Fellow Koreans, Gwangju citizens and residents of Jeollanam-do Province,
May has come as it inevitably does: May - when we miss those departed so dearly, May - which has not passed but still lives, and May - when sorrow blooms into courage.
Honoring the souls of the democratic heroes of May who can never be forgotten, I offer my deepest sympathy to the injured and the bereaved families who have lived through hard times. I’d like to convey my extraordinary respect for Gwangju citizens and the residents of Jeollanam-do who are a living testament to what genuine love of country is all about.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Consequently, many have suggested that it might be better for the President to wait and attend the 40th anniversary ceremony.
I, however, wanted to be sure and attend this year’s ceremony. That’s because I feel very sorry for Gwangju citizens and am genuinely ashamed and want to make an appeal to all Koreans.
In particular, I want to say the following to the citizens of Gwangju and the residents of Jeollanam-do once more.
As one of your countrymen living at the time, I deeply regret not having been able to stand with Gwangju when it was bleeding and dying in May 1980.
As President, I deeply apologize once again, on behalf of the people, for the barbaric violence and massacre perpetrated in Gwangju by the state authority at that time.
As a Korean, I feel tremendous shame when facing the reality of preposterous remarks denying and insulting the May 18 Democratization Movement still being uttered out loud without any hesitation.
Personally, I regret that I still have not been able to keep my promise to have the spirit of the May 18 Democratization Movement included in the Preamble of the Constitution.
My fellow Koreans,
In May 1980, we saw Gwangju. We saw Gwangju crying out for democracy, Gwangju completely isolated, and Gwangju dying all alone.
With the final screams from the citizen army defending the Jeollanam-do Office Building, that May in Gwangju has left us with a profound sense of indebtedness.
The fact that we could not stand by Gwangju in May and that we neglected Gwangju being massacred has left indelible pain in those of us who were alive at that time.
As such, we have gone through the pain of Gwangju together. Regardless of where we were at that time and whether our knowledge about what happened in Gwangju in May came early or late, we’ve all suffered the pain of Gwangju together.
That sense of indebtedness and suffering served as the roots of the 1980s democratization movement, and the shouts of Gwangju citizens eventually led to the June Struggle in 1987. This was the nationwide culmination of the May 18 Democratization Movement. The democracy of the Republic of Korea is tremendously indebted to Gwangju.
Nobody can deny this fact if he or she lived in the same period, suffered the same pain and harbored the aspirations for democracy shared by the citizens of the Republic of Korea.
The truth about May 18 cannot differ between conservatives and liberals. That’s because the values that Gwangju struggled to protect were none other than “freedom” and “democracy.” The only ones who could view May 18 in a different light are the would-be heirs of dictatorship.
Once called “the Gwangju Incident,” May 18 was officially defined as the “Gwangju Democratization Movement” in 1988 under the Roh Tae-woo Administration. The Kim Young-sam Administration enacted a special law in 1995 to redefine May 18 as the "Gwangju Democratization Movement" and eventually designated it a day for national commemoration in 1997. The Supreme Court also ruled that the new military junta's December 12 military coup d’etat and suppression of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement constituted a military rebellion and treason and brought the main culprits behind the Gwangju massacre to justice.
My fellow Koreans,
More than 20 years ago, we already reached a national consensus in this way about the historic significance and nature of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement and brought relevant legal matters to a close. No more controversies about this issue are necessary now. They would simply be a meaningless waste.
What we must do is to further develop our democracy while expressing gratitude for the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement and its contributions to the advancement of democracy. Only then will we be able to move toward a society where the people can be unified while competing with each other for a better Republic of Korea.
I hope that you all bring your hearts and minds together so that we can move forward toward a brighter future by concluding each chapter of the nation's history.
However, much more remains to be done to reveal the truth with regard to those in charge of the massacre, secret burials of victims, sexual violence and the firing on protestors from helicopters. Our task now is to uncover the truth that has yet to be clarified. This will allow us to put down the heavy historical burden that Gwangju has so far shouldered and turn the May of tragedy into the May of hope.
It is only natural for those in politics to join as well. We must join forces to safeguard the honor of Gwangju and lay bare the truth still covered.
We are now forging a new Republic of Korea. It won't be possible to take a single step toward a new era, however, as long as there’s regressive political consciousness stuck in the Yusin regime and the Fifth Republic - the time that predated the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. We have to move forward together on the foundation of democracy that the people safeguarded back in May 1980. We have to repay our debt to Gwangju by advancing the Republic of Korea.
