[VIEWPOINT]Ideology at work in 2 incidentsTwo events that illustrate the rise and fall of political forces in Korea took place in Seoul on Oct. 2. One was the auction of personal belongings of former President Chun Doo Hwan, and the other was a press conference called by Song Du-yul, a South Korean sociologist in exile in Germany.
Mr. Chun is one of the three military-backed presidents who ostensibly persecuted Mr. Song and other left-leaning intellectuals as dissident, pro-North Korean elements in the 1970s and 1980s. The former president went into self-imposed exile in a Buddhist temple on a remote mountain after stepping down in 1988. He was forced to appear as a witness at hearings of the National Assembly’s special committee that investigated the wrongdoings of his administration in 1988-1989. In 1996, he stood on trial together with his successor, Roh Tae-woo. They were charged with rebellion, crushing the democratization movement in Gwangju in 1980 and accepting bribes from businessmen. Mr. Chun was sentenced to life imprisonment and 220.5 billion won ($191.6 million) in fines and released the following year by a presidential pardon. The auction was ordered by the court to collect part of the fines.
Mr. Song had been suspected by the intelligence agency as a pro-North Korean activist since the early 1970s. It charged that he made unauthorized trips to the North, became a secret member of the North Korean Workers’ Party in 1973, induced Korean students in Germany to join a pro-North Korean organization, arranged Korean scholars’ trips to Pyeongyang, was appointed as an alternate member of the Politburo in 1991 and attended the funeral of Kim Il Sung representing overseas Koreans.
He has been banned from entering the country, because he was blacklisted, subject to arrest upon arrival here to stand trial for violations of the National Security Law.
He now dares to come with his entire family, appears before the spy agency and the prosecution for questioning and calls a press conference to explain his position.
Things like these were unthinkable a few years ago. What made it possible now? We can find an answer in the power shift from conservatives to “pro-democracy movement forces.” It started with the popular democracy movement in 1987 that forced Roh Tae-woo to promise constitutional revisions to allow full democracy. During the Kim Young-sam administration, the liberals succeeded in making Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh stand trial. In the 1997 presidential election, they helped Kim Dae-jung win over Lee Hoi-chang. And they helped Roh Moo-hyun get elected last year.
Although the liberals helped Kim Dae-jung and contributed to his administration in many ways, Mr. Kim turned a cold shoulder to their request to allow Mr. Song to return home. Mr. Kim tried to distance himself from people suspected of pro-North Korean sentiment to avoid controversy over his own ideological leaning. Although they had some common goals, there was a gap between the Kim Dae-jung followers and the pro-democracy forces. The plan to bring Mr. Song back home during the Kim Dae-jung administration failed. Mr. Song’s presence in Seoul, therefore, signifies that the pro-democracy forces that put more emphasis on unification than alliance with the United States have the upper hand.
After losing two consecutive presidential elections, the conservatives are trying to get rid of the image of advocates of the Cold War era and collaborators with the authoritarian governments. The auction of Mr. Chun’s personal belongings is illustrative of the setbacks the conservatives have suffered. People showed sympathy. They seemed to be surprised at the simple nature of the items on display. They were no match for a dictator’s collections. Some purchasers said they would return the items they bought to Mr. Chun; a man who bought cufflinks and other accessories and another who bought two dogs also wanted to return them to Mr. Chun. Such warm reaction from the public is indicative of a change in peoples’ minds.
Mr. Song’s press conference, however, drew an angry reaction from academics, other intellectuals and from the public at large. He was criticized for making excuses and for not offering a reflection on his past deeds. The critics pointed out that he often changed his statements.
The pro-democracy forces these days call themselves reformers. They say they want to change Korean society significantly. They fail, however, to show people the things they want to change and in what way they would be changed.
In the turmoil over Mr. Song’s real identity, people start to suspect whether the change the pro-democracy forces seek is bringing South Korea closer to North Korea. If they intend to draw South Korea closer to the North by bringing in people like Song Du-yul, their efforts will become as transparent as were Mr. Song’s lies. If, by any chance, they helped his visit without knowing his real identity as an alternate Politburo member, they should be made accountable for causing huge damage to our society by creating wasteful ideological conflict. And they have to keep in mind that such controversies will only tear both Koreas more apart rather than draw them together.
* The writer is opinion page editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Park Sung-soo