Category Archives: South Korea

The first Tiananmen happened in South Korea, and is completely out of history

These days we may solemnize the memory of the dead in a massacre on students and other young people who had gathered in thousands to demonstrate for democracy and freedom in a harsh dictatorship. To crush this demonstration the authorities called in military troops, which carried out their orders with brute violence, killing hundreds of young people who just fought for their human rights.

The official death toll is said to be around 200, while other observers have it to be upwards of 2,000. One prominent leader behind the uproar was caught and sentenced to death. Other participants were hunted for years and had to live as outlaws hidden from attention. A remarkable novel was written describing the life in a police state for hunted students.

I’m not referring to June 4, 1989 and Tiananmen Square, but to May 18, 1980 and Gwangju in South Korea, both horrible atrocities with remarkable similarities, and with a single even more remarkable divergence. What differs between them is of course that the Chinese slaughter is well known and one we can read about everywhere these days. The South Korean counterpart is probably completely forgotten if it even was noticed at all in the West when it occurred.

In 1980 the South Korean butcher in charge was Chun Doo-hwan who had seized power through a military coup the year before. The politician who received a death sentence was Kim Dae-jung, though saved due to international pressure and allowed to leave for the US in 1982. When South Korea eventually became a democratic state Chun in turn was sentenced to death for his liquidations of adversaries. This was in 1996 and now Kim Dae-jung was the one who saved his old enemy from death. Chun is still alive, but Kim regrettably dead.

The author I mentioned is Hwang Sok-yong, and his novel The Old Garden. Hwang was imprisoned the first time in 1964 for political reasons, and then again in 1989 for visiting a writer’s conference in North Korea. He served five years of his seven years sentence when he was pardoned by the newly elected president Kim Dae-jung.

Our main daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, provides subscriber access to its archive ten years back. The keyword “Tiananmen Square” (“Himmelska fridens torg” in Swedish) results in 350 hits in that archive, all of them certainly about the 1989 massacre. “Gwangju” (“Kwangju” in Sw.) provides only one hit, and that’s an illuminating hit in itself. The city is mentioned in passing in a recent article about the current president Park Geun-hye, daughter of another dictator and butcher, Park Chung-hee. Obviously the journalist was ignorant of the importance of the conservative president holding a speech in Gwangju, something of highest significance for South Koreans.

Instrumental to silencing of the massacre in western media may have been the US involvement, not just in its strong support for the dictator Chun, but also allegedly in directly authorizing deployment of Korean troops in the operations.

Though Gwangju is the incident totally forgotten or even non-existent in our world, it’s not uncommon to describe Tiananmen as the concealed occurrence. Yesterday DN had an article written by an expert on China, under the headline “Here’s why the world chose to forget the victims in Beijing”. As from mind reading New York Times today has an op-ed entitled “Tiananmen, Forgotten”. If DN’s reminding us about the Chinese massacre almost once a week during the last decade is the same as “forget”, there’s obviously call for a redefinition of the word.

For all reasons it’s only natural that our propagandistic media has concealed the Gwangju massacre. In South Korea, on the other hand, the incident played a pivotal role for a development which eventually transformed the country into a democratic state. Thus May 18 now has been declared an official memorial day and annual ceremonies are held on this day at the Mangwol-dong cemetery in Gwangju, where victim’s bodies were buried. In 2011 UNESCO included the uprising in Gwangju in the World Memory Register (something for DN and others to remember).

It’s a good thing that we keep the atrocities on Tiananmen Square in memory, and act in every way we can to prevent similar horrors to happen in the future. But it’s a shame that we for political reasons conceal factually identical, but with proportionate measurements vastly more horrendous mass killings in the smaller country South Korea.

The stupefying partisanship that our media excels in eliminates every trace of credibility for them as judges of world events. Still they act as if they were the only reliable judges on all issues in the world. Breathtaking!