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A storm caused by two memoirs

Apr 05,2017
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Recently published memoirs of former president Chun Doo-hwan and his wife Lee Soon-ja stirred the Gwangju community. The very people who are the assailants of the May 18 Democratization Movement describe themselves as “victims of May 18.”

In the “Chun Doo Hwan Memoir” published on April 3, 86-year-old Chun described himself as “an offering in the shaman ritual for healing and consolation of May 18.” He argued, “I had to bear the cross as becoming the president before the shock of May 18 subsided was my original sin.” He claimed that he was a scapegoat to console the victims of May 18 as he became the president afterward.

His wife, 78-year-old Lee Soon-ja, published a memoir on March 24, “You Are Not Lonely,” which also offended the victims of Gwangju. Lee wrote, “My husband and I are in fact falsely accused victims as well,” denying that Chun is responsible for the violent suppression and giving the order to fire.

On the resignation of President Choi Kyu-hah, who was forced to step down by the new military power in 1980, Lee claimed that Choi suggested her husband should succeed the presidency.

With Chun and Lee publishing memoirs that deny responsibility for military suppression of the Gwangju democratization movement, the May 18 Memorial Foundation and other civil groups are fiercely protesting. They wrote memoirs to avoid accountability and they are being criticized for seriously hurting the victims of the May 18 democratization movement.

The memoirs are controversial as their claims deny not only the fact-finding efforts and prosecution’s investigation but also the Supreme Court’s ruling. In April 1997, the Supreme Court made a final decision on the May 18 Democratization Movement and the Coup d’état of December 12, finding Chun guilty of murder for the purpose of rebellion.

Also, related groups criticize Chun for calling the May 18 Democratization Movement the “Gwangju Incident” repeatedly in the book.

Related groups question the timing and background of the publications by Chun and Lee. They feel that the memoirs are not unrelated to the movement of those on the far right to unite in the aftermath of impeachment and detainment of former president Park Geun-hye.

May 18 Memorial Foundation’s Kim Yang-rae said that the memoirs are full of lies by the criminal responsible for murder and rebellion, and their shameless denial of the massacre of civilians have made the victims cry once again.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 4, Page 29

*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

CHOI KYEONG-HO