By Feature Editor Kim Hyung-dae with Reporter Kim Ka-hee
President Moon Jae-in said that the Korean people created their democracy together with students, workers, taxi drivers and everyone else in Korea.
Speaking on the June-10 Democratic Protest on the occasion of its 33rd anniversary, President Moon said, “Our workers have cast the sunshine of equality and unity on the tree while citizens have shone the sunshine of empathy and participation.” Excerpts from his speech follow:
The day of the June 10 Democratic Protest, we created a democracy together. Students took the lead office workers waved their handkerchiefs and taxi drivers blasted their car horns. Mothers put flowers on the chests of riot police. On the public square, all Koreans joined together to plant a tree named democracy.
Thirty-three years have since passed. Workers have cast the sunshine of equality and unity on the tree while citizens have shone the sunshine of empathy and participation. As young people became mothers and fathers, democracy was seeded in our homes. We started looking back on human rights and cherishing every single individual. When democracy was in peril, we held aloft candles. All of us have reached this point together, slowly but never losing our sense of direction.
This tree named democracy is growing faster than those in any other country. Our democracy represents a democracy of sharing and mutual benefit. It is a democracy that respects the freedom of everyone as much as the freedom of every individual. We have demonstrated a democracy of solidarity and cooperation in the process of overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak. The democracy we made has turned the Republic of Korea into a model country in the fight against COVID-19. It is a democracy that all of our people have built together.
Marking the 33rd anniversary of the June 10 Democratic Protest, we pay tribute to those martyrs sacrificed for democracy. I extend my deepest respect and gratitude to all of the citizens who joined the June 10 Democratic Protest 33 years ago and all those who have dedicated themselves to the development of democracy ever since.
Our democracy is growing greater and stronger. It has now reached a respectable maturity. Our people have looked out for each other and cultivated our democracy to the extent we enjoy today. I’d like to send them all encouragement with a round of applause.
We are here in Namyeong-dong. This place from which we can hear trains roll past Namyeong Station was the Namyeong-dong police detachment office notoriously known for anti-communist interrogation.
While citizens came and went right beyond the wall surrounding this building, illegal apprehensions, case fabrications through torture and other human rights violations took place here. Many people had to suffer unbearable pain, fear and humiliation for one reason: They simply aspired to democracy. Kim Geun-tae, the head of the Democratic Youth Coalition, was tortured with an electric prod and other instruments to the point of near death. On January 14, 1987, Park Jong-chul, a 22-year-old Seoul National University linguistics major, did die from water torture in interrogation room No. 509 of this building.
However, the pro-democracy activists who barely survived this near-death-inducing pain and humiliating torture, helped transform a place typified by dictatorship and violence into a place for democratic struggle. The courage of priests from the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice made it possible to inform the world that torture was the cause of Park Jong-chul’s death. The June 10 Democratic Protest shed light on the truth behind the state violence perpetrated here in Namyeong-dong. This place has now been turned into a shrine – the Democracy and Human Rights Memorial Hall. It will serve as a space for healing the wounds of victims and remembering the history of democracy. It is very meaningful to hold the ceremony commemorating the June 10 Democratic Protest here today.
The rebirth of this tragic place into a space of democracy is nothing short of a great miracle, almost magical. I am proud of our people and pro-democracy activists who have weathered harsh eras and finally transformed this place of darkness into a place of hope for the future.
There has been a great deal of dedication and sacrifice for our democracy to come as far as it has today. We bestowed orders of merit and medals of honor today to those who have contributed to the progress of democracy in the Republic of Korea. Each and every one of them is a person of greatness that cannot be fully defined by a single order or medal. They were chosen from extensive recommendations made by the public and relevant civic organizations – for the first time in history.
