With the commemoration of the Jeju April 3 Massacre approaching, Jang Jung Eon, director of the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation, the central government body charged with the task of reconciliation, is hard at work organizing various services and memorials to restore honor to the victims and families that have suffered from the horrific events on this date in 1948.
Jang took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with The Jeju Weekly and discuss some of the prevalent issues connected to this controversial time in the island’s history.
He is a large man, solid in stature and stoic in voice and gesture (his hands barely left the armrest of his chair during the interview). He has been involved with April 3 issues for almost 20 years. In 1993, as the chairperson of the 4th Jeju Provincial Assembly, he organized the 4.3 Special Committee. The body not only brought a previously controversial topic into the public sphere but was also a leading force behind the signing of the 2000 Special Law, central government legislation calling for investigation into the massacre.
As the foundation’s director, appointed in 2009, Jang has the responsibility of carefully positioning his foundation’s operations and agenda in such a way to not insult any person connected to the events of April 3 Massacre.
“We need to approach April 3 from a future-oriented point of view,” said Jang. He added this approach is the opposite of previous attempts, which was to look to the past for answers from a complicated and politically charged aspect of Jeju’s history. He continued that returning honor to victims and reconciliation are the best ways to heal wounds.
“I believe the restoration of honor and reconciliation are not abstract concepts,” said Jang, explaining that to stay true to this future-oriented perspective, it is necessary to view all those present on Jeju at that time as victims, ignoring which side they supported.
“Both sides are victims. There should not be any discrimination or labels. We should stop that,” Jang said.
With the events in question having occurred over 60 years ago, Jang said those currently suffering from these labels are not necessarily those that were there, but their families and descendants. “Not only victims’ families but also people who attacked them are victims. Even the police officers’ families are victims. I believe the true meaning of reconciliation is the union of those who were killed with those who attacked,” he said.
This is a controversial idea, especially since there is much still unknown about what happened on the island between 1948 and 1954, the years attributed to the conflict. However Jang believes that this is the best way for the island to collectively heal. Though it is a difficult objective to bring both sides together, his organization is actively trying to overcome this obstacle through legislation that states all those involved in any capacity will be referred to as victims. Along with this term comes financial compensation. “Medical expenses and living expenses should be funded to both sides,” Jang said.
Pursuit of legal amendments is currently ongoing, but Jang and the foundation have already taken measures to alter the perception of those entangled in the linguistic web that has caused confusion and pain since the conflict first began. “We started commemorating everyone who had died during the incident,” said Jang. “We do not differentiate or label those who had died during the incident.”
This idea of unity is currently being applied to the foundation’s planning of the upcoming April 3 memorial to take place at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park on Saturday, April 2. It has been 63 years since the outbreak of the Jeju Massacre, and Jang hopes that this year’s ceremony will further help to comfort all those affected.
“Without comforting the souls of victims, how can people who live together become united? Comforting the souls of victims is the first important step to peace and the union of people,” said Jang.
He said that through adopting this future-oriented perspective and by comforting the families of the bereaved, Jeju will become an island of world peace, a mecca for reconciliation thought and other worthy, government-endorsed ideals.
In between these esoteric ideas though, Jang revealed some of his personal thoughts on the subject: “I strongly believe that the souls of the victims are alive. I pray for their peace, prosperity and comfort. For the next few years, I believe Jeju Island will be even more developed and prosperous. I believe the souls of the victims are protecting us.”
Because the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation, established on November 10, 2008, is in its infancy, Jang believes that they still have much work to do. Hindered by financial concerns and a lack of human resources, it has been difficult to implement changes, but he is optimistic.
“I just feel lucky,” he said, referring to the advancements he has already been able to make. And his goals for the future? “I can say that it is necessary to appoint April 3 as a memorial day designated by the nation and to expand the national support for better welfare of the bereaved families,” Jang said.
Jang has invited President Lee Myung Bak to the upcoming April 3 memorial. As of this writing, he has yet to receive a response.
(Interpretation by Song Jung Hee. Koh Yu Kyung contributed to this article.)
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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