Monday, September 3, 2012

A ‘Wednesday protester’ grandmother Park Ok-sun “Now, you feel like dying, right? But, we won’t!” Choi Jee-hyun

DECEMBER 17, 2011
Grandmother Park Ok-sun, “Now, you feel like dying, right? But we won’t!”
Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared on the On Dec.12, 2011, covering an interview with one of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’. She relays her life in a calm and unimposing way, which makes the whole experience the more intense. Although the 1,000th weekly Wednesday protest got substantial media attention, the end is not on the horizon yet. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original article or with the and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

A ‘Wednesday protester’ grandmother Park Ok-sun “Now, you feel like dying, right? But, we won’t!”

Choi Jee-hyun 최지현 (

입력 2011-12-14 18:43:53 l 수정 2011-12-14 19:14:03

Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmother Park Ok-sun (88) at ‘House of sharing’ on Dec.14 ⓒ Voice of People 민중의소리

Dec.4 when 1,000th weekly Wednesday protest takes place is rather cold from the morning. News programs are talking about plunging temperatures as well. Anyway, grandmothers are preparing to leave the residence as always to attend the weekly Wednesday protest they have been doing for the last 20 years.

In the ‘House of sharing’ in Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, eight Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmothers live right now. Some grandmothers already left there, like Park Ok-ryeon who died last spring. On the door of each room in the first floor are the name and the picture of the grandmother who stays in it. I knock on the door of Park Ok-sun (88) whose wrinkles wave on smile.

It’s already 10 years since she came to this ‘House of sharing’; she has attended the weekly Wednesday protest in front of Japanese embassy all the time. “‘Compensate for our lives’, this is all we want. Every time we go there, we demand ‘compensate for our lives’ and ‘apologize your wrongdoings’ but they say ‘don’t demand it to us, we don’t know’. Presidents are noble people so we ask them to demand compensation to Japan for us but they say they don’t know anything about things happening here.”

Grandmother Park Ok-sun knows the fact that today is 1,000th weekly Wednesday protest very well. From the morning, news programs keep mentioning that and grandmother, pointing the program, says that peace monument will be finally elected. But besides that, nothing changed during the last 10 years of Wednesday protest that she attended. “That’s why I feel so heavy. We should get compensation at any rate. I won’t die. They may just step back and think ‘all of you are going to die’. That makes me sad.”

All of a sudden, telephone rings in grandmother’s room. Saying hello to the phone, grandmother Park Ok-sun hangs it up quickly. She says it’s her daughter. Though she lives in the ‘House of sharing’, she has family.

Naturally, our conversation treads back to the past. Her memory fades as she grows old but her memory of her feeling at that time seems vivid. Grandmother Park Ok-sun shudders and closes her mouth “you will know without my answer” to a question what kind of experience she had to go through when she was dragged away as a ‘comfort woman’.

Grandmother Park Ok-sun’s hometown is Milyang. She was born in 1924 and had seven siblings. When she was 14, her father died and her mother started to make money herself. And she was snatched to China as a ‘comfort woman’ at the age 15. After that, no member of her family knew anything of the whereabouts of grandmother Park Ok-sun.

“A friend one year older than I came to my home one day and asked me to go and draw some water for dinner cooking together. When we almost crossed the bridge on the stream to get clean water, someone called us ‘wait for a moment’ in Japanese from the other side of the bridge. A Japanese police in knee-high leather boots with long sword called us and dragged us who were imploring to him to spare us with another soldier.”

According to grandmother Park Ok-sun, there were already other girls of her age in the truck she was thrown to. After days of trip to nowhere, she was in China. And as soon as they arrived, soldiers pushed those young small girls into small rooms. Grandmother Park Ok-sun said “and we suffered like that. I don’t need to mention what it was.”

On 14th, grandmother Park Ok-sun in 1,000th ‘Wednesday protest’ wipes her tears away. ⓒ Yang Ji-woong 양지웅

And before the liberation, the war broke out when grandmother Park Ok-sun was 20. In the camp, soldiers were out of their minds running away and planes were flying in the sky. Around there was nothing to eat. Then she found a house over a few mountains. That was a place where they prepared meals for soldiers; other people in that place were also coercively dragged from somewhere else she explains.

“We said to each other that ‘since Japanese are all gone, let’s live here for a while and get back to Korea when it is liberated. I lived there in that house for several years and married to a man whom the old man who lived there introduced to me. I had a son and a daughter. When I was 50, my husband died first.”

Grandmother Park Ok-sun came back from China in last Sep. 2001. It is known that, at that time, she was reported as dead in the residence registry, which caused troubles to those who helped her return. As soon as she returned here, she looked for her family but her mother and older brothers were all dead already. To grandmother Park Ok-sun, the images of her family before she had been dragged to China were the last.

