[FOUNTAIN]A cause grows strongerIt is an age of lightness. Has the value of life changed? We feel solemn in front of someone who sacrifices his or her life for a cause. Self-immolation is a shocking and radical sort of suicide. Fasting is a silent and poignant act, slowly draining out the life energy from the body. A hunger strike is less powerful at first, but observers are increasingly interested in the cause with time. As life fades away, the cause grows more destructive, so enemies fear the power of fasting as it nears the end.
Former President Kim Young-sam proved the power of a hunger strike in 1983, when he was an opposition politician. Demanding that democracy be instituted, Mr. Kim began to fast, but newspapers did not cover his action for three days because of the media censorship under the Chun Doo Hwan regime. On the fourth day, a newspaper said, “Regarding the ‘situation’ that has been mentioned among some politicians, the representative of the Democratic Justice Party said it won’t win national support and the ruling party is not very concerned.”
As the fasting entered a week, the ruling party secretly called Hong In-gil, a close aide of Mr. Kim’s, to check Mr. Kim’s condition. On the 10th day, President Chun, then-Interior Minister Roh Tae-woo and the Democratic Justice Party Secretary-General Gwon Ik-hyeon gathered to discuss the matter. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Gwon visited the bedridden Mr. Kim and suggested that he leave the country. Mr. Gwon visited Mr. Kim for three consecutive days, and his attitude toned down from coercion to solicitation. Mr. Kim snapped that Mr. Gwon would have to ship his dead body abroad to move him out of the country. In that moment, the military regime surrendered to the democratic leader.
Twenty years have passed since then. Grand National Party Chairman Choe Byung-yul has been fasting over a week. At 65, Mr. Choe’s health is more fragile than that of the 56-year-old Mr. Kim in 1983. The media is reporting on the situation every day, but unlike Mr. Kim’s cry for democracy, public support for Mr. Choe’s struggle hasn’t grown. But a life is diminishing, and the destructive power of fasting is slowly building up.
Can a small wave grow into a storm? Will Mr. Choe’s final moments merely become much ado about nothing? How does Mr. Choe justify his cause? In the age of lightness, fasting politics produces puzzles to be solved.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.