Photo: Soldiers enter Busan to crack down the Bu-Ma Uprising protests, c. 1979. Credit: Korea Democracy Foundation.
The 1979 uprising in Busan 부산 and Masan 마산, now referred to as the Bu-Ma Uprising 부마항쟁, is an underappreciated milestone in South Korea’s struggle for democracy. On October 16, 1979, citizens and students of Busan began a city-wide protest against the Park Chung-hee 박정희 dictatorship. The protest quickly spread to other southeastern cities, most notably Masan, and contributed directly to the fall of the Park dictatorship when Kim Jae-gyu 김재규, alarmed by Park’s willingness to commit mass murder in his crackdown on the uprising, assassinated Park on October 26.
Observing the 40th anniversary of the uprising in 2019, the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration designated October 16 as a national day of remembrance, elevating the uprising to the same status as the April 19 Revolution 4.19 혁명 that toppled the Syngman Rhee 이승만 dictatorship in 1960, the May 18 Gwangju Uprising 5.18 광주항쟁 against the Chun Doo-hwan 전두환 dictatorship in 1980, and the June Struggle 6월 항쟁 that finalized South Korea’s transition to democracy.
Under the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration, however, the national and local governments have been reluctant to celebrate the occasion. Where the president and prime minister hosted the event under the Moon administration, the Yoon administration dispatched Interior Minister Lee Sang-min 이상민 행정안전부장관 as the keynote speaker during its first year in office, and sent Vice Minister of the Interior Go Gi-dong 고기동 행정안전부차관 to this week’s memorial. Other conservative local government leaders, such as Busan mayor Park Hyeong-jun 박형준 부산시장 and Gyeongsangnam-do Provincial governor Park Wan-su 박완수 경상남도 지사, also declined to attend the memorial.