South Korea seeks to inscribe 2 grassroots protests on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register

South Korea seeks to inscribe 2 grassroots protests on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register

A list of injured students at Korea University who took part in the April Revolution in 1960 / Courtesy of CHA

By Park Han-sol

The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) will step up its efforts again to enlist two of Korea’s grassroots protests on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, three years after it was stalled over a China-Japan dispute.

One set of documents comprises official and private archives ― governmental records, media and investigative reports, photos and videos ― that testify to the April 19 Revolution, a nationwide protest in 1960 against the Rhee Syng-man government for rigging an election.

The movement resulted in the end of Rhee’s 12-year rule.

Another historical archive up for registration features records produced by the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom, Japanese Legation and the participants of the Donghak Movement, an armed peasant uprising that took place in 1894. It was led by followers of the Donghak religion, now known as Cheondoism, in the name of social equality and anti-colonialism.

If the application process goes as scheduled, UNESCO’s final decision on their inclusion will be announced in 2023.

The CHA initially pushed for the inscription of these archives on the Memory of the World Register in 2017, but the application had to be put on hold for more than three years as UNESCO’s Executive Board sought to reform its policies in regards to registration and review procedures.

Such a decision came after the organization added Chinese documents about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre ― in which Japanese troops were said to have killed as many as 300,000 soldiers and civilians in the former Chinese capital ― to its list in 2015. This drew heavy protests from Japan, which called it a “politicized decision” and even briefly withheld its funding for UNESCO the following year.

The new policy, approved last April, stipulates that once UNESCO’s Secretariat announces the general outline of the contents of the historical documents submitted by each country, other nations can file an objection. Before the item can move further down the review procedures for the Executive Board’s final approval, a diplomatic discussion must be held between countries of interest, and mediated by a third party if necessary.

Korea has, at present, a total of 16 entries in the UNESCO list, including the Hangeul handbook “Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon” and historical records on Gwangju’s May 18 pro-democracy movement in 1980.

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