SEOUL/GWANGJU — Ihn Yohan, the American-Korean chairman of the ruling People Power Party's (PPP) innovation committee, paid respects on Monday to the victims of the 1980 pro-democracy uprising in Gwangju. The visit serves as a gesture toward national unity and marks Ihn's first public event since the full formation of the innovation committee last week.
According to Yonhap News Agency, Ihn's committee aims to revamp the image of the ruling party, which has been struggling with low approval numbers ahead of next year's general elections. During the visit to the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju, Ihn praised the Gwangju Democratization Movement as a "huge accomplishment in the advancement of democracy."
In the cemetery's guestbook, Ihn wrote, "Gwangju is perfecting democracy in the Republic of Korea." He also knelt before the graveyard of the missing and observed a moment of silence.
Gwangju and the surrounding Jeolla provinces are traditional strongholds of the main opposition Democratic Party. The 1980 uprising and its violent suppression remain a key source of regional animosity toward the PPP, which is perceived as rooted in the military dictatorship responsible for the crackdown.
Ihn emphasized the importance of remembering the movement and caring for the victims' families. "Going forward, we must teach our children the meaning of Gwangju," he said. "The central government should embrace them all so that they can talk proudly about their ancestors or mothers and fathers wherever they go."
During the visit, Ihn also shared personal memories of serving as an interpreter for foreign press at the time of the massacre. "The words of the civilian representative still rings loudly in my ears to this day," he recounted.
After his time at the cemetery, Ihn met with three victims' groups and their families, who handed him a proposal letter. The letter urged the inclusion of the spirit of the democratization movement in the Constitution. In response, Ihn pledged to do his best to meet those requests. Later in the day, he also visited the Seoul National Cemetery upon his return to Seoul.