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Address by President Yoon Suk Yeol on the 105th March 1st Independence Movement Day

March 1, 2024 - 11:18 By Korea Herald
President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers an address on the Independence Movement Day in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)

My fellow citizens, 7 million overseas Koreans, decorated patriots who fought for the nation’s independence,

Today, we celebrate the 105th March First Independence Movement Day.

With utmost reverence, I pay a heartfelt tribute to our fallen patriotic forefathers and patriots who devoted themselves to the cause of our country’s freedom and prosperity.

I extend my sincerest gratitude to our independence heroes and the bereaved families who lost their loved ones.

Fellow Koreans,

One hundred and five years ago today, our patriotic forefathers declared Korea to be an independent country where the Korean people are its rightful owners.

With the national flag, Taegeukgi, in their hands and with unquenchable belief in freedom in their hearts, they took to the streets in a nationwide non-violent struggle.

The 1919 Proclamation of Korean Independence eloquently lays out the spirit of the March First Independence Movement as follows:

“We claim independence in the interest of the eternal and free development of our people and in accordance with the great movement for world reform based upon the awakening conscience of mankind.”

The Proclamation of Korean Independence was rooted in "liberalism" -- a prevailing trend of world history at that time.

Our patriotic martyrs believed that if the blood they shed soaked the soil and caused seeds of freedom to sprout, their sons and daughters could live happily in a free and affluent land.

Moreover, the March First Independence Movement was a forward-looking, unprecedented fight for independence.

Rather than a return to monarchy, it envisioned a new country where every Korean, regardless of gender or age, could fully enjoy their freedoms.

And what our patriotic martyrs believed in and hoped for has believed in and hoped for has now been realized.

Today, the Republic of Korea is known to the world as a global pivotal state where freedom and prosperity flourish.

Just as the Proclamation of Korean Independence declared, Korea has become a country of new and outstanding vitality; a country that contributes to global peace and prosperity; and a country that shares its ingenious and enticing culture with the world.

The journey has never been easy.

With independence came the occupation of the northern half of our country by the forces of communist totalitarianism. We also had to endure a horrendous war.

Nonetheless, no hardships could deter us from our quest for freedom and prosperity.

Despite lacking any capital or resources, we built expressways and nuclear power plants and cultivated industries on a war-ravaged land.

Even during the times when affording a meal was a daily challenge, we looked to the future and made unsparing investments in science and technology as well as education.

Our people have overcome countless adversities and challenges. I am truly proud of the great journey taken by them all. The government and I will do everything possible to build a happier and more prosperous Republic of Korea while upholding the value of freedom –– the spirit of the March First Independence Movement.

Fellow Koreans,

I would like all of us here today to reflect on the history of our independence movement.

Inheriting the spirit of the March First Independence Movement, various types of independence movements followed at home and abroad.

Independence fighters engaged fiercely in armed struggle at the risk of their lives.

Visionaries with insight into changing global political landscape struggled for independence through diplomacy in countries around the world.

Some independence activists initiated educational and cultural movements to empower Koreans with necessary skills on their own.

Following the defeat of imperialism, we were able to gain independence thanks to all these pioneering endeavors.

The blood and sweat of these independence activists enabled our country's independence and became the foundation of the Republic of Korea.

I believe that the significance of all of these independence movements must be duly recognized and their history should be passed down correctly generation after generation.

No one is allowed to monopolize history. All Korean people and our future generations should take pride in the proud history of the Republic of Korea.

The government and I are committed to ensuring that the sacrifices and dedication of our patriotic martyrs in securing the independence, founding and prosperity of our country are properly honored and remembered by our descendants.

Fellow Koreans,

The 1919 Proclamation of Korean Independence made it clear to Japan that our independence would be a path to prosperity for both countries and that we should open a “new world” on the foundation of mutual understanding and empathy.

Now, Korea and Japan are working together to overcome the painful past and moving toward that “new world."

Sharing the values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law, our two countries have become partners in the pursuit of common interests for global peace and prosperity.

The security cooperation between the two countries against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats has been strengthened further.

Korea and Japan are building a closer partnership in industry, finance and cutting-edge technologies, and 9.28 million people traveled back and forth between our two countries last year.

When armed conflicts broke in the Middle East and Africa, both countries helped rescue each other's citizens.

If Korea and Japan build trust through mutual exchanges and cooperation and work together to resolve difficult challenges that history has left us, we will be able to usher in a new and brighter future for our bilateral relations.

I hope that the 60th anniversary of Korea and Japan normalizing diplomatic relations next year will serve as an opportunity to take our bilateral relationship to a higher level, one that is more productive and constructive.

Fellow Koreans,

The March First Independence Movement will be made complete only upon a unification that brings freedom and abundance to everyone.

Now, we must move toward a free, unified Korean Peninsula where the people are its rightful owners.

North Korea still continues its totalitarian system and repressive rule and is unable to escape from the worst forms of degradation and poverty.

The North Korean regime relies solely on nuclear weapons and missiles while trapping its 26 million citizens in a quagmire of misery and despair.

Recently, North Korea labeled the Republic of Korea as its primary foe and invariable principal enemy.

This is truly deplorable.

Unification is not just an issue confined to the Korean Peninsula.

The tyranny and human rights abuses of the North Korean regime deny the universal values of humanity.

Unification is precisely what is needed to expand the universal values of freedom and human rights.

Our unification efforts must become a source of hope and a beacon of light for the people of North Korea.

The government will continue extending the helping hand to North Koreans, and our efforts to improve their human rights will never cease.

We will continue to provide North Korean defectors with warmhearted support, so they can enjoy freedom and prosperity together with us.

Beginning this year, the government designated July 14 as North Korean Defectors’ Day.

In light of this designation, I ask all citizens to extend warm compassion and understanding toward North Korean defectors.

Unification is a challenging task that we cannot accomplish alone.

The international community must pool its strength in a responsible manner.

A free, unified Republic of Korea will contribute to peace and prosperity not only in Northeast Asia but also in the Indo-Pacific region and the rest of the world.

As President of the Republic of Korea, I will do all I can to fulfill this duty that history and the Constitution have given to me.

Fellow citizens,

We are now standing at the crossroads of a historic transformation.

We must expand freedom. We must promote peace. Let us move forward along the path to prosperity by rekindling the spirit of the Proclamation of Korean Independence.

We must come together on a path that leads ultimately to unification. Our government will take the lead with passion and dedication.

Let us join hands and usher in a new, hopeful future together.

Thank you.