Although this was an important first step, the process toward democracy was not smooth, and events leading up to this incident are .equally important to understand. After President Park Chung-hee was assassinated on
In a harsh response, the military government expanded martial law to the whole nation and elevated the level of suppression of democratic forces by arresting student leaders and shutting down schools by force.
The violence climaxed on May 21. After the army fired at a crowd of protesters gathered at front of the Jeonnam Provincial Office, which led to many casualties, citizens began to arm themselves with rifles and carbines taken from armories and police stations in nearby towns for their own defense. During this period, the army blocked all transportation routes and means of communication going in and out of the city.
On May 22, citizens formed the Citizens Settlement Committee to calm the incident. The committee negotiated with the army, demanding the release of imprisoned citizens and compensation for victims. But the ruthless massacre by the army continued. Innocent victims ranging from little children to adult citizens were indiscriminately injured and killed.
This democratization movement was denounced as a rebellious uprising during the time of Chun Doo-hwan’s administration, but in 1988 the National Assembly held a public hearing on the Gwangju massacre and officially renamed the incident as May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement.
In 1995, the National Assembly passed the Special Law on May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, which enabled the prosecution of those responsible for the coup d’etat of December 12 and the ensuing massacre in Gwangju. In 1997, May 18 was declared an official memorial day.
The May 18 Memorial Foundation states that the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement is a product of
Although the May 18 Democratization Movement was defeated by the bloody suppression of the government, it openly revealed the immorality of the Chun administration and it further opened people’s eyes on the military government that had taken power by illegal military force. Eventually this event was recognized as an active exercise of the national people’s right to resist tyranny and unjust authority.
The May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement is now embraced as everyone’s legacy, and symbolizes the noble value of Korean history for the sake of the realization of solidarity among communities.