Grandmother Park Ok-sun came to the ‘House of sharing’ in Feb. 2002 after staying in her niece’s home in Seoul. Grandmother Park Ok-sun said “I came in here saying that I would stay here for the rest of my life.” She attends the Wednesday protest since she came in the ‘House of sharing’. It becomes 10 years now.

But to her, the memory of ‘comfort women’ experience is still a shock something she cannot forget. She says she thinks of those days time to time. She also says “When I was in China, I didn’t want to go out thinking like everyone was watching me. My son doesn’t want my pictures taken. They may feel ashamed of me.”

Notwithstanding, grandmother Park Ok-sun stands in front of people this day in high spirits. Even in the future, she says she will go out to the Wednesday protest unless she is not sick. She says “Any hard feelings? Nothing, other than they do not compensate for my life. That will resolve all my bad feelings. All people here had to suffer a lot in very strange places. They think the numbers will go down when we die, but we won’t die” and she heads to the Japanese embassy again.

Useful link

Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the following link: ‘수요시위’ 박옥선 할머니 “이제 너네 죽겠지? 우린 안 죽는다”
Written by koreanstory Leave a Comment Posted in Human rights, Japanese imperial rule, Japanese military 'comfort women', Korean modern history, Sexual violence, Sexual violence by Japanese military, Wednesday protest, Wednesday protest Tagged with human rights, japanese imperial rule, japanese military comfort women, korean modern history, sexual violence by japanese military, wednesday protest
DECEMBER 7, 2011
80 survivors … and dwindling still … Wednesday protesters’ story
Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in in October 16, 2011. In the form of a book review, it covers the story of weekly Wednesday protest by Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers that started about 20 years ago in 1992 and marks 1,000th time next week! Unfortunately, the end is not still in our visible sight yet although we don’t have much time. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original article or with and this post will be scrapped with their request immediately. Original article of this (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

80 survivors … and dwindling still …

The most beautiful testimony … book review by Yoon Mi-hyang

11.10.16 13:38 ㅣ최종 업데이트 11.10.16 13:38
장호철 (q9447)

The longest continuing protest in the world, ‘Wednesday protest’. That is 20-year long courage Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers have kept. ⓒ Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan 한국정신대문제대책협의회

History is a valuable teacher; it time to time makes people ponder about themselves. But, it is not so easy to understand history as a practical body rather than to understand it as an abstract idea. Instead, we can experience history through the lives of those who passed through it. People who had to bear the burden of history by their own bodies. Their experiences then transcend beyond simple ‘daily lives’; they become ‘history’ itself.

From a book ’20 years of Wednesdays’ (Woongjin Junior, 2010) by the managing director of Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (‘The Council’) Yoon Mi-hyang, we can meet our grandmothers who had to painfully live through such ‘historic lives’. The modern Korean history that should have been borne by so called ‘comfort women grandmas’. From this book, we can painfully witness how history can hurt lives of nameless ordinary men and women.

’20 years of Wednesdays’ is published last year. I came to know the existence of this book when I watched the TV program ‘Though 20 years passed by …’ from MBC on last September 18 and visited the homepage of ‘The Council’. Though it was known as a book for younger generation, I didn’t hesitate to order it myself. I did not forget to ask the librarian teacher of our school to order several copies of it either.

’20 years of Wednesdays’ by Yoon Mi-hyang (Woongjin Junior, 2010) ⓒ Jang Ho-cheol 장호철

비가 와도 눈이 와도
병상에 누워 있어도,
일본대사관 앞
수요일 12시

그것은 희망이었습니다.

Rain or snow
even on a hospital bed
in front of Japanese embassy
Wednesday noon.

That was hope.

20 years of courage and hope grandmothers have kept

The excerpt above is in the other side of inner cover. This book describes ‘the Wednesday protest’, the longest continuing protest in the world, that ‘The Council’ and ‘comfort women grandmas’ have continued for 20 years since 1992. What is inscribed in this book are the beautiful and marvelous ‘courage’ and ‘hope’ that Japanese military comfort women grandmothers have kept.

In the following page are total 8 portaits of grandmothers including Choi Gab-soon. Black and white pictures of grandmothers. Simple glance at their feelingless faces makes my heart aching. Deep, thick wrinkles, tight shut lips, white discolored thin hairs … They are traces of harsh history that ravaged 20th century of this land; something yet to be removed.

Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmothers. Clock-wise direction from top left ; Gong Jeom-ok, Kim Ok-joo, Park Ok-ryeon, Park Ok-seon, Choi Gab-soon, Lee Ki-seon, Song Nam-ee, Park Jam-soon grandmothers. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Japanese military ‘comfort women’ that move along with military. They had to live as sex slaves moving along with soldiers. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

The protest that started for the first time on January 8, 1992, and rushes to unprecedented 1,000th one, something unheard of in human history, is an act of raising the still unsettled issue of war crime committed by Japanese imperialistic government by ‘victims’ themselves. But, the very fact that this protest which demands truth investigation and Japanese government’s apology for a crime against humanity, the problem of ‘wartime comfort women’, continues over 20 years indicates that this issue is yet to be unresolved.

The main engine that drove this protest in front of Japanese embasy every Wednesday for the last 20 years is the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers. That’s why they call the open testimony by grandmother Kim Hak-soon which disclosed this horrific truth that has rested dormant in the dark side of history over half a century since the end of World War 2 as ‘the most beautiful confession in the world’.

The fact that there are many names to call the victims of this horrific history indicates the intricate nature of this problem. ‘Jeongsindae(挺身隊)’ means ‘sacrificing body for the country’, which is improper since it simply symbolizes the ‘Japanese imperial policy to mobilize human resources’.

We also cannot use the word ‘confort women’ ruthlessly since it means ‘sex slavery’ by Japanese military during the wartime. At long last, the name settled through ‘Forced Wartime Military Comfort Women’, ‘Military Sexual Slavery by Japan’ to ‘Japanese Military Comfort Women’. Although ‘comfort women’ is still an improper name, people decided to use it since it had been used by Japanese imperial government itself but by enclosing it with single quotation marks (”) and putting the word ‘Japanese military’, the crime body, in front, as Japanese military ‘comfort women’.

‘Rabaul comfort house’ drown by a Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmother Kang Deok-gyeong ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

The horrible and painful sacrifices Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers had to suffer are rather well-known. Although people, listening to their tragedy belatedly, simply note them using the word ’painful sacrifice’, how can they express times they had to bear and wounds they were inflicted from them by words and writings in full.

Courage to make an open testimony changed the world

Grandmother Kim Hak-soon who stood to make an open testimony for the first time among Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victims. She died in 1997. ⓒ MBC-TV video capture

Although they came back to their home country, they could neither return to their home town nor marry like other women due to concerns of their past. Some were mistreated by husbands who learned about their lives as Japanese military ‘comfort women’ later; some were not able to have babies because they became infertile from that experience. They were victims but criticized because of the nature of their sacrifice. They had to remain silent.

Grandmothers’ Wednesday protest that broke the long spell of silence and accused the cruel warcrime of Japan goes on for 20 years. During that time, 234 grandmothers registered themselves as victims but many of them died without any apology from Japanese government. Now we have only about 80 survivors. But grandmothers’ 20-year-long imposing outcry made substantial changes in our society.

‘Stolen purity’ by grandmother Kang Deok-gyoung ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Forced by international public opinion, Japanese government had to investigate its own accord of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ system and admit partial responsibility. While denying their legal responsibility by claiming ‘there was no focibleness’, they had to partially admit as well. But, Japanese government is paying not ‘indemnities’ but ‘national funds’ which is just a ‘consolation payout’, a sign of formal deception.

The outstanding activity of grandmothers who stayed dormant for a long time but awakend on human rights belatedly caused huge sensation in international world. Though not legally binding, US House of Representatives and European Parliament adopted ‘resolutions to demand apology and legal compensation from Japanese government’.

Untiring, resilient struggle of ‘The Coucil’ and Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers is not limited to change reality but to change themselves who have lived in long period of pain and silence. In the course of accusing and offering testimonies of the dirty warcrime by Japanese government, they realized that war is the source of human rights violation and, very naturally, they built up a solid conviction on history and peace.

Objection to the construction of ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’, a premodern sense of history

Grandmothers firmly believe that we should stop wars to prevent victims like them anymore. At the same time, they realize they need a museum that records the history of women’s wartime ordeals to build a ‘country of peace’ where women will not suffer them anymore. And in 2004, ‘The Council’ started a project to build ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ (The Museum) where honor and human rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ will be restored and future generations will realize the importance of peaceful world.

The Museum construction project went on smoothly until it raised 1.7B KRW for eight years and secured a site of about 330 square meters within Seodaemun independence park from Seoul city. However, the whole Museum construction project went to square one when the Restoration Society objected it on the reason that ‘the Museum construction within independence park is an act of defamation to patriotic martyrs’.

A house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain) ‘The Council’ bought for ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ ⓒ MBC-TV capture

As the unfolding of events was aired over the program ‘Though 20 years have passed …’ by MBC, netizens’ denunciations continued. The Council changed the course to buy a house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain) with raised fund, rather then build The Museum inside the Independence Park.

