What Happened in Gwangju, Korea 43 Years Ago Today (May 18, 1980)?

5·18 Democratic Movement in Gwangju

43 years ago today, May 18, 1980, Gwangju* citizens, including university students, started a democratization movement and stood against Chun Doo-hwan’s dictatorship. They wanted to elect their own president through a fair vote.

 So… who is Chun Doo-hwan? 

*Gwangju is a metropolitan city in Jeollanam-do

전두환 Chun Doo-hwan

He was a former president of Korea from 1980 to 1988. Before becoming the president, he ruled Korea as a strongman and military dictator from 1979 to 1980. From 1979 to 1988, Korea was Chun Doo-hwan’s world. 

A Brief Timeline of His Dictatorship

  • When Park Jung-hee was assassinated in 1979 and Choi Kyu-hah succeeded him, Major General Chun Doo-hwan carried out a military revolt on December 12th to overthrow Choi Kyu-hah’s government.
  • Chun Doo-hwan established a military dictatorship by carrying out a coup d’état in May 17, 1980. 
  • On September 1, 1980, he was “elected” as the 11th president of Korea by winning 99.37% of the vote.

Oppressive Soldiers

The soldiers dealt with the situation in a surprisingly oppressive way. Chun Doo-hwan immediately sent down military troops and they started to violently suppress Gwangju citizens. The army blocked all routes, media, communications from the city. People from other cities didn’t even know what was going on there. Over the 10 days, more than 100 people were killed and more than 800 people were injured.

Still Demanding the Truth

Chun Doo-hwan didn’t acknowledge that he ordered the army to fire the innocent citizens of Gwangju. He claimed that he was not responsible for the incident. Until today, the efforts to find out the truth and punish those responsible continue. For the first time in Korean history, his grandson visited Gwangju and stood in front of the victims and said that his “entire family is an ugly sinner.”

4 Korean Movies Depicting the 5·18 Democratic Movement

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