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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 24)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:54 November 24, 2021

Leaving indelible stain
Chun dies without apologizing for massacre

Disgraced former President Chun Doo-hwan passed away Tuesday at 90 after battling chronic ailments. His death left an indelible stain on the modern history of Korea because of his misdeeds before and during his iron-fisted rule.

No one can think of Chun without mentioning the 1979 military coup and the bloody suppression of the May 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju. He staged the coup together with his colleague Roh Tae-woo, who was later elected president, to seize power following the assassination of authoritarian President Park Chung-hee.

The brutal suppression of the uprising is more traumatic than any other incident. He was held responsible for the crackdown which led to the killing of more than 200 protesters with 1,800 others injured. Chun deserves criticism for stifling the people's aspirations for democracy. He also trampled on the so-called Seoul Spring and turned the clock back to the dark age of military dictatorship.

But he finally gave in to the June 1987 pro-democracy movement. He accepted the June 29 Declaration issued by his right-hand man Roh who promised a constitutional amendment to introduce direct presidential elections. Then under the new Constitution, Roh became elected president and led the transition to democracy.

However, both Chun and Roh were convicted of treason and corruption in 1996 and a district court handed down the death sentence to Chun. However, an appeals court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment plus 220 billion won ($185 million) in fines; while Roh was sentenced to 17 years in prison and a 260 billion won fine. The two former presidents were freed in 1997 after receiving a presidential pardon.

What is still regrettable is that Chun never reflected on nor apologized for his actions in Gwangju. He did not leave any message of apology before his death, unlike Roh who sought forgiveness for what he had done in his will. Roh's last note was seen as an apology although he failed to mention the military coup or the Gwangju bloodbath. That's why the Moon Jae-in administration held a state funeral for him when he died last month. The government also recognized Roh's achievements, including his efforts to establish diplomatic ties with socialist bloc countries such as the Soviet Union and China in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Roh was also lauded for improving inter-Korean relations.

Of course Chun was not without any feats of his own. He laid the foundation for the country's economic leap by taking advantage of the so-called three lows in the mid-1980s ― the low value of the U.S. dollar, the low crude oil price and the low interest rate. He was also credited for helping Seoul win its bid to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. But such things were eclipsed by his misdeeds and wrongdoings. He had no respect for human rights or democratic values. He deserves no state funeral.

Chun had repeatedly invited the rage of his victims in Gwangju and their surviving families by describing the pro-democracy movement as a "riot" and the protesters as a "mob" or "insurgents." He categorically denied allegations about his involvement in the military violence. It is a pity for him to lose the chance to make an apology and seek forgiveness. May he rest in peace.

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