Fellow Koreans and residents of Gwangju and Jeollanam-do Province,
It has been 40 years since that May in Gwangju. The Government – for the first time ever – is holding the May 18 Democratization Movement anniversary ceremony here at this square in front of the former Jeollanam-do Provincial Government Building, not in the May 18th National Cemetery, in the hope that our citizens will commemorate May 18 together and revive May 18 in their daily lives.
During the May 18 struggle, this square turned into a place where people checked on one another’s well-being, and it served as a place for leadership of the Movement where people gave courage to one another.
In this square, we saw a world of great unity that we can never forget. Even those citizens and young students who were not directly involved in protests gave rice balls, cared for the wounded and willingly participated in blood drives when blood was in short supply. We met our neighbors who were not part of dictatorial power. We witnessed the true colors of democracy for which we could even sacrifice our lives.
The democracy disseminated on this square in front of the Provincial Government Building has spread to other squares across the country over the past 40 years, enabling us all to join hands with one another. Finally, May in Gwangju has expanded nationwide, and the tomorrow that our patriotic martyrs dreamed of has become our today.
However, the world where everyone can prosper together is still far off. Today, we need even more squares in which we can trust and rely on each other.
Here at the May 18 square today, we are communing with the passionate hearts of those May souls that have still not grown cold. Honoring the souls of that May which always return to life in the spirit of sharing, solidarity and community, I extend my deepest sympathy and respect to those bestowed national merit and the bereaved families, who have been upholding the spirit of their souls by keeping the promise of democracy. My special gratitude also goes to the residents of Gwangju and Jeollanam-do who have fostered and shared the “Spirit of May” as well as all the people who have remembered Gwangju and defended democracy.
My fellow Koreans,
The Spirit of May has taken form from the ordinary hopes of ordinary people responding to the pain of others. The love of family and concern for neighbors have combined to become the spirit of justice.
Gwangju citizens’ spirit of sharing and encouraging one another was the source of strength that enabled them to stand up against the overwhelming armed force of martial law troops. Gwangju was totally sealed off and isolated, but not even a single case of looting or larceny took place. The citizens took what they needed from unattended shops and left the money owed.
Their spirit is embedded in the minds of each and every one of our people even now. That is what has empowered Korea to become a global model for overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak. Gwangju was the first to provide hospital beds to Daegu when it was anxious about having an insufficient number. As a result, Daegu’s confirmed patients could return home fully recovered. The “Mothers of May” shared in the toil by carefully preparing lunch boxes filled with rice balls for the dedicated medical professionals in Daegu.
By answering the call of history, the Spirit of May remains still now a living spirit of noble sacrifice. At dawn on May 27, 1980, those citizens who fell victim to the guns and bayonets of martial law troops here at the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government Building believed that the survivors would manage to open up a better world. They were convinced that the defeat of that day would become the victory of tomorrow.
By answering the call of the dead, the living have practiced democracy. Telling the truth about Gwangju has become a democratization movement, and May 18 has joined the great history of democracy in the Republic of Korea.
Any one of us who has come to ask ourselves the question “Could I have remained in the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government Building that day?” can be said to have responded to the victims of that day regardless of the answer.
Just as human beings share pain and foster hope while empathizing with each other, we have gained greater courage and generated greater hope by empathizing with historic truths. That’s how our people have become what they are today.
The Spirit of May should be more widely empathized with and repeatedly reborn generation after generation.
A young person once said, “If the right to speak about May 18 is still confined to the qualified few, it means that the Spirit of May 18 has not yet fully bloomed.”
A generation who did not experience May 18 was born and has grown to become parents of families and the mainstay of our society. People who were not in Gwangju that day also experienced Gwangju together in their own way.
It is true: The Spirit of May belongs not to somebody but to all of us. The Spirit of May can be said to be a living spirit only when it is constantly rediscovered as a source of courage for those of us living in this era and for young people who are opening up the future.
When the Spirit of May is alive in our hearts, the truth about May 18 will be constantly discovered. Various events designed to share the Spirit of May are being held across the country to mark the 40th anniversary of the May 18 Democratization Movement. I extend my sincere gratitude to all who are holding meaningful events at this difficult moment.
