South Korea is often cited as the only democratic nation of the two on the Korean peninsula. But the distinction wasn’t always as easy to make; following the Korean War, the South was governed by a series of military-backed dictators until the country finally adopted the current version of its constitution in 1987.
The realization of free and fair elections and civil liberties was the product of decades of organizing, which was often cracked down on brutally. One such struggle took place in the southern city of Gwangju, where in May of 1980, a student-led movement according for democratic reforms was met with military force, resulting in a massacre and an armed insurrection known as the Gwangju Uprising.
Myung-Sook Cha, at age 19, was one of the young people who joined the May 1980 GwangJu Democratization Movement in South Korea. She was eventually captured by the military police, charged of being a North Korean spy, tortured and imprisoned for two years. She was subsequently exonerated and, after years of silence, decided to tell her story at events in Korea and among Korean diaspora communities to raise awareness about what happened at Gwangju and its role in the broader struggle for democracy in South Korea. She joined Jerome to talk about her role in the Gwangju movement, with executive director of the HANA Center Inhe Choi translating.