While the Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe puts pressure on the South Korean government under President Park Geun-hye to remove or relocate the comfort women statue from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in connection with the agreement the two countries reached about the comfort women on Dec. 28, 2015, even more comfort women statues are appearing both inside and outside of South Korea.
This month alone – which includes the International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women on Aug. 14 and Liberation Day on Aug. 15 – new comfort women statues will be unveiled in 10 more locations. There are 20 other locations that are taking steps toward installing a comfort women statue, though the unveiling has yet to be scheduled.
“Starting with Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 6, unveiling ceremonies for the Monument to Peace will be held in 10 locations both in Korea and in other countries just this month,” said Ryu Ji-hyeong, an activist, on Aug. 2. Ryu is in charge of matters related to the comfort women statue – officially known as the “Monument to Peace” – for the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Jeongdaehyeop).
“All 10 of these locations are working with Kim Un-seong and Kim Seo-gyeong, the husband-and-wife team of sculptors who cast the Monument to Peace that is in front of the Japanese Embassy to South Korea. If other areas that are working with other artists are included, you might have an even bigger number,” Ryu added.
The first unveiling ceremony this month is being organized by the Statue Establishing Committee in Sydney, which is supported by the Korean community there. The unveiling ceremony will take place at the Sydney Korean Community Center on Aug. 6, with former comfort woman Gil Won-ok, Jeongdaehyeop co-representative Yoon Mee-hyang and Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung in attendance.
The statue will be kept at the Korean community center for one year before being permanently installed at the Ashfield Uniting Church (led by Pastor Bill Crews), which is located in Sydney.
This is the twelfth memorial to the comfort women overseas (including both the comfort women statues and commemorative stones), joining one in Japan, nine in the US and one in Canada.
“These Korean anti-Japan activities are being utilized as a part of the Chinese Communist Party’s information operation attempting to cut the ties of the alliance between Japan, the US and Australia” and involve political operatives “connected with North Korea,” a Japanese group was quoted as claiming in an Aug. 1 report by Australia broadcaster ABC.
In South Korea a series of comfort women statue unveiling ceremonies are scheduled for this month. The first will be held at Dangjeong Park in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province, on Aug. 9, followed by ceremonies at the South Jeolla Province Office, Gimpo and Osan on Aug. 14; at Nonsan, Guro Station, Sangroksu Station and Heukseok Station on Aug. 15; and at Siheung on Aug. 20.
While local governments and local legislatures – including South Jeolla Province, the South Jeolla Province legislature and the city of Gunpo – have been involved in some of the comfort women statue construction projects, the majority of them have been funded by donations from the local community.
The first comfort women statue is the “Young Woman Statue for Peace” that was installed on Peace Street in front of the Japanese Embassy to South Korea. This statue was set up to commemorate the 1,000th weekly Wednesday comfort women demonstration on Dec. 14, 2011, with the goal of remembering the former comfort women and establishing a proper understanding of history.
To date, comfort women statues and memorial stones have been set up in a total of 51 places around the world, 40 of which are in South Korea and 11 of which are in other countries.
The first monument for the comfort women to be built inside South Korea was the “Pagoda of Peace,” which was erected in Chwigan Woods (located in Pyeongsari Park, Hadong County, South Gyeongsang Province) on May 26, 2007, by the Committee to Commemorate Former Comfort Woman Jeong Seo-un. The first monument outside of South Korea was a memorial stone set up in Miyako-jima, an island that is part of Japan‘s prefecture of Okinawa, on Sep. 7, 2008, by Korean and Japanese civic groups.
Comfort women statues were only built intermittently at first, with one in 2007, one in 2008, and one in 2010. But since the comfort women statue went up in front of the Japanese Embassy in 2011, the statues have been increasing exponentially. There were three in 2012, five in 2013, 11 in 2014 and 23 in 2015.
So far this year, additional comfort women statues have been erected at five locations, including Busan’s Choeup neighborhood. Including the 10 sites where statues will be unveiled this month and the 20 or so places that are still finalizing their plans, the number of statues this year is expected to be nearly double last year’s figure.
“There were a lot of Monument to Peace construction projects last year since it was the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan,” Ryu said. “This year, we were expecting the construction trend to slow, but we’re actually seeing an increase since the Dec. 28 agreement between the South Korean and Japanese governments.”
“The Monument to Peace is not simply a reminder of Japan’s war crimes. It also expresses a firm commitment to the idea that there must not be any wars or war crimes in the future, either. Since the Dec. 28 agreement, it appears that more people think that it‘s important to make an effort not to forget these issues,” she said.
Jeongdaehyeop announced that it has declared Aug. 1 to Aug. 16 to be the “4th Week of the International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women.” The group is planning to hold solidarity events to call for the Dec. 28 agreement to be scrapped and that a just solution to the comfort women issue be found. These events, which include the World Solidarity Assembly on Aug. 10 and the Butterfly Culture Festival on Aug. 14, will take place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
International Memorial Day for the Comfort Women was selected and announced during the 11th Asia Solidarity Assembly for Resolving the Comfort Women Issue which took place in Taiwan in Nov. 2012.
The day was chosen with the hope of moving toward an appropriate solution to the comfort women issue in accordance with the wishes of Kim Hak-sun (Oct. 20, 1924-Dec. 16, 1997). On Aug. 14, 1991, Kim became the first former comfort women to testify in South Korea about the suffering that she and others like her had endured.
By Han-Kye-Re Daily News, Lee Je-hun staff reporter