Berlin decides to keep comfort woman statue in place

Posted on : 2020-12-03 17:41 KST Modified on : 2020-12-03 17:41 KST
Japan calls decision “unacceptable” and “deeply dismaying”
A woman’s rights activist poses for a photo next to a comfort woman statue in Berlin. (provided by Nam Eun-ju, Berlin correspondent)
A woman’s rights activist poses for a photo next to a comfort woman statue in Berlin. (provided by Nam Eun-ju, Berlin correspondent)

A statue raised in Berlin to symbolize victims of sexual slavery by the Japanese military will remain in place rather than being removed. Discussions on preserving the statue as a permanent memorial for victims of wartime sexual violence are set to begin.

At a plenary session on Dec. 1, the council of Berlin’s Mitte borough voted on a resolution to keep the statue in place. Chairperson Frank Bertermann (Green Party) explained, “A resolution to preserve the peace statue commemorating victims of sexual violence was passed by majority vote.”

Jointly sponsored by the Green Party and the Left Party, the resolution to keep the statue in place was supported by 24 of 29 borough council members. In addition to withdrawing the order for the statue’s removal, the resolution also pushed the end date for its installation back six weeks from Aug. 14 to late September of next year. It further called for measures to keep the statue in place permanently. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported the same day that the borough “appears likely to accept the council’s resolution and recognize the statue’s retention.”

Explaining the resolution, Thilo Urchs, a council member from the Left, said, “The peace statue is based on concrete historical facts, namely the sexual violence perpetrated by the Japanese military against Korean women during the Second World War.”

“Sexual violence in wars and military conflicts is not an isolated matter but a structural issue that must be fundamentally prevented,” he stressed, adding that the “statue symbolizes that.”

The same day, around 30 Koreans and Germans gathered in front of the borough council for a candlelight demonstration to call for the statue’s permanent establishment.

The Japanese government vehemently objected to the council’s decision, which it called “unacceptable.” Speaking in a regular briefing the same day, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said, “This decision is contrary to our government’s position and response to date and is deeply dismaying.” He went on to say that Japan would “continue to explain our position and demand the statue’s swift removal.”

In July of last year, Mitte granted permission for the placement of a statue to memorialize victims of Japanese military mobilization as “comfort women,” which it characterized as an issue of women’s rights. The statue was raised on a Mitte street in late September. It was the third such statue erected in Germany, and the first in a public setting. The Korea Verband, a local civic group focusing on Korea-related issues, had been working since last year to win approval.

But after the statue was raised, Japan began waging a pressure campaign for its removal, with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi requesting in a teleconference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas that the statue be taken down. On Oct. 7, Mitte issued an order for the statue’s removal, prompting a heavy outcry from Berlin’s civil society, which staged demonstrations and press conferences in response. Defenders argued that the statue represented issues of universal human rights — including wartime sexual violence and freedom of expression — rather than anti-Japan nationalism or a message about South Korea-Japan relations. The Berlin branch of the Korea Verband, which supervised the statue’s installation, submitted a request in an administrative court for an injunction to suspend the removal order, which Mitte subsequently postponed.

By Kim So-youn, staff reporter

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