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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dark Memoirs of Gwangju Massacre, Part II: May 18th National Cemetery in MangWol-dong, Gwangju Buk-gu

GRRAAARRRGHHH..... BRAINZZZT.  Wait. This moe zombie is paid by Gwangju Metropole Citizens to eat 'em both.
The Gwangju Massacre, also known as Gwangju Democratization Movement (Hangul/Hanja/Romanization: 광주민주화운동/光州民主化運動Gwangju Minjuhwa Undong) refers to a popular uprising in Gwangju Metropole, South Korea from May 18 to 27, 1980. During this period, citizens rose up against Chun Doo-hwan's dictatorship and took control of the city. In the course of the uprising, citizens took up arms (by robbing police stations and military depots) to oppose the government, but were ultimately crushed by the South Korean army. The event is sometimes called 518, in reference to the date the uprising began.

During Chun Doo-hwan's presidency, the incident was misrepresented by the media as a rebellion inspired by Communist sympathizers. By 2002, a national cemetery and day of commemoration (May 18), along with acts to "compensate, and restore honor" to victims, were established.

President Park Chung-hee, after ruling for 18 years, was assassinated on October 26, 1979. This abrupt ending of an authoritarian regime left Korean politics in a state of instability. New President Choi Kyu-hah and his Cabinet had little control over the growing power of ROK Army General Chun Doo-hwan, who took control of the government through the Coup d'état of December Twelfth.

The nation's democratization movements, which had been suppressed during Park's tenure, were again awakening. With the beginning of a new semester in March 1980, professors and students expelled for pro-democracy activities returned to their universities, and student unions were formed. These unions led nationwide demonstrations for an array of reforms, including an end to martial law (declared after Park's assassination), democratization, minimum wage demands, and freedom of press. These activities culminated in the anti-martial law demonstration at Seoul Station on May 15, 1980 in which about 100,000 students and citizens participated.

In response, Chun Doo-hwan took several suppressive measures. On May 17, Chun Doo-hwan forced the Cabinet to expand martial law to the whole nation, which had previously not applied to Jeju-do. The expanded martial law closed universities, banned political activities and further curtailed the press. To enforce the martial law, troops were dispatched to various parts of the nation. On the same day, The Defense Security Command raided a national conference of student union leaders from 55 universities, who were gathered to discuss their next moves in the wake of the May 15 demonstration. Twenty-six politicians, including Jeollanam-do native Kim Dae-jung, were also arrested on charges of instigating demonstrations.

According to the May 18 Bereaved Family Association, at least 165 people died between May 18 and 27. Another 65 are still missing and presumed dead. 23 soldiers and 4 policemen were killed during the uprising, including 13 soldiers killed in the friendly-fire incident between troops in Songam-dong. Figures for police casualties are likely to be higher, due to reports of several policemen, themselves being killed by soldiers for releasing captured rioters.

The government denounced the uprising as a rebellion instigated by Kim Dae-jung and his followers. In subsequent trials, Kim was convicted and sentenced to death, although his punishment was later reduced in response to international outcries. Overall 1,394 people were arrested for some involvement in the Gwangju incident and 427 were indicted. Among them, 7 received death sentences and 12 received life sentences.

The Gwangju massacre had a profound impact on South Korean politics and history. Chun Doo-hwan suffered popularity problems because he took power through a military coup, but after authorizing the dispatch of Special Forces upon citizens, his legitimacy was significantly damaged. The movement also paved the way for later movements in the 1980s that eventually brought democracy to South Korea. The Gwangju massacre has become a symbol of South Koreans' struggle against authoritarian regimes and their fight for democracy.

Beginning in 2000, the May 18 Memorial Foundation has offered an annual Gwangju Prize for Human Rights to a notable human rights defender in memory of the uprising.

The Story behind National Cemetery of Gwangju Massacre in MangWol-dong, Gwangju Buk-gu
At the Mangwol-dong cemetery in Gwangju where victims' bodies were buried, survivors of the democratization movement and bereaved families have held an annual memorial service on May 18 every year since 1983. Many pro-democracy demonstrations in the 1980s demanded official recognition of the truth of the May 18 and punishment for those responsible.

Official re-evaluation began after the reinstatement of direct presidential elections in 1987. In 1988, the National Assembly held a public hearing on the Gwangju massacre, and officially renamed the incident as the Gwangju massacre. While this official renaming occurred in 1987, it can also be found translated into English as Gwangju People's Uprising and Kwangju Rebellion.

In 1995, as public pressure mounted, the National Assembly passed the Special Law on May 18 Democratization Movement, which enabled prosecution of those responsible for the December 12 coup d'état and Gwangju massacre despite the fact that the statute of limitations had run out. Subsequently 8 politicians were indicted for high treason and the massacre in 1996. Their punishments were settled in 1997, including an initial death sentence, changed to a life sentence for Chun Doo-hwan. Former President Roh Tae-Woo, Chun's successor and fellow participant in the December 12 coup, was also sentenced to life in prison. But all convicts were pardoned in the name of national reconciliation on December 22 by President Kim Young-sam, based on advice from then president-elect Kim Dae-jung.

In 1997, May 18 was declared an official memorial day. In 2002, a law privileging bereaved families took effect, and the Mangwol-dong cemetery was elevated to the status of a national cemetery. Conflict is a democratic movement that had a major impact on the Gwangju establishment of democracy in the Republic of Korea, UNESCO has recorded in Gwangju Democratic Uprising.