The wreckage of The Museum construction project revealed the limitation of our society where remaining premodern values are still insurmountable obstacles. The sense of history of our history where the sacrifice and pain women had to bear as the social weak are simply understood as dents that will taint their outshining saga is nothing but premodern. In this sense, the history mainstream men has claimed to have built up is not only cowardly but also shameful.

Covering the history as ‘perpetrators’ as well as as ‘victims’

Author Yoon Mi-hyang unfolds Korea modern history to young people in a calm and orderly way as if she is having an easy, confortable conversation with them. Though it is written for young people, it is accessible to elderlies too. Numerous related images and raw materials, pictures grandmothers drew themselves, letters by students who participated in Wednesday protests in the book are all very helpful.

The virtue of this book, in particular, is that it depicts us not only as simple victims but also as someone who became perpetrators themselves in the course of history. The author looks deep into the truth of wartime sexual crimes, ‘the nature of incessantly repeated evil relationship between the war and women’. And she awakes us that Japanese military ‘comfort women’ is not a past history but a present history that still exists.

So called 2nd Japanese ‘comfort women’ reappeared in our modern history too. The prostitution that was publicly exercised around US bases in post-liberation period or the ‘geisha tour’ which was implicitly allowed by the government in the industrialization period were such things. And, above all, the civilian massacres and rapes by Korean soldiers who participated in the Vietnam war were truly historic tragedy that turned us from victims to perpetrators of the same crime.

In the final chapter, the author speaks of ‘the future we have to build ourselves’. Male-oriented patriarchal psyche brings about sexual violence during wartime and suppresses women. Also, she says that extreme colonialism forces personal sacrifices and ‘colonializes’ women. She says that what horrific sacrifices by Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers have taught us on top of the historical facts is that ‘human rights’ are the value we have to cherish and preserve.

Last August, the constitutional court ruled it is against constitution that our government does not show any effort to resolve bi-lateral issues related to the rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ and nuclear bombing victims to demand compensation to Japanese government. However, the Japanese government declined our government’s proposal to discuss the rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ to demand compensation.

Young days of grandmothers Kim Bok-soen and Hwang Geum-joo. History pushed these beautiful young women to Japanese military sex slaves. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Contrary to Japanese government, however, some Japanese civil societies voice ‘healthy remorse’. They choose human rights rather than their own country’s interest or honor overcoming their shameful history. To damages we inflicted on Vietnam in recent past, we are in the middle of seeking solutions starting from establishing new schools or peace activities with civil societies as the epicenter.

The story that grandmother Lee Yong-soo who had appeared in a documentary program that had aired the lives of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ visited Vietnam, met women victims there, and outreached her hands to hold on to their hands touches very exquisite sense of humanity. At first, she is known to have a little reservation to the idea that she met Vietnamese women victims. However, in the end, she was able to identify those Vietnamese women as victims like her who had to live through the hideous lives beyond the boundary of nationality.

The author recommends ‘think right and know right’ attitude and finishes the book. But to know is not enough. That’s why we say ‘history starts to change once we participate and get interested in it’. Younger generations who understand our modern history as an abstract knowledge will see the vivid reality beyond the abstract and ideal veil of history by listening to her tender stories.

Addendum | (윤미향 씀 | 웅진주니어 | 2010.11. | 1만2000원)

In one wing of the book cover says “All royalties of this book will be donated to ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ construction fund.” Although The Council bought a house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain), as said above, they need another 600M KRW to turn it into a museum.

The homepage of Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan ( allows you to participate in the construction of The Museum as a member of 10 thousand council by donating 100 thousand KRW. If that is too much, you can buy this book (12,000 KRW) and talk about this with your children. It’s a start good enough.

What I bought was 3rd print, which means it was not sold mere 10 thousand copies at that time. Shamefully, Japanese Library Association selected this book as a book of choice before us. Let’t not blame our children’s ‘absence of history’. It would be a good education to show them ways to meet our history for themselves.

Useful link

Original article of this post will be found here: 생존자 80명…이제 얼마 남지 않았습니다
Written by koreanstory 1 Comment Posted in Human rights, Japanese imperial rule, Japanese military 'comfort women', Peace Movement, Sexual violence, Sexual violence by Japanese military, wartime crimes, Wednesday protest, Wednesday protest Tagged with human rights, japanese imperial rule, japanese military comfort women, Peace movement, sexual violence, sexual violence by japanese military, wartime crimes
DECEMBER 6, 2011
“Let’s buy ‘comfort women’ grandmothers a new van” … fund raising spreads
Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of a news report on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) on November 26, 2011. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original news script or with SBS. Accordingly this post will be scrapped immediately with their request. Original news of this post (in Korean. It also contains a video footage.) can be found in the link at the bottom.

