Chun Doo-hwan dies at 90 . . .
Chun Doo-hwan, South Korea’s last military strongman who seized power in a 1979 coup and ruled the country until 1988, died last Tuesday at the age of 90. He is best known as the commander behind the 1980 massacre in the southwestern city of Gwangju, one of the most brutal crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators in South Korea’s modern history. According to government data, more than 200 people were killed and 2,000-4,000 were injured in the massacre. Chan was initially sentenced to death in 1996 on charges of corruption and treason related to the coup, before later being commuted to life imprisonment and eventually pardoned by former president Kim Young-sam in 1997.
(Not) closing Korea’s darkest chapter . . .
While Chun achieved significant economic results during his rule, his name is often associated with the far-outweighing negative legacies he left behind. The Gwangju uprising, also known as the May 18 Gwangju democratization movement, is widely seen as one of the country’s darkest chapters. Despite continued demand for an apology, Chun denied any direct involvement in giving the shoot-to-kill order. In a controversial 2017 memoir, he described the uprising as “nothing other than a riot.” No officials from the Blue House, the country’s executive office and residence of the head of state, were sent to pay tribute at Chun’s funeral. A spokeswoman from President Moon’s office expressed regret over Chun’s failure to “reveal the truth of history” and to offer “any sincere apology.” This contrasts with the more sympathetic state funeral that was held just a month ago for former President Roh Tae-woo, a coup co-conspirator and hand-picked successor of Chun, who was pivotal in the country's transition to liberal democracy.
Demand for justice continues . . .
Believing their traumatic experience being left unaddressed, victims and families vow to continue their quest for fact and historical justice, as groups file lawsuits against the government on the violence and damage they suffered. On the last day of Chun’s funeral, his wife apologized “to those who suffered pains and scars during (her husband’s) time in office,” which only inflamed the public’s anger following Chun’s denial that she was referring to Gwangju. The fact that recent comments made by conservative presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl, deemed as defending Chun, were faced with backlash indicates that open wounds left by Chun will continue to impact Korea’s political landscape.
- The New York Times: Chun Doo-hwan, ex-military dictator in South Korea, dies at 90
- VOA News: Death of South Korea’s military dictator Chun leaves tension unresolved
- Yonhap News: 청와대 "전두환 전 대통령 명복빈다…역사문제 사과 안해 유감"