Dignitaries and members of the public gathered at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park for the 4.3 Memorial Service. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Mourners marked the 65th anniversary of April 3, 1948 on Wednesday, a date of infamy in Jeju and Korean history. Thousands of mourners gathered for a memorial service at Jeju April 3rd Peace Park, Bonggae-dong, Jeju City and were witness to speeches, songs, dances and recitals in bright sunshine, belying the somber mood.
The memorial service was led by President Kim Young Hoon of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation, Jeju Governor Woo Geun-min and Korean Prime Minister Jung Hong-won, attending on behalf of President Park Geun-hye.
April 3 marks the day in 1948 on which a number of police stations on Jeju Island were attacked by members of the island’s People’s Committees, left-wing political groups. Despite the causes being multifaceted, the attacks were in part a reaction against police and military aggression on the island - dating back to March 1, 1947 - and nationwide elections, which islanders felt would divide the nation.
The incidents escalated tensions between the community and the authorities and an island-wide conflict between guerrillas and the Korean military raged for six years until 1954, with the dead being numbered between 15 and 60 thousand. 80 percent of the killings were committed by state forces, says the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation.
A third of Jeju’s people were either killed or fled as the Korean government declared Jeju a “red island.” Islanders were slurred as being a communist fifth column within the newly-created Republic of Korea and entire villages were destroyed as the “jungsangan” (upland regions above 200 meters) was declared enemy territory.
Prior to the memorial day, President Park had pledged to fight “Until all the pain of the Jeju people is relieved” and she was reminded of this, despite her absence, by Governor Woo. He also supported Park’s commitment to making a national memorial day for 4.3.
“I will strive to revive the establishment of 4.3 as a national memorial day through reconciliation, coexistence, peace and human rights,” said Woo.
Head Councillor Bak Hui-su, of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, reiterated President Park’s promise and urged the government to provide welfare and support for victims and the bereaved.
“I hope today’s memorial service can be an opportunity to heal the loss and hurt of the bereaved and provide solace to the souls of the dead,” said Bak.
Incense burned to attract the souls of the departed. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Breaking the fetters of silence It may be 65 years since April 3, 1948, but this has not been 65 years of reconciliation. Years of dictatorship ensured victims and relatives were silenced and imprisoned for daring to speak out.
For forty years the Jeju people bore their pain in enforced silence, for fear of being tainted communist, particularly under oppressive laws such as the Yushin Constitution (1972) under Park Chung-hee - continued in all but name under Chun Doo-hwan - and the National Security Act (1948), which is still active.
It was not until the fall of Chun Doo-hwan’s military government, in the face of the June Democracy Movement in 1987, that victims’ voices began to be heard: the first official memorial day was held on April 3, 1989. Reconciliation for the victims of 4.3 was central to the popular democratization movement and relatives have since fought to clear victims’ names and receive apologies for the government aggression.
In 2000 the Jeju 4.3 Incident Special Law was promulgated, obligating an investigation into the massacre. The first official investigation reported in May 2001 that it had received 14,028 reports of 4.3-related deaths, which rose to 15,101. These were subject to further investigation.
In 2006 Roh Mu-hyun visited Jeju Island to attend the 4.3 memorial service, being the first - and only - Korean president to do so. A year later, after thorough investigation of claims, the official death toll stood at 13,564 victims and 29,239 bereaved relatives. Almost four years later, in 2011, the dead had reached 14,032 with 31,223 bereaved.
Governor Woo, in his address, emphasized the gravity of the work ongoing. Between December 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013 an additional 350 deaths were confirmed and 27,442 bereaved, almost doubling the 2011 figure. He stated that reconciliation and unity were essential as Jeju moves to the future:
“I believe that it is the responsibility of we of the modern era to carry this burden,” said Woo.
The bereaved remember the departed in the shadow of Mt. Halla. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province.
The memorial service is a single day among 12 months of hard work and President Kim outlined some of the Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation’s achievements over the past year, including ongoing translation work to “break the fetters” of silence and ensure that the truth of 4.3 is “spread across the world.”
“Like an April shoot sprouting from Jeju’s cherished earth, a bud of peace is rising, and like a warm spring breeze the wind of reconciliation is at hand,” said Kim.
In the moments of silence between the speeches, all that could be heard was the cawing of black crows, circling the skies above the park. The poignancy would not have been lost on survivors, who have spoken of battling against the carrion birds when burying the 4.3 dead.
Before flowers were laid at the memorial, a poem in Jeju dialect was read. Penned by local poet Mun Chungseong, “The Whole Island” was recited movingly by Kim Seo-yeon, whose eyes glazed as she read the closing line.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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