“Let’s buy ‘comfort women’ grandmothers a new van” … fund raising spreads

Anchor comment:

There is a van that works like legs of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers. It has always brought them everywhere and worn down a lot in that arduous course. Now, thinking it’s time for a new one, many precious hearts bind together to make it come true.

Kim Do-gyoon ( reports.

Reporter message:

To Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers, one van they have is like their legs. Assemblies, hospitals, or the shelter; wherever they go, it accompanies them.

[Gil Won-ok, Japanese military 'comfort women' victim: This car is like Jack of all trades. It carries us in the night in emergency and it carries us in the afternoon. It carries us to the Wednesday assembly (in front of Japanese embassy); It does a lot for us.]

The van that came to work for the grandmothers in 2003 is worn down too much with the burden of past arduous struggling time.

It won’t start right away.

[(Won't it start right away?) It wouldn't start at all in winter. In winter, it takes really a long time.]

Engine noise is worryingly loud. It is a usual thing that doors do not shut well. Since the van sometimes suddenly stops while running on the road, long distance trips are an unimaginable thing. Since it rattles so much, grandmothers often suffer severe carsick.

[Sohn Young-mi / manager of shelter 'our home': When they come back from Wednesday protest after an hour, it's just 30-minute distance from here, it's about 2 o'clock but they cannot have dinner. They are all so exhausted.]

It was Twitterians who stood out to try to solve this problem. One power Twitterian posted a short message “Let’s change the car for grandmothers” and it spread like a wild fire. It finally became a fund-raising movement.

[Kim Jeong-hwan / Power Blogger: I am so thrilled. I can finally deliver it to them. From a space where no body seems to listen to me appear so many Twitterian friends who eagerly want to become the legs of our grandmothers.]

Twitter users raised the fund for about 3 weeks time proactively and plan to deliver a new van to the grandmothers on 14th next month, to mark the 1,000th Wednesday protest.

Useful link

생존자 80명...이제 얼마 남지 않았습니다
[서평] 세상에서 가장 아름다운 고백...윤미향의 <20>
11.10.16 13:38l최종 업데이트 11.10.16 13:38l장호철(q9447)
RT: 2l독자원고료: 10,000

▲ 세상에서 가장 오래 된 시위, '수요시위'. 그것은 일본군 '위안부' 할머니들이 지켜온 20년간의 용기다.
ⓒ 한국정신대문제대책협의회

때로 사람들을 성찰하게 한다는 뜻에서 역사는 귀한 스승이다. 그러나 추상적 관념이 아니라 실체로서의 역사를 이해하는 것은 그리 쉬운 일이 아니다. 대신에 우리는 그 역사를 관통한 인물들의 삶을 통해 역사를 추체험할 수 있다. 역사의 질곡을 맨몸으로 겪어낸 사람들, 이들이 겪은 삶은 '일상'을 넘어 '역사'가 되기 때문이다.

한국정신대문제대책협의회(정대협)의 윤미향 상임대표가 쓴 <20>(웅진주니어, 2010)에서는 그런 '역사적 삶'을 고통스럽게 살아온 할머니들을 만날 수 있다. '정신대 할머니'로 흔히 불려 온 이들이 겪어야 했던 한국 현대사. 이 책에서 우리는 역사가 무명의 갑남을녀들에게 어떤 상처를 입히는가를 아프게 확인할 수 있다.

<20>은 지난해 나온 책이다. 지난 9월 18일 방영된 MBC <시사매거진 2580> '20년이 흘렀지만…'을 시청하고 정대협 홈페이지에 접속했다가 나는 이 책의 존재를 처음 알았다. 청소년을 위한 책이라는 걸 알았지만 나는 주저 없이 책을 주문했다. 학교 사서교사에게 이 책을 여러 권 구입해 달라는 것도 빼먹지 않았다.

▲ 윤미향, 웅진주니어, 2010
ⓒ 장호철
비가 와도 눈이 와도
병상에 누워 있어도,
일본대사관 앞
수요일 12시

그것은 희망이었습니다.

20년간 지켜온 할머니들의 용기와 희망

위 인용구는 책의 속표지를 넘기면 만나게 되는 구절이다. 이 책은 1992년 첫 시위 이래 20년 동안 계속돼 '세상에서 가장 오래된 시위'라고 불리고 있는 정대협과 '위안부' 할머니들의 수요시위를 담고 있다. 이 책에 새겨져 있는 것은 일본군 '위안부' 할머니들이 지켜온 아름답고 경이로운 '용기'와 '희망'이다.

