BERLIN/SEOUL – The German city of Freiburg has decided not to proceed with a plan to erect a statue of a girl symbolizing so-called “comfort women” who were procured for Japan’s wartime military brothels, after encountering strong opposition from its Japanese sister-city Matsuyama, a city spokesperson said.
Freiburg had accepted a proposal from its South Korean sister-city Suwon for the statue, a replica of one erected in December 2011 in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, to be sent there as a gift and erected in a downtown park.
The spokesperson said the decision to drop the plan has been conveyed to Suwon, adding that the city never had any intention of hurting the feelings of the Japanese people.
Civil groups in Suwon, the capital of Gyeonggi province which surrounds Seoul, had been working to raise 60 million won (approximately ¥5.5 million) for the project, which one member complained “was blocked by the Japanese government and right-wingers.”
A Suwon municipal official earlier said that Mayor Yeom Tae-young was told by the mayor of the city in southwestern Germany, Dieter Salomon, that officials from Matsuyama strongly objected to the idea.
The statue was supposed to be erected on Dec. 10, designated as Human Rights Day by the United Nations, and would have been the first of its kind in Europe.
Several similar statues have been erected in the United States, Canada and Australia, in addition to around 40 locations in South Korea.
The Suwon official said Matsuyama, capital of Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, had warned Freiburg, located near the borders of Switzerland and France, that installing the statue would hinder exchanges between the two cities, which have had a sister-city relationship since 1989.
Suwon and Freiburg, by contrast, have only been sister-cities since 2015.
The Japanese government, hoping to put an end to its long-running feud with Seoul, recently disbursed ¥1 billion to a South Korean fund aimed at helping Korean women who were forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese military.
The disbursement has shifted the focus to whether South Korea will act on Japan’s request for the statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to be removed.