It has been a year and a day since the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. 366 days ago, the sight of Yeonpyeong Island going up in flames came as a terrible shock to the entire nation. Two soldiers and two civilians lost their lives and 16 more people were wounded in the incident.
Looking back, many commentaries appeared in newspapers at that time to offer evaluations of the incident and advice on the right direction for the government to take. In the midst of all the shock, soldiers held commemorative candles in tribute to the soldiers and citizens who lost their lives on Yeonpyeong Island. At another commemorative event held at Cheonggye Plaza, citizens discussed how they could overcome the setback together as a nation. The event was named “Yeonpyeong Island Candlelight Vigil”.
Every other day at 6pm, the entrance of Cheonggye Plaza would light up brightly without fail in commemoration of “Yeonpyeong Island Candlelight Vigil”. The light carried on every day of the month of December. As a representative of the organizing committee, I helped to prepare the stage on which citizens carrying candles and campaign materials could offer a few words. People could stop by on the way home from work and listen, even if just for a while, or join in freely if they had anything to say.
After more than 30 years of having lived here, I experienced for the first time how cold the Korean winter could be. But even with the frosty winds raging around us, we stamped our feet and blew on our hands to keep them warm. It was nothing compared to the fate of our soldiers who had died. The mere thought of our fellow countrymen in the North suffering under a totalitarian regime kept us from complaining about the cold. For us, we could return to the warmth of our houses after having endured the moment, but for our comrades living every day under the cruel dictatorial rule, it is akin to an eternal winter for them. Just thinking about it brings tears to our eyes.
For the entire month of “Yeonpyeong Island Candlelight Vigil,” not many people turned up. To be honest, we had expected more people to take part. It really was a pity. Of course, it wasn’t that insignificant an event, but it wasn’t a spectacularly large one either. Not far away in front of Pagoda Park, the Democratic Labor Party was holding a candlelight rally. They held in their hands anti-war banners. They had called in the pro-North clan, and in truth there were many more people gathered there.
It has been said that there are two things that surprise North Korean defectors when they arrive in the South. The first could be seen in the 2008 candlelight demonstrations over mad cow disease, to which defectors thought to themselves, “So this is democracy, this is how the masses can rally together to criticize the government and not be arrested even if it’s illegal”, but they doubted the meaning of democracy at the same time.
The other was the reaction of South Korean citizens to the Cheonan attack and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Unlike the massive crowds that turned out for the beef demonstration, no one from the community felt upset or sufficiently sorry for the youths who had lost their lives in the attacks to want to rally together in public. Even when all the evidence pointed to the real wrongdoers in the Cheonan case, South Koreans still insisted on suspecting their own government and criticizing them, something that defectors simply could not fathom. But there it is.
A year has passed since we first organized the “Yeonpyeong Island Candlelight Vigil”. Even though not many people came, it was the first time we had given out a bit of warmth to the community. Thanks to all those who stopped in their tracks to share their feelings with us, it felt like the well wishes of tens of thousands of people. I think this speaks for the hope and future of our country.
Once again, I pay my deepest tribute to our soldiers and victims who lost their lives on Yeonpyeong Island. To Sergeant Seo Jeong Woo, Private First Class Moon Gwang Wook, Mr Kim Chi Baek and Mr Bae Bok Chul, you will always live in our hearts. We will always think of our brave fighters on Yeonpyeong Island as well as our fellow countrymen in the North. May the candles light our way to protecting freedom and prosperity on this land. Only then will the next winter bring us more warmth.