그리고 이어지는 지면에는 최갑순 할머니를 비롯한 모두 여덟 분의 할머니들의 초상이 실려 있다. 흑백 사진 속의 할머니들, 무심한 표정을 그저 지켜보는 것만으로도 가슴이 아려 온다. 굵게 패인 주름, 앙다문 입술, 하얗게 센 성긴 머리카락…. 그것은 이 땅의 20세기를 할퀴고 간 가혹한 역사, 아직도 지워지지 않은 흔적이다.

▲ 일본군 '위안부' 피해자 할머니들. 윗줄 왼쪽부터 시계방향으로 공점엽, 김옥주, 박옥련, 박옥선, 최갑순, 이기선, 송남이, 박잠순 할머니.
ⓒ 20년간의 수요일

▲ 군대를 따라 이동하고 있는 일본군 '위안부'들. 이들은 병사들을 따라 옮겨다니며 성 노예로 살아야 했다.
ⓒ 20년간의 수요일

1992년 1월 8일 첫 시위 이래 어느덧 1천회를 향해 달려가고 있는 이 역사상 전무후무한 시위는 여전히 청산되지 못한 일제의 전쟁범죄에 대한 '피해자'들의 문제제기다. 그러나 반인륜적 범죄인 '종군 위안부' 문제에 대한 진실 규명, 일본의 사죄와 배상을 요구하는 이 시위가 20년째 지속되고 있다는 것은 여전히 문제가 미해결 상태라는 뜻이기도 하다.

지난 20년 동안 매주 수요일 일본 대사관 앞에서 진행돼 온 이 시위의 주축은 물론 일본군 '위안부' 할머니들이다. 2차 대전 종전 후 무려 반세기 가까이 역사의 어둠 속에 묻혀 있던 이 끔찍한 진실을 세상 속으로 드러낸 김학순 할머니의 공개증언을 '세상에서 가장 아름다운 고백'이라고 부르는 이유다.

이 끔찍한 역사의 희생자를 부르는 이름이 여러 가지로 나뉘어 있다는 사실은 이 문제가 가진 만만찮은 성격을 드러내준다. 정신대(挺身隊)는 '나라를 위해 몸을 바친다'는 뜻으로, '일제의 인력동원 정책'을 의미하는 낱말이므로 합당한 명칭이 될 수 없다.

또 위안부라는 말도 함부로 쓸 수 없는 이유는 그것이 전쟁 중 일본군의 '성 노예' 제도를 의미하는 말이기 때문이다. 결국 '강제 종군 위안부', '일본군 성 노예(Military Sexual Slavery by Japan)' 등을 거쳐 합의된 이름이 일본군 '위안부'다. '위안부'는 여전히 부당한 이름이지만 일제에 의해 불렸던 이름이므로 작은따옴표('')로 묶어서 사용하되 범죄 주체인 일본군을 붙여서 일본군 '위안부'라고 쓰게 된 것이다.

▲ 일본군 '위안부' 피해자 강덕경 할머니가 그린 그림 '라바울 위안소'
ⓒ 20년간의 수요일

일본군 '위안부' 할머니들이 겪은 참혹하고 고통스러운 희생은 비교적 널리 알려져 있다. 뒤늦게 이 비극을 전해 들으면서 사람들은 '고통스런 희생'이라는 글귀로 써내려가지만 할머니들이 살아온 세월과 그로 말미암은 상처를 어찌 말과 글로 다 표현할 수 있겠는가.

공개 증언의 용기가 세상을 바꾸다

▲ 일본군 '위안부' 피해자 중 최초로 공개 증언에 나섰던 김학순 할머니. 할머니는 1997년에 세상을 떠났다.
ⓒ MBC-TV <시사 2580> 갈무리

그들은 고국으로 돌아왔지만 자신의 과거에 대한 불안 때문에 고향으로 돌아가지도 못했고 여느 여성들처럼 쉽게 혼인하지도 못했다. 일본군 '위안부' 생활을 안 남편으로부터 학대를 당하기도 했고 몸이 망가져 아이를 가질 수도 없는 이도 적지 않았다. 그들은 피해자였지만 그들이 겪은 희생의 성격 때문에 오히려 비난 받았으며 스스로 침묵을 지킬 수밖에 없었던 것이다.

오랜 침묵 끝에 일본의 전쟁범죄를 고발한 할머니들의 수요시위는 20년째 계속되고 있다. 그 동안 234명의 할머니가 피해자 신고를 했고 그 중 많은 분들이 일본의 사죄를 받지 못하고 세상을 떠나 이제 생존자는 80여 분밖에 되지 않는다. 그러나 20년간 계속된 할머니들의 당당한 외침은 사회에 적지 않은 변화를 이끌어냈다.

