Historical significance or insulting symbol? Statue sparks bitter feud


Generations of anger over the use of sex slaves in war are spilling over in Australian suburbs. Korean and Japanese communities are split over plans for a statue to honour comfort women.

It's designed to be a symbol of peace, but instead a statue representing the so-called "comfort women" of World War II is dividing communities in Australia.

The statue will be unveiled on Saturday in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield, and represents women and girls as young as 12 who were abducted and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army.

Spokesman for the Peace Statue Establishing Committee, Si Hyun Paik said the statue is intended to remember the ordeal of the comfort women.

"We want to let people know that this sort of hideous crime will never and cannot be repeated in any community in any part of the world," he said.

Not everyone sees it that way, with the Australia-Japan Community Network threatening legal action.

In a statement, the organisation said the statue is a "hurtful historical symbol",  and that it is determined to protect its children from any "racially agitated discrimination."

Just a year ago, plans for a similar statue in a nearby suburb were scrapped following community outrage.

This monument is only being allowed because it is on the Ashfield Uniting Church's grounds, rather than a public site.

But it was a hard fight, with the Australia-Japan Community Network lobbying the New South Wales government to prevent the statue from being erected.

Reverend Bill Crews from the Ashfield Uniting Church said the statue has historical significance.

"I think it's an attempt to rewrite history and pretend nothing happened, and everyone should look at that statute and say: 'never again'."

NSW Minister for Multicultural Affairs John Ajaka held a private meeting between Reverend Crews and Japan's Consul General.

Mr Ajaka said he wants a peaceful resolution to the issue.

"Come together, and attempt to resolve the issue in an amicable, harmonious way, that is what's best for both communities, and that what is best for the state of New South Wales," he said.

Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a landmark apology to South Korean comfort women, setting up a fund to compensate victims.

Japan's consul general declined SBS's interview request.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch