The Korea Times 칼럼

Much Ado about a Song (2010년 5월 22일)

divicom 2010. 5. 23. 09:45

When my fellow students and I were staging demonstrations on and outside the campus protesting the dictatorial rule of then President Park Chung-hee in the early 1970s, we sang many songs. The most important song was ``We Shall Overcome." Nearly 40 years have passed, yet the tune still warms my heart and even brings tears to my eyes. If we were to hold an event commemorating the days, we would definitely sing that song.

When Gwangju became the sacred symbol of democratization in May 1980 owing to the blood spilt and lives sacrificed of hundreds of citizens who rose up against another military general-turned-persecutor, Chun Doo-hwan, the city's righteous uprising was immortalized a few months later by the song, ``Imeul wihan haengjin-gok." The title can be translated to ``The March for Life."

The song was the undisputed anthem for pro-democracy efforts in the 1980s. It was sung wherever and whenever the theme was democracy. After Chun was jailed and the ``Gwangju Incident" was duly redefined as the ``Gwangju Uprising" in 1995, the song was played at all related ceremonies. In 2004, President Roh Moo-hyun deeply moved the nation by singing the song with the bereaved families of the victims of the uprising. Here is my English translation of the song.

"Don't spare love, honor or names
March for life with burning hearts
Gone are the comrades; flags flutter only
Let's not sway until the new day comes
Time will flow yet mountains and streams will know
The awakened souls roar to life:
Follow us, you living, as we march forward
Follow us, you living, as we march forward"

The verses were originally written by Baek Gi-wan, a social reform activist and Korean reunification crusader, as the final lines of a long poem in December 1980. They were revised by novelist Hwang Seok-young for the song. The music was composed by Kim Jong-ryul, then a student of Jeonnam National University in Gwangju. The song made its public debut in a shamanistic ritual marrying two souls _ a man, who died while active as the spokesman for the citizens' army during the uprising, and a woman laborer who died several months earlier.

It is apparent that President Lee Myung-bak and his government don't like the song or care about the uprising anniversary. Lee, who didn't attend the commemorative event last year, failed again to show up at ceremonies on Tuesday on the excuse of a summit with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which few view had to be held on that very day. Lee sent Prime Minister Chung Un-chan to Gwangju instead.

The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs omitted the song from the official program last year and reportedly decided to play a folk song from Gyeonggi Province, not even Jeolla's, at the end of the event. The ministry's decision was reported by the Internet news organ Ohmynews on the eve of the event and angered many people.

As a result, the anniversary event held in Gwangju was marred by division and scuffles. While the ``official" ceremonies were observed at the May 18 National Cemetery, some 100 bereaved family members of the victims sang out ``The March…" as they pushed through the barricade of 4,000-strong police force. The ill-chosen folk song wasn't played.

The ministry has repeatedly tried to replace ``The March…" with ``Song of May" with the notion that it didn't fit the present times. However, such attempts only met fierce opposition. Critics say the government doesn't like the song because of such lines as ``Let's not sway until the new day comes" and ``Follow us, you living, as we march forward" for fear that it may agitate people to stand up against it and encourage protest.

I love both ``We Shall Overcome" and ``The March for Life" and often hum or sing them. A song is a simple piece of music in peaceful times, but circumstances can turn it into a trigger or a bomb. Both songs were hymns for democracy. As long as the nation is democratic, they will remain as nostalgic, heart-warming numbers. Otherwise, they could have their previous purpose revived. For anyone who has closely watched the government's actions over the past 27 months, it won't be difficult to figure out why it is so sensitive about ``The March."


1970년대 초 박정희 대통령이 3선을 위한 개헌을 하고 독재를 펼칠 때 대학생들은 학교 안팎에서 데모를 하며 격렬히 반대했습니다. 그때 저희 학교 학생들이 제일 많이 부른 노래는 "We Shall Overcome"입니다. 그 시절을 기념하는 행사를 연다면, 당연히 그 노래를 부를 겁니다.


1980년 12월 백기완 선생의 시에 김종률씨의 곡을 붙여 만든 "임을 위한 행진곡"은 1980년대 민주화투쟁의 주제가가 되었습니다. 그런 노래를 부르지 못하게 하니 올 5.18 기념식은 엉망이 되었습니다. 세상이 살 만 할 때 노래는 그냥 노래이지만 세상이 수상할 때 노래는 기폭제가 되고 폭탄이 됩니다. 이명박 정부 들어서고 27개월, 그 시간을 돌이켜보면 왜 이 정부가 그 노래를 그리도 두려워하는지 쉽게 알 수 있습니다. 


오늘은 노무현 대통령이 저 세상으로 날아간 지 꼭 일년이 되는 날입니다. 1996년이던가, 그가 종로구에서 출마했을 때 마침 종로에 살고 있던 저는 동네 어귀에서 지원을 호소하고 있던 그를 만났습니다. 그가 내민 손을 잡으며, "근데... 되겠어요?"하고 묻자, 그는 트레이드마크인 사람 좋은 웃음을 웃으며 "그러니까 도와주셔야지요" 하고 말했습니다. 저는 그의 웃음과 손을 아직 기억합니다. 따스함과 진솔함을 육화한 것, 그것이 그의 웃음이고 손이었으니까요. 사람을 많이 만나는 직업을 가졌던 덕에 무수한 손과 악수를 해본 저이지만 노무현, 그의 손과 같은 손은 없었습니다. 거짓과 위선이 난무하는 이곳에서 그 손의 생애는 얼마나 고단했을까, 가끔 생각합니다. 그를 그리며, 그가 광주항쟁 유가족들과 함께 부르던 '임을 위한 행진곡'을 불러 봅니다.  


"사랑도 명예도 이름도 남김없이

한평생 나가자던 뜨거운 맹세

동지는 간데없고 깃발만 나부껴

새 날이 올 때까지 흔들리지 말자

세월은 흘러가도 산천은 안다

깨어나서 외치는 뜨거운 함성

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