▲ 강덕경 할머니의 그림 '빼앗긴 순정'
ⓒ 20년간의 수요일

일본 정부는 국제 여론에 떠밀려 일본군 '위안부' 제도에 대한 조사에 들어갈 수밖에 없었고, 일부 책임을 인정하기에 이르렀다. 또 '강제성은 없었다'며 자신들의 법적 책임을 부인하다 부분적으로 강제성을 인정했다. 그러나 일본 정부는 '배상금' 아닌 '위로금'에 지나지 않는 '국민기금'을 피해자에게 지급하는 형식의 기만책으로 일관하고 있는 실정이다.

오랜 침묵 속에 살다가 뒤늦게 인권에 눈뜬 할머니들의 눈부신 활약은 국제 사회에 엄청난 반향을 불러 일으켰다. 법적 강제력은 없지만 2007년 미국 하원과 유럽의회에서 '일본 정부의 사죄와 법적 배상을 요구하는 결의안'이 채택된 것이다.

정대협과 일본군 '위안부' 할머니들의 지치지 않는 끈질긴 싸움은 현실을 바꾸는데 그치지 않고 오랜 고통과 침묵 속에 살아온 할머니 자신들도 변화시켰다. 할머니들은 일본의 더러운 전쟁 범죄를 고발하고 증언하면서 전쟁이 인권 유린의 근원임을 깨달았고, 아주 자연스럽게 역사와 평화에 대한 확고한 신념을 갖게 된 것이다.

'전쟁과 여성인권 박물관' 건립 반대는 전근대적 역사의식

할머니들은 더 이상 자신과 같은 희생이 발생하지 않기 위해 전쟁을 멈춰야 한다고 굳게 믿는다. 또한 더 이상 여성들이 수난 당하지 않고 살 수 있는 '평화의 나라'를 위해 그런 역사를 기록해 놓은 박물관이 필요하다고 생각하게 된다. 그리고 2004년, 정대협이 일본군 '위안부' 피해자들의 명예와 인권회복, 미래 세대에게 평화로운 세상을 물려주기 위한 '전쟁과 여성인권 박물관'(박물관) 건립 사업을 시작했다.

박물관 건립 사업은 8년 간 모금활동을 펼쳐 17억원을 모으고, 서울시로부터 서대문 독립공원 매점 부지에 100여 평의 땅을 확보하면서 순조롭게 진척되는가 했다. 하지만 박물관 건립은 '독립공원 내 위안부 박물관 건립은 순국선열에 대한 명예훼손'이라는 광복회의 반대에 부딪히게 되면서 원점으로 돌아갔다.

▲ '전쟁과 여성인권 박물관'을 위해 정대협이 매입한 성미산 기슭의 단독주택
ⓒ MBC-TV <시사 2580> 갈무리

이런 일련의 과정이 MBC <시사매거진 2580> '20년이 흘렀지만…' 편으로 방영되면서 누리꾼들의 성토가 이어졌다. 그러나 서대문 독립공원 안 박물관은 무산되고 정대협은 모인 돈으로 성미산 기슭의 한 단독주택을 매입하는 쪽으로 방향을 틀었다.

박물관 건립사업이 좌초된 것은 아직도 잔존해 있는 전근대적 가치관을 뛰어넘지 못하는 우리 사회의 한계를 드러낸 일이었다. 사회적 약자로서 여성이 감당해야 했던 희생과 고통을 자신들의 빛나는 무용담의 격을 떨어뜨리는 것으로밖에 이해하지 못하는 우리 사회의 역사의식이 여전히 전근대적이라는 이야기다. 그런 뜻에서 주류 남성들이 만들어온 역사는 비겁하다 못해 치졸하기까지 한 셈이기도 하다.

피해자뿐만 아니라 '가해자'의 역사도 아우르다

지은이 윤미향 상임대표는 아주 쉽고 편하게 대화를 나누듯 조곤조곤 한국 현대사를 청소년들 앞에 펴 보인다. 청소년용으로 펴낸 책이지만 굳이 어른들이 읽지 못할 수준은 결코 아니다. 책에 다양하게 실린 관련 사진과 자료, 할머니들이 손수 그린 그림, 수요시위에 동참한 학생들의 편지글 등도 독자의 이해를 돕는다.

무엇보다 이 책의 미덕은 우리나라를 피해자로서뿐 아니라 현대사를 거치면서 스스로 가해자가 된 역사까지 아우르는 점이다. 지은이는 '전쟁과 여성, 끊임없이 되풀이되는 악연', 즉 전시에 자행되는 전쟁 성폭력의 진실을 깊숙이 들여다본다. 그리고 일본군 '위안부'가 지나간 역사가 아니라 지금도 여전히 존재하는 현실임을 환기하는 것이다.