My Administration and I will always work together so that the Spirit of May can be a source of pride for us all and further enrich the hearts and lives of future generations.
When we can help each other and share together, a crisis can be turned into an opportunity. A crisis is always harsher for the weak. When our solidarity reaches even the weakest in our society and helps them stand on their own feet, our strength to overcome the crisis will also grow further.
We will strive to further strengthen the power of solidarity in our society so that our future generations, including Cha Kyung-tae and Kim Ryun-yi who respectively read aloud a progress report and pledges today, can pursue their dreams to their hearts’ content in a just and fair world.
With pride that transcends pain, citizens of Gwangju have cherished the honor of May 18. From outside of Gwangju, countless people have chosen not to look away from the pain of Gwangju and have let the world know the truth about Gwangju.
The Government will do all it can to investigate the truth of May 18. We will provide the May 18 Democratization Movement Truth Commission – which began its activities in earnest on May 12 – all the support it needs so that it can fully reveal still-undiscovered truths. As truth is revealed to the world piece by piece, the pent-up agonies in hearts will be relieved one by one, and we will be able to move toward the path of forgiveness and reconciliation that much more closely.
There will no longer be a place for distortion and denigration. The facts about such state violence must be clarified without fail by uncovering the people who gave the orders to open fire, the massacre of civilians by martial law troops, machine gun shots from helicopters and the suspicions about cover-ups and fabrications. Its purpose is not about punishment but about properly documenting history. Instead, if those who are accountable show courage and confess the truth even now, the path to forgiveness and reconciliation will open up.
We will ensure that not a single person will suffer unfairly when trying to locate the missing from the May 18 Democratization Movement, restore the honor of previously unknown victims and provide them with reparations and compensation.
Following the posthumous reinstatement of Senior Superintendent Lee Jun-gyu last year, the disciplinary actions against 21 former police officers who received official reprimands in connection with the Democratization Movement were officially rescinded by the proper authorities yesterday. We will make efforts to bring back the honor of various victims such as soldiers and dismissed journalists, in addition to police officers.
The biggest driving force behind shedding light on the truth is the people who empathize with Gwangju’s pain. Our people, as the sovereigns of a democratic republic, have waded through the enormous currents of democracy from the April 19 Revolution and the Busan-Masan Democratic Protests through May 18 Democratization Movement, the June 10 Democratic Struggle and the Candlelight Revolution. The people’s strides toward the complete truth about the May 18 Democratization Movement can neither be turned back nor stopped.
The truth that the people ascertain and remember together will become the strength that makes our society more just and the foundation for national harmony and unity.
Inscribing the May 18 Democratization Movement in the preamble of the Constitution is positioning the Movement as a great chapter in the history of the Republic of Korea that no one can damage nor deny. In 2018, I presented a proposal for a constitutional revision that contains the succession of the Movement’s ideology. If the revision is achieved someday, I hope that the cause will be upheld. Gwangju’s decision to designate the May 18 Democratization Movement anniversary as a regional holiday is very significant.
The Spirit of May will continue to come back to life at the former Jeollanam-do Provincial Government Building and this square. The Government will provide full support so that the pain of Gwangju and the value of the righteous struggle will go down in history through the faithful restoration of the building.
Fellow Koreans and residents of Gwangju and Jeollanam-do,
Forty years ago, Gwangju showed with noble courage and dedication who the masters of this country are.
We’ve asked ourselves whether we are righteous while recalling Gwangju. We never lost the courage to move toward democracy while holding each other’s hands bearing this question in mind.
The power to change the world always lies in the people. Through Gwangju, we learned the fact that democracy is about further uniting each other’s hearts, sharing more and communicating more deeply. Those experiences carved in our hearts will always be the biggest strength even in the face of any hardship.
Now, we will have to achieve democracy at home, in the workplace and in the economy by taking democracy beyond our politics and society. For the sake of a global order in which everyone cooperates and shares, we must recall again what happened on this square in front of the Jeollanam-do Provincial Government Building in May.
That is the way for us to sincerely answer the call of those who died that day defending the Provincial Government Building to the last.