[NOTEBOOK]Cracking the ‘code,’ wronglyAt this time in 1987, most streets of downtown Seoul were like battlefields. Broken paving stones and Molotov cocktails flew every day, and tear gas choked us. Democracy activists shouted “Topple the authoritarian regime” slogans. There was a tumult of noise all day long.
In the historic uprising, the so-called “June Resistance,” newspaper reporters ran themselves to exhaustion covering the action and wiping away tears from occasional whiffs of gas.
Reporters had to know police communications jargon to figure out what was going on in other parts of the city. Ordinary demonstrators were called jandi, or grass. Male college students were called pullip, or leafs, and female college students were called ggotnip, or flower petals.
The police gave nicknames to each important figure. Kim Dae-jung was K1, The Protestant religious leader Moon Ik-hwan was halmiggot, or a windflower. Roh Moo-hyun was a part of the grass at that time. Mr. Roh, as chairman of the Busan branch of a pan-national people’s movement for a democratic constitution, hustled around the Busan streets, roaring at the authoritarian Chun Doo Hwan regime.
Kim Se-ok, who was well known at that time for his skill in handling demonstrators as a riot police squad leader of the Seoul police, is the chief of presidential security under President Roh. The two men, who could have crossed paths in the demonstrations in the spring of 1987, now see each other in a very different light.
The relationship between the two men was shaken last week, however, because of Hanchongryun, the banned radical student organization. Members of the group blocked Mr. Roh from attending the commemoration ceremony for the May 18 Democracy Movement in Gwangju. Mr. Roh walked in to the ceremony 15 minutes late by detouring through a rear gate because Hanchongryun students blocked the front gate of the May 18 National Cemetery.
Kim Ok-jeon, the chief of the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency was in charge of outer security at the ceremony. He was dismissed from his post after being blamed for the lax security. Coincidentally, Kim Ok-jeon is the younger brother of Kim Se-ok. Kim Ok-jeon also was known in 1987 as a riot police squad leader competent in putting down demonstrations. The two brothers, who won their spurs by suppressing demonstrations, were in a deep fix due to the very same things, demonstrations, 16 years later.
President Roh also lost face. In September 1987, Mr. Roh was arrested on a charge of interfering in a labor dispute at the Daewoo shipyard in Geoje, South Gyeongsang province, and in November of that year his law license was suspended. The next year, Mr. Roh entered politics as an elected assemblyman with the help of Kim Young-sam, then the opposition leader. Mr. Roh finally managed to win the Blue House after an enormous ordeal.
But he was treated with contempt by his junior compatriots in Hanchongryun. Mr. Roh thought they shared the same “code” because they were the successors of his colleagues who fought with him in street battles against the authoritarian regime. The shock he seemed to suffer may explain why he muttered, “I feel a sense of crisis that I can no longer be president.” He ordered the stern application of the law to rioters the day after the incident in Gwangju.
Kang Gum-sil, the justice minister, was once willing to be lenient in dealing with Hanchongryun. She took a step backward at once, saying, “It became difficult to talk about releasing Hanchongryun members in jail and lifting charges against members wanted by the police.”
The May 18 incident in Gwangju should be a good lesson to the government. Law enforcement should be carried out separately from the sentiments and emotions of Mr. President. It was a foolish assumption if the Kim brothers ignored the possibility of a Hanchongryun provocation just because the student organization shares the same ideology as President Roh.
If a man with the intention of hurting President Roh had disguised himself as a Hanchongryun member and sneaked into the site, the incident might have developed in a totally different way.
A former senior prosecutor who recently went into private practice said, “The safest and clearest enforcement of law is maintaining principles.” At least law enforcement agencies should not misread the unique “code” of President Roh, he explained.
What I worry about is that Hanchongryun might see President Roh as an easy man to deal with because they think his ideology is theirs. The incident, I’m afraid, may incite other groups which share similar thoughts to act like them.
The presidential aides should reflect on whether they have induced some groups to have such dangerous illusions.
* The writer is crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Sok-hyon