The late Lee So-seon, who devoted her entire life to promoting the rights and interests of workers while keeping the martyr Jeon Tae-il in her heart; the late Pastor Park Hyeong-gyu, who committed a lifetime to democratization movements against dictatorship; the late lawyer Cho Young-rae, who epitomized the human rights lawyer; the late Catholic Bishop Ji Hak-soon, who was touted as a person of conscience in his era; the late Catholic priest Cho Bi-oh, who was living proof of the May 18 Democratization Movement; the late Park Jeong-ki – father of martyr Park Jong-chul – who long served as the chair of the Korean Association of Bereaved Families for Democracy; the late journalist Sung Yoo-bo, who fought for democratization of the press; the late Professor Kim Jin-kyun, an intellectual who agonized over his times; the late President of Sangji University Kim Chan-Guk, who resisted the Yusin dictatorship; the late President of the Korean Peasants League Kwon Jong-dae, who was a friend to farmers; the late lawyer Hwang In-cheol, the first to defend supporters of democracy and human rights; Bae Eun-shim – mother of martyr Lee Han-yeol – who still joins us where pro-democracy efforts are being made; those who have supported us from overseas, Pastor George Ogle and the late Father James Sinnott – these names themselves, without a doubt, represent the Republic of Korea’s democracy, and they safeguarded the people during the harsh eras of dictatorship. With a sense of honor, I recall having been able to accompany them in the streets and on the squares.
The orders and medals bestowed today come from the Government, but we are delivering them on behalf of our proud history of democracy and the people who are grateful for it. I’d like to join our people in expressing our sincere respect and gratitude. I also extend my condolences to the bereaved families as well who have persevered together over many years.
The Government will do all it can to honor the national merit honorees for independence, national defense and democratization going forward. We will always strive to ensure that the will of those who have devoted themselves to patriotism and democracy serves as a lesson for our future generations.
The Government will also do everything it can to commemorate our great history of democracy. In 2018, the February 28 Daegu Pro-Democracy Movement and the March 8 Daejeon Pro-Democracy Uprising were designated as national commemoration days. It has now become possible to see their historical connection to the March 15 Masan Pro-Democracy Uprising and the April 19 Revolution. We will restore the honor of the Jeju April 3 Incident victims without fail and fully reveal the truth of the May 18 Democratization Movement.
I contemplate democracy once again. As a system, democracy has been well-organized; we can elect the president, lawmakers and the heads of local governments by our own hands. We also exercise our power as citizens in many areas. Still, we must always look back to see whether everyone is enjoying democracy in their lives.
The masters of the Republic of Korea are the people. The people are the sovereigns. A country has to exist for the lives of the people and always comply with the orders of its sovereigns. Elected leaders should have this etched in their hearts always.
Democracy ascends with the twin wings of freedom and equality. We should respect minorities; when we ceaselessly attend to the marginalized, democracy operates properly. We are free to seek profits to the fullest but not free to take someone else’s share. We are fully aware of the common knowledge that my store will prosper only when neighbors are all well off. A sustainable and more equitable economy is a substantive democracy that we must achieve without fail, moving beyond institutional democracy.
The more we take democracy for granted, the more questions we should ask about it. Democracy should pervade into our lives, going beyond being an institution. Democracy at home and the workplace constitutes a more mature democracy indeed. When we experience and repeatedly practice democracy in our daily lives, democracy will continue to move forward.
We must not be hasty. Conflict and agreement are synonymous with democracy. People are all different from each other. Their ideals are different, their thoughts are different and the realities they face are different. Present and future choices also differ from person to person. We have to find ways to achieve mutual benefits amid conflicts and comfort amid inconvenience. This is the value of democracy. Peace is a difficult and strenuous path, but we have to achieve peace through democracy. Only peace attained in this way will bring us long-lasting prosperity.
The world is paying attention to our democracy. Amid the difficult situations caused by COVID-19, all Koreans practiced democracy by showing consideration for each other. We were the only country to successfully hold an election – the flower of democracy – during this time.
The June 10 Democratic Protest is not a miracle that suddenly came one day. It is the history of a democratic republic starting from the March First Independence Movement and the history of victory achieved through the people’s long aspirations while striving to reclaim popular sovereignty. The people regained the right to elect the president by their own hands for the first time in 16 years, and the basic framework of democracy based on the separation of the three powers was restored in the Constitution. However, our people’s greatest achievement has been to share the experience and collective memory of moving history forward through their own strength. Thus, our democracy can never retreat.
We now have to move toward more democracy, a greater democracy and more diverse democracy. The path toward democracy cannot be blocked. This is because democracy continually advances. As in the past, we can manage it successfully.
As today marks the 33rd anniversary of the June 10 Democratic Protest, the Government will work harder to achieve democracy in everyday life. I would like to see the people standing together so that the tree named democracy can grow greener on the public square.