My fellow Koreans, citizens of Gwangju and residents of Jeollanam-do,
In March last year, a special act was legislated to ascertain the truth about the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. Its overriding objective is to establish a fact-finding committee to fully reveal the truth. However, the committee has yet to be launched. I urge the National Assembly and those in politics to take on this task with a greater sense of responsibility.
Under my Administration, the Ministry of National Defense’s May 18 special fact-finding committee confirmed that martial law forces fired shots from helicopters and violated the human rights of women through rape, sexual harassment and torture, and the Minister of National Defense apologized on behalf of the Government.
The Government pledges that, if the new fact-finding committee is launched under the special law, it will provide all relevant documents and other necessary support to help the committee play its role as planned.
Citizens of Gwangju and residents of Jeollanam-do,
Today marks the 39th anniversary of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, and people in Gwangju envision ordinary life and wellbeing.
Sons and daughters of Gwangju, who were born 39 years ago, have now become middle-aged adults. Some may have married, and some may have become parents.
I sincerely hope that they live happily together in a world where truth has become common knowledge.
The Gwangju which safeguarded democracy has now become a city that leads economic democracy and mutual growth. Representatives from labor, management and government achieved a grand social compromise through concessions and sharing and created jobs conducive to social integration under the name of Gwangju-type job creation. All other local governments are envious and trying to identify a second or third Gwangju-type job creation model.
Coming off an agreement on Gwangju-type job creation, a factory will be built in Korea to roll out finished cars for the first time in 23 years, and it will be in the Bit Green Industrial Complex. This will also provide an opportunity for the auto industry to innovate.
Gwangju’s endeavors to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution are also astounding. It’s taking the lead in nurturing the hydrogen, data and artificial intelligence industries as future growth engines.
Last March, Gwangju completed Korea’s first Hydrogen Fusion Energy Test Center. It is also seeking to build an eco-friendly hydrogen fuel-cell power plant, which would be the biggest in the country. In the 2019 smart city challenge, where local governments and businesses team up to solve urban issues, Gwangju secured a win.
Gwangju is becoming a model for public safety. In evaluations of responses to infectious diseases, the national safety examination and disaster prevention, Gwangju was ranked as having the best disaster management institutions this year among the 17 major municipal and provincial governments. It also had the largest recorded drop in traffic-related deaths nationwide. This is the result of Gwangju citizens and public servants working together to make Gwangju the safest place in the country. I am grateful to Gwangju, which has suffered such pain, for taking the lead in creating a safe Republic of Korea.
The Government will always stand by Gwangju so that it can realize its dream. I believe that the people will also provide support.
Fellow Koreans, Gwangju citizens and Jeollanam-do residents,
Today, the No. 228 Bus will start running to major historical sites related to the May 18 Movement, such as Junam Maeul, Chonnam National University Hospital, the former Jeollanam-do Provincial Office Building and the May 18 Archives. The No. 228 stands for the February 28 Daegu Democratization Movement. A No. 518 Bus is also operating in Daegu.
Daegu Dalgubeol, that city’s old name, and Gwangju Bitgoeul, this city’s nickname, have formed the Dal-Bit alliance and united to uphold justice and democracy. Amid a series of instances where the May 18 Movement was denied and insulted, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin posted an apology to Gwangju citizens on social media. The two cities are opposing historical distortions and the politics of division and practicing solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. This is the path of forgiveness and reconciliation that we must walk.
May should no longer be the May of rage and sorrow. Our May has to be the beginning of hope and the foundation for unity.
When we open our hearts before the truth, our capacity for forgiveness and inclusiveness enlarges. The Gwangju of today teaches us that reconciliation achieved by acknowledging the truth is a path toward genuinely uniting our people.
Courage and shame, righteousness and disgrace, and rage and forgiveness exist together in Gwangju.
The historic burden borne by Gwangju is too heavy. Such a burden should be shared among all the people who watched and suffered what happened in Gwangju in May that year.
Gwangju’s pride belongs to history, the Republic of Korea and all the people. Nurturing and jointly cultivating the seeds of democracy sown by Gwangju will be a blissful undertaking.
I hope that our May will shine every year and become the strength that helps all the people move toward the future.