[INSIGHT]Sons, sidekicks and meddlers

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[INSIGHT]Sons, sidekicks and meddlers

Two monthly magazines, Shindonga and WolganChosun, both had interesting articles concerning the former and present presidents' sons in their latest issues. Shindonga magazine interviewed Kim Young-sam's son, Kim Hyun-chul; and in WolganChosun, Kim Jae-ok, the wife of a former Millennium Democratic Party legislator, Park Jung-hoon, claimed that she and her husband had once kept money for Kim Woo-joong to be delivered to Kim Hong-il, Kim Dae-jung's son.

A sense of profound shame came over me as I read these two articles. Why are we still haunted by stories of presidents' sons, not the presidents themselves? As if it were not enough that we had to go through the "Crown Prince affair" five years ago, here was yet another president's son bringing turmoil and chaos to the country. And to think we call this a period of civilian and democratic government! The more I think about it, the more disgusted I feel.

The fact that a president's son is now the focus of political strife even in this civilian government tells us what a sad history of politics we have. During the period of struggle against the military governments, we needed champions of democracy who were charismatic enough to win the people's support. Under the harsh oppression of the military governments, these democratic heroes had little freedom of action and their sons were their closest allies and secret agents. As Kim Hyun-chul acknowledged and as Kim Hong-il does not deny, they would have helped out by collecting apple boxes full of money in the dark of the night. These charismatic, democracy-championing fathers went on to become presidents and their old allies and sons began to participate in state affairs as their closest staff and advisers. Such things have to be understood, given the fact that the relationship between a president and his son is not merely a relationship of father and son but also that of a hero and sidekick. But even with that understanding, there are still some questions.

"That morning of May 15, 1997, the day when I was to appear for questioning at the prosecutors office, my father called me on the phone. He said he was sorry but he had no power whatsoever. I wonder if my father wasn't feeling the same as King Young-jo would have after putting his son Sado-seja to death by locking him in a chest." That is Kim Hyun-chul's recollection. King Young-jo and Sado-seja, Kim Young-sam and Hyun-chul. It is tragic to see that a young, aspiring politician could still have the premodern conception of comparing those two incidents. How are we to accept Kim Hyun-chul's insistence that he was blameless and nothing but an ensnared political scapegoat, like Sado-seja was?

It seems that we are still seeing the authority of the father as president being shared by the son and family. Kim Hyun-chul was released without being charged by prosecutors in the Hanbo incident of 1997, but was indicted for his political fund-raising activities on charges of receiving bribes and for tax evasion under the Aggravated Punishment for Specific Crimes Act. He was arrested, served time, was pardoned and had his civil rights restored. Now he denies all charges and claims that he was a scapegoat in face-saving schemes of the prosecutors. If that were true, then the media, the chamber of judges, and the people are all guilty of locking him up in a chest under the illusion that he had been aggregating power to himself and interfering in government personnel matters. Or, perhaps, he does not see claiming his father's authority as his own as a crime.

After a wife disclosed the "noxious smell of money" story, her husband came forward to "explain" that there were only three apple boxes full of money, and that the cash amounted to only 800 million won ($612,000) at most.

No matter what the amount of money is and how voluntarily the money was given, such an act cannot be justified. Some might question the usefulness of digging up the past now that it is over and done with. This incident is not an issue just because it involves the president's son; we are trying to ensure that this assumption of power by family and intimates of powerful political figures does not continue.

Kim Hyun-chul was right when he said that the privacy of the president's family must be protected. However, we keep on watching because there are signs that president's families are tinkering in state affairs beyond what is acceptable, and at the beginning of every new administration we see the same problem continuing.

To end our political custom of having to learn about the president's sons rather than the president, I beg of the presidents' sons: Please keep your hands off political affairs. Please do not shame the people anymore.


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The writer is the editorial page editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Young-bin

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