이른바 제 2의 일본군 '위안부'는 우리 현대사 속에서도 재현되었다. 해방 후 미군 주둔기지 주변에서 공공연하게 이루어진 성매매나 산업화 시기 국가에 의해 암묵적으로 용인된 '기생 관광'이 바로 그것이다. 그리고 무엇보다도 베트남 전쟁에 참전한 한국군에 의해 벌어진 민간인 학살과 강간은 우리 자신이 피해자가 아니라 가해자로 뒤바뀐 역사적 비극이었던 것이다.

지은이는 마지막 장에서 '우리가 만들어 가야 할 미래'를 이야기한다. 남성 중심주의적 가부장적인 생각이 전쟁 중 성폭력을 일으키고 여성을 억압한다. 또 극단적 식민주의가 개인의 희생을 강요하며 여성을 '식민지'화한다고 그는 말한다. 또 일본군 '위안부' 할머니들의 끔찍한 희생이 우리에게 가르쳐 준 것은 역사적 진실과 함께 '인권'이야말로 우리가 지키고 보존해야 할 가치라는 것이다.

지난 8월, 헌법재판소는 일본군 '위안부'와 원폭 피해자들의 배상청구권을 두고 한일 양국 사이에 분쟁이 있음에도 정부가 아무런 해결 노력을 하지 않은 것은 위헌이라고 결정했다. 하지만 일본 정부는 일본군 '위안부' 문제 청구권에 대해 협의하자고 한 우리 정부의 제안을 거부했다.

▲ 김복선 할머니와 황금주 할머니의 젊은 시절. 역사가 이 아름다운 처녀들을 일본군인들의 성 노예로 몰았다.
ⓒ 20년간의 수요일

그러나 일본 정부와는 달리 일본 시민사회에서는 '건강한 반성의 목소리'가 나오고 있다고 한다. 그들은 부끄러운 역사를 넘어 자국의 이익과 명예보다 인권을 선택한 것이다. 가해자로서 우리의 숙제인 베트남 문제는 시민사회를 중심으로 베트남에 학교를 세우거나 평화 활동을 펼치는 것을 통해 해결의 실마리를 찾아가고 있다.

일본군 '위안부' 피해자들의 삶을 다룬 다큐 <낮은 목소리>에 출연했던 이용수 할머니가 베트남을 방문해 피해 여성을 만나 그들에게 손을 내밀었다는 이야기는 묘한 감동으로 다가온다. 할머니는 처음에 베트남의 피해 여성을 만나는 것을 부정적으로 생각했다고 한다. 그러나 결국 할머니는 국적을 넘어 자신과 같은 피해자인 베트남 여성을 바라보게 된 것이다.

지은이는 '바르게 생각하고 바르게 알기'를 권하면서 책을 끝맺는다. 그러나 안다는 것만으론 부족하다. '참여하고 관심을 갖는 순간부터 역사는 변화해 갈 것'이라고 말하는 것은 그 때문이다. 추상적 관념으로 우리 현대사를 이해해 온 청소년들은 그녀가 조곤조곤 들려주는 이야기를 들으며 그 추상과 관념을 하나씩 걷어내고 '역사'의 생생한 실체를 만날 수 있을 터이다.
덧붙이는 글 | <20>(윤미향 씀 | 웅진주니어 | 2010.11. | 1만2000원)

책 표지의 날개에는 “이 책의 인세 전부는 ’전쟁과 여성인권 박물관‘ 건립 기금으로 기부됩니다.”라고 쓰여 있다. 앞서 말한 성미산의 단독주택을 마련했지만 박물관을 꾸미려면 6억 원을 성금으로 더 모아야 한다고 한다.

정대협 누리집(에 가면 10만 원으로 전쟁과 여성인권 박물관 1만인 건립위원으로 참여할 수 있다. 그게 부담스러우면 이 책(12,000원)을 사서 아이들과 함께 읽고 이야기를 나누는 것도 이 사업을 돕는 방법 중 하나다.

내가 구입한 책은 초판 3쇄다. 아직 만 부도 팔리지 않았다는 뜻이겠다. 부끄럽게도 우리보다 먼저 일본 도서관협회가 선정도서로 뽑은 책이니만큼 이 책의 가치는 충분한 셈이다. 아이들의 ‘몰역사’를 탓하지 말고 스스로 역사와 만나는 방법을 찾게 하는 것도 좋은 공부가 될 터이다.

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