“Many young students lost their lives. The media reported irrelevant news repeatedly. Angry citizens started to march, denouncing persons those who were responsible for the incident. The government blocked the city and there was a rumor that several spies were included among the citizens. This was the story in 1980 of Gwangju City.” That passage was a message on Twitter, the social network services (SNS) program, which has been virally re-tweeted by millions of Koreans in reference to the sinking of the Sewol ferry in April of this year.
The national mood resulting from the historic event of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, as referenced above, is similar to the present state of Korean society which is struggling to cope with the Sewol ferry tragedy. On April 16, the Sewol ferry sank in the waters off the country’s southwestern coast, and has claimed hundreds of lives mostly schoolchildren. Even though it has been a devastating tragedy, the government is being criticized for failing to initiate the proper action and instead, passing the buck on responsibility. The angry public has been blaming the government and there have been calls for President Park Geun-hye to resign. The police has managed to subdue the angry crowds while some university students are demanding at GwangHwaMun Plaza that the special prosecution reveal the truth behind the Sewol disaster. To many, the government has not yet offered a satisfactory response, nor provided a clear strategy in the form of countermeasures for such calamities.
In this sense, the general sentiment of Korean society today appears to be similar to that of 1980 where democracy was suppressed by way of an absence of effective communication between the government and the public. Some Internet community users are claiming that Korean society has not improved since Gwangju and has only gotten worse. They point out that the government appears to be making only half-hearted efforts to appease the public and has been insincere in truly listening to the public’s voices. Ironically, President Park Geun-hye’s administration had been making efforts to break free from its uncommunicative image since the beginning of the year, and recent events have only made that task increasingly more challenging. In particular, whether or not President Park is truly striving for communication with the public has been put in doubt, after questions arose over the authenticity of a photograph that showed Park, with a white chrysanthemum in hand, consoling an elderly woman, who apparently had no direct connection to the victims, at the memorial site on April 29.
Winston Churchill once said, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.” The events of 1980 must be remembered along with the recent Sewol tragedy in order to fully address the miscommunication between the government and Korean citizens, and the lingering suspicions of the latter. Bearing in mind its painful past involving the sacrifices of many due to miscommunication, the Korean government must sincerely endeavor to better communicate with the people.