang-ho demanded that the Blue House reveal the truth about the issue, while People’s Party floor leader Park Jie-won told reporters that “this invalidates the meeting three days ago that emphasized cooperative rule and communication and it nullifies the agreement that carries the President‘s promise.”

“President Park likes to talk about using communication to overcome a crisis, but with her actions she is dividing the people,” said Son Geum-ju, spokesperson for the People’s Party.

After the government refused to have participants at the memorial ceremony sing “March for the Beloved” in unison, groups related to the Gwangju Massacre decided to denounce the government’s plan by singing the song in unison when they participate in the May 18 memorial ceremony.

On the afternoon of May 16, the committee that is organizing the commemorative service this year, which marks the 36th anniversary of the Gwangju Massacre, held a press conference at May 18 Democracy Square in Gwangju. During the press conference, the committee denounced the Park administration for refusing to have “March for the Beloved” sung in unison and for inciting division in the public.

By Choi Hye-jung, staff reporter in Gwangju and Jung Dae-ha, Gwangju correspondent

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