One thousand days after the Sewol tragedy, survivors took the courageous step of speaking out about the pain of losing their friends and demanded accountability for those responsible.
On January 9, 2017, which marks the 1000th day since the Sewol capsized on April 19, 2014, survivors of the tragedy spoke at a mass demonstration at Gwanghwamun Plaza. “We still post messages on our friends’ facebook pages,” said Jang Ye-jin about missing her friends who didn’t survive the tragedy, “Knowing we won’t receive a reply, we still send them text messages; knowing their phones are off and no one will answer, we still try calling them.”
“Although we are victims, we lacked courage and remained in hiding out of fear of blame,” Jang added, “But now we seek to find courage. In the future, when we see our friends again, we want to be able to say with our heads held up that we are not ashamed, that we held responsible all the people who separated them from us and made sure that they are punished.’
Below is a video of the speech and below that is a translation of the full speech-
We are survivors of the Sewol tragedy and former students of Danwon High School.
It took us three years to stand here before you to tell you our feelings. We are thankful to those who thought of us and gave us courage during that time. Honestly, because three years have passed since the Sewol tragedy and there are so many things that the government is trying to hide and bury, we didn’t think real truth-finding could occur. We didn’t think it’s possible to find those responsible for the tragedy, but thanks to you, we now have a real opportunity to uncover the truth, and for that, we are grateful.
You may not be aware, but we were not all rescued. We escaped ourselves. When the ferry began to capsize and the water rushed in, when we were under water up to our heads and shaking in fear, no one came to save us. When we told the coast guards that our friends are still inside the boat and asked them to help, they ignored us and passed us by. They told us to stay still, so my friends and I didn’t budge.
They said they are coming to rescue us, so we believed them. They said the helicopters are here, the coast guard is here, so we thought nothing of the situation. But now, we can’t be with the friends we love and won’t ever be able to see them again. What did we do wrong? If there’s anything we did wrong, it was escaping the Sewol alive.
It’s hard to say, but we are sorry to the bereaved families and feel like we’ve done them wrong by escaping alive by ourselves. In the beginning, it was hard to even visit the bereaved families. We couldn’t raise our heads; all we could say was that we’re sorry and expected to receive their resentment. But watching them give us encouragement and worrying about us, telling us that we did nothing wrong and that they don’t resent us, we felt even more sorry, and even now, we are so so sorry. How can we possibly understand what you are going through?
We’re sorry that we’re unable to visit you even though we want to see you and ask how you’re doing, because we don’t have the courage and we’re worried that seeing us might remind you of our friends and make you more upset. Knowing how much we miss our friends and hard it is for us, we wonder what it must be like for you.
Now, after three years, many people probably think things must be better now. I can tell you flatly that that is not true. We still post messages on our friends’ facebook pages. Knowing we won’t receive a reply, we still send them text messages; knowing their phones are off and no one will answer, we still try calling them. We spend nights awake staring at photographs and videos of our friends; we fall asleep praying that they might appear in our dreams. I resent them when they don’t appear in my dreams and they’re too far away when I want to see them, but more often, I am sorry that I escaped from the water alone and that I can’t be with them.
The seven hours the president was missing on the day of the tragedy. There may be some who say, “Why do we need to know the president’s private affairs?” But it’s not the president’s private affairs that we want to know. Had she properly commanded the situation in those seven hours she had gone missing, had she just told us to come out of that boat rather than stay still, we wouldn’t have had so many casualties. President Park Geun-hye failed to command the situation; therefore, it is only reasonable to investigate what she was doing in those missing seven hours that she failed to receive reports on such a serious incident and act properly in response.
The government is busy hiding and burying the truth, even though the entire country refuses to be tricked any longer. Although we are victims, we lacked courage and remained in hiding out of fear of blame. But now we seek to find courage. In the future, when we see our friends again, we want to be able to say with our heads held up that we are not ashamed, that we held responsible all the people who separated them from us and made sure that they are punished. We thank sincerely all the people, as well as our families and the bereaved families, and hope the truth will be uncovered soon.
Lastly, we want to say to our friends who have left us–
We will never forget you and will remember you. When the day comes when we shall meet again, don’t forget us and remember us as we were when we were eighteen.
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