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Moon pulls plugs on official textbooks and designates a democracy anthem

May 12,2017
President Moon Jae-in signed executive orders Friday to pull the plug on government-written history textbooks and to designate a controversial song an official anthem of the 1980 popular uprising in Gwangju, reversing moves of his disgraced predecessor Park Geun-hye.

Moon ordered the Ministry of Education to immediately end a plan to use state-penned history textbooks in middle and high schools, said Yoon Young-chan, senior press secretary of the Blue House. “Moon made the order to restore common sense and justice,” Yoon said.
Calling the state-authored textbooks a “symbol of an obsolete, uniform history education and an education that divides the people,” Moon wanted to demonstrate that history education must not be used as a political tool, Yoon said.

State control over Korean history textbooks was first introduced in 1974 under the military rule of Park Chung Hee, father of the impeached former president Park. It ended in 2010. After Park complained that the textbooks contain leftist bias during the first months of her presidency, the government said that the country would restore state control over history textbooks.

Moon ordered the Ministry of Education to immediately scrap the current plan, in which state-penned textbooks would be introduced at some schools starting in 2018. The country will maintain its current government authorization system, in which schools choose from a range of textbooks authored by publishers and approved by the Ministry of Education.

Yoon also said Friday that Moon made an order to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs that “March for the Beloved” will be designated an official anthem to be sung at anniversary ceremonies for the May 18 Democratization Movement.

“The anniversary is a government-designated commemoration day,” said Yoon. “And the president showed his strong will that the spirit of the democratization movement must not be violated any further [with a controversy surrounding the song].”

“March for the Beloved” was written in 1982 for a posthumous wedding ceremony of two protestors killed by military forces during the 1980 Gwangju uprising. Hundreds of civilians were estimated to have died in the suppression of the uprising against the authoritarian Chun Doo Hwan regime.

Novelist Hwang Sok-yong wrote the lyrics to the song and Kim Jong-ryul, a music student, composed the melody. It’s been an anthem for democracy activists for decades.

In 1997, the government designated May 18 an official commemoration for the democracy movement. Until 2008, singing the song was required during the state-sponsored ceremony. Some conservative groups, however, complained that it was inappropriate for top government officials, including the president, to sing it because of its links to North Korea.

In 1991, North Korea used “March for the Beloved” as background music for a film, fueling controversy about the song and its ideology.

In 2009 and 2010, the conservative Lee Myung-bak government did not include the song during May 18 ceremonies, but allowed a chorus to perform it before the events. Liberal groups demanded it be included in the official ceremony.

The government decided in 2011 that the song would be performed by a chorus during the main ceremony, and participants were allowed to sing along if they wished.

The controversy continued throughout the Park presidency, as the government rejected liberals’ demand to designate the song an official anthem of the anniversary. In last year’s ceremony, the song was again performed by a chorus.

Moon’s decision to restore the liberal tradition of making the song an official part of the ceremony came shortly after the dismissal of a minister in charge of planning the event. Moon accepted Thursday the resignation of Park Sung-choon, who served as the minister of patriots and veterans affairs since 2011.

Of all members of the cabinet, a holdover from the Park administration, Moon has only accepted resignations from Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Minister Park.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]