Sungju Park-Kang (Turku)

20 March 2020


The lecture aims to explore the historical context of transitional justice in Korea and its current situation. Transitional justice is concerned with a society’s attempt to deal with a legacy of large-scale past abuses. Related to this, truth commissions seek to uncover something that was erased and hidden from official accounts. After long periods of authoritarian and military regimes, for the first time in South Korea’s modern history, the power shifted from the ruling party to the opposition when Kim Dae-jung was elected as president in 1997. This first democratic government, formed by the opposition, was succeeded by another democratic politician, Roh Moo-hyun, in 2002.

In August 2004, on National Liberation Day, President Roh laid out some basic ideas about how to clear up past incidents in his commemoration speech. In the past, it was immensely difficult to investigate the wrongdoings of the state as these efforts were fiercely blocked by the ruling political establishments. With democratic transitions largely achieved by civil movements, however, there was now enough space for those seeking the justice and truth that had been suppressed by the past, authoritarian regimes.

Against this backdrop, the lecture examines civil society’s involvement in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2005 and afterwards. The TRC was dissolved under a conservative president in 2010. Following the ‘Candlelight Revolution’, the election of Moon Jae-in as a new liberal president in 2017, a revival of the Commission is now on its way. The lecture also offers an autoethnographic account of an exhumation project organised by non-state actors. I participated in a project to exhume the human remains of civilian victims massacred during the Korean War. It was organised around the Snow Flower Mountain in Chungcheong Provice.



Sungju PARK-KANG is Adjunct Professor at the Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Turku, Finland. His research interests include inter-Korean relations, transitional justice, memory, narrative, gender, methodology and International Relations. Park-Kang was Assistant Professor of International Relations and Korean Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands and the University of Central Lancashire, UK. His work has appeared in Review of International Studies and Millennium: Journal of International Studies, among others. He is the author of Fictional International Relations: Gender, Pain and Truth (Routledge, 2014).