The Korea Herald


Row brews over Italian city's plan to modify inscription on 'comfort women' statue

By Yonhap

Published : June 22, 2024 - 15:02

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A girl statue, dubbed A girl statue, dubbed "Statue of Peace," symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in Germany (Yonhap)

A potential row is brewing in Italy over erecting a girl statue symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery, after a city chief signaled a possible modification to the structure to add Japan's position on the issue.

A South Korean civic group announced earlier this week that the statue will be erected in Stintino, a city on the Italian island of Sardinia, on Saturday (local time), and an official unveiling ceremony will take place on the same day.

That would be the first statue of "comfort women," a Japanese euphemism for sex slaves who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II, to be set up in Italy and the 14th outside of Korea.

But the statue is potentially stirring up a fresh row after Stintino Mayor Rita Vallebella said her city is considering replacing the inscription so that it will show both the stances of South Korea and Japan on the sexual slavery issue, according to news reports and civic group officials on Saturday.

Vallebella was quoted as telling a Kyodo News reporter at the Stintino city hall that the current inscription has a "one-sided claim" and the city had "no intention to only criticize Japan," according to the news report.

But she added that the consideration will be made after hearing the South Korean side of the matter, and the city does not intend to remove the statue.

The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery, leading the statue campaign, said the epitaph states that the Japanese Imperial Army forcibly took many young girls and women in to provide sexual services to their soldiers during the war and it is meant to highlight the significance of the statue as a symbol for remembering the victims.

The inscription is engraved in Italian, Korean and English, with QR codes provided alongside for access to other languages, the civic group said.

The Stintino statue will be the second to be installed on public land in Europe after the first one set up in Berlin, Germany, in 2020. It will also be the 14th statue to be erected overseas after the first one installed in Glendale, California, in 2013.

The potential row over the statue in Italy comes as the first girl statue installed in Berlin is on the verge of being demolished.

The Mitte district office in the German capital made official a plan to remove the statue from a public park by the Sept. 28 deadline, as city consultations on the renewal of the special permit for the statue fell through.

The district office has said that the previous extension was approved on condition that the inscription will be modified in the future.

The statue symbolizes 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, who were forcibly sent to front-line brothels to work as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. The sexual slavery victims are one of the many thorny issues stemming from the 1910-45 period, when Korea was a Japanese colony.