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OpinionOpinion
The beauty of reconciliationChairman Lee Mungyo of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation believes the 4.3 peace process can serve as a global model
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승인 2016.04.01  16:27:42
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Lee Mungyo, director of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation. Photo by Eric Hevesy.

With an estimated 30,000 people dead, it is understandable that many people search for meaning in the needless slaughter of Jeju 4.3, or the Jeju Massacre.

A divided island, in a postcolonial nation in the midst of its own division, was given a shocking welcome to a world enthralled to Cold War ideologies between 1947 and 1954.

Villages were razed, families torn apart, and thousands murdered as the Korean state, with tacit US support, embarked on a violent McCarthyist purge of alleged Communist rebels which amounted to genocide, according to some.

It is unsurprising that many Islanders look to go beyond the facts for existential, or fateful, meaning in the slaughter.

Lee Mungyo, director of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation. Photo by Eric Hevesy.

Chairman Lee Mungyo of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation believes that if the events have meaning, and the victims are to be truly honored, it is in the noble effort of Jeju Islanders toward reconciliation.

“We still don’t know what 4.3 was in its essence. Before we know that, we cannot talk about ideology and Jeju 4.3,” he said. “However, the reconciliation process has epitomized the spirit of Jeju peace, and this we can show to others.”

The lesson for the world is reconciliation, he said, and the “beauty” of how Islanders overcame the tragic crimes against humanity.

“Therefore, as we move on what we want to do is increase awareness of Jeju 4.3 throughout the world. We are not going to focus on the Incident itself, but how Jeju people reconciled through a spirit of forgiveness.”

This spirit of forgiveness was only given the chance to blossom after Korean democratization in the early 1990s. In the preceding decades, Islanders were silenced by dictatorship, and those speaking out risked prison and torture.

As Korean society opened up post-1987, the movement for justice gathered pace. After intense local campaigning, and fierce opposition, an official investigation was eventually launched.

Its findings were published in 2003, with then-president Roh Moo-hyun officially apologizing for the state’s role in the massacre in the same year.

The Investigation Report recommended that the government make an official apology to Jeju Islanders and victims, provide compensation and living expenses to victims and victims’ families, and investigate unresolved cases relating to the Massacre.

President Roh, in his apology issued on Oct 31, 2003, said: “The future of Jeju will be as a symbol of human rights and a cornerstone of peace.”

Lee Mungyo, director of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation. Photo by Eric Hevesy.

Lee concedes that the reconciliation process has weaknesses, however, including its treatment of victims as a group, rather than allowing individual petitions for compensation.

Perpetrators of the massacre also escaped investigation, and many thousands of victims’ bodies are still undiscovered.

US complicity (the United States Army Military Government in Korea governed below the 38th parallel between September 8, 1945 and August 15, 1948) in the violence is also brushed over, fueling the ongoing (if modest) campaign for an apology from the White House.

Lee urges us to look beyond these unresolved issues and focus on the pragmatic course taken by Islanders to find a resolution, which speaks to the pacific nature of Jeju culture.

“4.3 reconciliation was able to draw from the spirit of peace embedded in our culture; that spirit did not just arise one morning,” he said.

For Lee, the roots of Jeju’s spirit of peace are as deep as the island’s foundational mythology.

The Samseong myth tells of three foreign princesses who came from overseas to wed local hunter-gatherers, bringing with them the gifts of agriculture.

Unlike continental powers, who used bows to fight over territory, the three founding clan chieftains of Jeju, Ko, Yang, and Bu, fired theirs in peace.

“On Jeju, the founders just used arrows to divide up the land where they fell. This represents local government on Jeju. From then to now, we have had a culture of peace,” he says.

Such motifs of peace are replete throughout Jeju culture, claims Lee, seen in close-knit rural kinship groups, indigenous agricultural and fishery techniques, and legend and folklore.

The director says this body of knowledge was not incidental to the island overcoming its collective, and ongoing, trauma.

“Because of this accumulated spirit of peace, the people of Jeju were able to overcome the conflict of 4.3,” he said.

He adds, however, that a lack of mental health support for victims means this trauma remains acute for many.

Bringing perpetrators and victims together has also not been easy, and the Foundation takes a very hands-off approach to this.

“Rather than planning face-to-face meetings between perpetrators and victims, we encourage them to attend the official 4.3 ceremony and memorial; the atmosphere naturally encourages [reconciliation].”

Lee Mungyo, director of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation. Photo by Eric Hevesy.

Lee says that although around 86 percent of the killings were committed by state forces, he would also like more people to know the stories of the police and military who worked hard to save Jeju people from slaughter.

“The police and military men of the time were not all bad people. There are many among them who did good work for the Jeju people, and we want more of their stories known. Naturally, by holding these events, we can bring these people together and allow their stories to be heard,” he said.

It is by trying to “diffuse their spirit around the world” that Lee believes Jeju 4.3 can be “internationalized,” even right here in Jeju’s backyard.

“Jeju can serve as a model for historic Korean conflict, and also for reconciliation of international genocides. If North and South reunify, Jeju can be benchmarked for healing the trauma of the conflict.”

As is so common on Jeju, Lee looks beyond limitations and sees the island’s destiny far beyond its rocky black shores.

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