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[INSIGHT]What about humility and love?

Mar 01,2003
Strangely, no South Korean president had ever had the chance to enjoy the moment of their election victory and inauguration. They all faced challenges to prove their ability as a president.
When Kim Young-sam took office, he was presented with Pyeongyang’s decision to walk away from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. President Kim Dae-jung faced a foreign exchange crisis.
Today, President Roh Moo-hyun is facing challenges no less serious than those of his predecessors; North Korea’s nuclear aspirations, the past government’s involvement in money transfers to the North and the Daegu subway arson are awaiting Mr. Roh.
The entire nation is paying attention to how the new president will solve those thorny problems.
From the Daegu subway disaster, we have learned that judgement of a leader has a great impact. Fire safety equipment malfunctioned, the sprinkler system did not work, train cars were built of flammable material, and a train engineer ran away, abandoning his passengers.
This is not only a matter of intellectual judgement. How smart a leader is does not matter ― how deeply he loves his people and how seriously he feels responsible for them are what really count.
The runaway engineer reminded me of the first Korean president, Syngman Rhee. When the Korean War broke out, he ordered radio stations to announce that Koreans should feel secure because the Korean military was fighting bravely, but he took refuge.
Watching TV debates between the presidential candidates, it was always unsatisfactory to me that the questioners were not asking about the candidates’ love for the people and their modesty before them. Are those values less important than memorizing economic indices and listing policy pledges?
Politicians, whether they have a seat in the National Assembly or on a city council, change their attitudes after coming to power.
The world’s largest tomb is not an Egyptian pyramid or the tomb of Shi Huang Di of Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) in China. The largest of all is that of Emperor Nintoku in Osaka, Japan. The Japanese emperor, who is known to be of Korean descent, freed his people from drudgery after he learned that they were mired in poverty. The emperor wore clothes and shoes just like those his people wore; he lived in a humble house just like those his people lived in. The people did not forget their emperor ― they built the world’s largest tomb to remember him.
Instead of shouting reform slogans, it is time to reform the authoritarian and imperial presidency. Instead of repeating that “the people are the president,” President Roh should step out and serve the people as if they were the president. In reality, our people still feel small just entering a city hall. Perhaps I am oversensitive. It seems as if the president’s gait has changed a bit already. In the past, Mr. Roh walked just like ordinary people, but now he seems to swagger a bit, with shoulders pumped up by power.
Today, one of the most-watched television dramas is “The Era of Military Vassals.” Choi Chung-heon was the ultimate champion in a power struggle. In the beginning, he mouthed reform slogans. He argued that land forcibly seized should be returned to the original owners and that tax collections must be fair. He also claimed that all corrupt officials should be punished. And yet he abandoned his promises after his military strength grew; with more power, he wrested land from farmers and built private farms. Our past presidents seemed to be walking on the same path as Choi Chung-heon.
President Roh was inaugurated Tuesday in our 16th presidency. The 16th president of the United States was Abraham Lincoln ― the most humble yet the most successful president in American history.
Koreans have loathed themselves for their bad luck in choosing presidents. Now we have a chance to have a president just like Mr. Lincoln.
Mr. Roh promised to serve as the people’s servant after he won the December election. I hope he will keep that promise and become the first Korean president whom the entire nation can see as a success after five years.

* Father Song is the director of the Research Institute for Pusan Church History and a founding member of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice.


by Peter Song Ki-in


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