Daily Archives: 12 May 2005

Linda Lewis on Contested Memories of the Kwangju Uprising

The Kwangju Uprising (or “5.18,” after the date it began) was a popular revolt against the Korean government that lasted for ten days in May 1980. What began as a peaceful demonstration against the reimposition of military rule turned into a bloody citizens’ uprising when the people of Kwangju, outraged by the brutality of government troops sent in to suppress dissent, pushed the soldiers to the edge of town and proclaimed a “Free Kwangju” (haebang Kwangju). The military eventually retook the city with tanks and tear gas but not without great cost in human lives and government credibility.

In retrospect, the Kwangju Uprising stands as one of the most important political events in late twentieth-century Korean history, a powerful symbol of popular opposition to thirty years of repressive military rule and a milestone in South Korea’s long journey to democratic reform. Nonetheless, 5.18 also remains, at the millennium, a contested event, the subject still of controversy, confusion, international debate, and competing claims….

In 1979-1980 I had been in Korea for thirteen months, doing research for my doctoral dissertation. My project concerned the role of judges as mediators in civil disputes, and I had chosen the district court in Kwangju as my research site. Ironically, I first visited Kwangju (to arrange housing) just days after the October 26, 1979, assassination of President Park Chung Hee–retrospectively the first in a chain of events leading to the May uprising.

SOURCE: Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising, by Linda S. Lewis (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2002), pp. xv-xvi

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Timothy Garton Ash on Europe’s Memory Wars

Timothy Garton Ash writes from Warsaw in the 12 May Guardian about the fractures in Europe’s memories of VE Day.

After a continent-wide round of commemorations to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe, it’s clear that the peoples of Europe have a shared past, but not a common one.

Sixty years on, the memory of war here in Warsaw is still irreconcilable with that in Moscow. But it’s also utterly different from London’s low-key festival of “We’ll meet again” nostalgia. Only in the recollections of former inmates of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps does British memory approach the horrors of daily degradation that are the stuff of everyday Polish or Russian memory.

For Russians, the war began in 1941; for Poles and Brits, it began in 1939. For Vladimir Putin, May 9 1945 marked the end of the Great Patriotic War, when the Red Army almost single-handedly liberated – yes, liberated – most of Europe from fascism. For most Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians, it marked the transition from one totalitarian occupation to another, Nazi to Soviet….

The Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili – leader of his country’s “rose revolution” in 2003 – has said we are witnessing a “second wave” of liberation, inside the former Soviet Union, starting with Georgia and Ukraine. Speaking on CNN the other day, he corrected himself, suggesting it was really a “third wave”. I make it the fourth. The first wave rolled over western and northern Europe in 1944-45; the second swept through southern Europe, starting in Portugal in 1974; the third liberated central Europe, starting in Poland in 1980 and reaching the Baltic states in 1991; now the fourth wave, if wave it is, may be building in eastern Europe.

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