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South Korean Group's Comfort Women Statues Meet Resistance in US, Germany

"The statue does not symbolize peace, and its erection will further aggravate the conflict," says Lee Wooyeon of the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research. 

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The Statue of Peace erected in Mitte District’s Union Plaza. The controversy is over the inscription engraved next to the statue, which contains unsubstantiated historical accounts. (Photo: Kenji Yoshida)

The movement to install so-called "comfort women statues" has accelerated in several regions around the world. A statue was installed at the University of Kassel in Hesse, Germany, and at the Chungnam National University in South Korea in July and August, respectively. 

Discussions are also underway for a new statue in Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania, in the eastern United States. 

Could a shift in South Korea's domestic attitude toward the comfort women movement explain its expanding activities overseas?

South Korea-based journalist Kenji Yoshida has been delivering in-depth reports in both English and Japanese on this ongoing issue for JAPAN Forward.

According to Yoshida, 144 comfort women statues — called "girl statues" by the South Korean group promoting them — have been confirmed in South Korea alone. The total number worldwide is estimated at 177.

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But in South Korea, the tide turned two years ago when the former head of the civic group spearheading the movement, Yoon Mee Hyang, misappropriated donations.

Since then, there has been more resistance to the movement in South Korea. The statue at Chungnam National University was installed without notice or approval in the middle of the night, and the university is now demanding its removal. 

Furthermore, South Korean scholars and researchers have also indicated that there are no historical records showing that girls had been forcibly taken into sexual slavery by the Japanese military, and have called for an end to such "fraud" based on "false history."

A controversial comfort women statue in San Francisco (KYODO)

Losing Steam, Movement Shifts to the West

These reports have been treated by major South Korean media outlets with silent contempt. Nevertheless, the number of people mobilized for the anti-Japan protests, held every Wednesday in front of the embassy of Japan in Seoul, has decreased — a clear sign that the movement is starting to ebb away in South Korea.

Yoshida points to this domestic stagnation as the reason for the civic group's shift in focus toward the West, which led to the recent increase in statues in the United States and Europe.

But this overseas campaign has also faced resistance. In the United States, a proposal to create a "Philadelphia Peace Plaza" was met with fervent opposition from local Japanese and Japanese Americans who claimed that it would fan the flames of ethnic and national conflict.

In response, a remote public hearing on the proposal was held on September 19, in which 23 out of 31 participants, or more than 70%, expressed their opposition. 

One of them was Lee Wooyeon, a research fellow at the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research in South Korea.

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"I request that US citizens not intervene in the historical conflict among South Koreans and between South Korea and Japan. The statue does not symbolize peace, and its erection will further aggravate the conflict," he warned.

A Japanese-American civic group in Philadelphia also expressed concern that the statue would bring irreparable damage and unnecessary conflict to the healthy relationship that it had built with the Korean community. 

The city's arts commission is set to make its final decision on October 12.

With the comfort woman statue in the background covered by a blue sheet by the Korean organization, a protest calling for an end to the comfort women fraud was held in Berlin in June 2022.

Meanwhile in Germany

There have been further developments regarding the comfort women statue in the Mitte district of Germany's capital city, Berlin, which was covered previously in the JAPAN Forward article linked here:

When the Berlin City Hall was asked about the future of the so-called "Peace Statue," whose installation permit expired on September 28, it became clear that the city was working to extend the permit despite requests from the Japanese government for its removal. 

Officials also suggested that the statue's inscription may be replaced with a more universal message to position the statue as a commemoration of victims of wartime sexual violence.

As the comfort women statues continue to provoke conflict and hatred through false history, JAPAN Forward is committed to delivering the latest news from the front line of the ongoing history war, whose theater has now spread beyond Asia.

Watch for the next issue on October 24.

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(Read the column in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Yasuo Naito, Editor in Chief, JAPAN Forward

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