[VIEWPOINT]Coordinated approach neededPresident Roh Moo-hyun is once again at the center of major political turmoil. In his speech to celebrate the 60th Liberation Day, Mr. Roh said, “Legislation needs to be enacted to either nullify or properly control the application of the statute of limitations in civil and criminal proceedings over transgressions by state agencies.” This caused controversy and interpretations that his remarks left room for violating the constitution but that the remarks were not meant to suggest retroactive punishment in criminal cases.
Upon closer examination of his speech, the portion of the controversial remark in relation to the entire speech is meager. In addition, a decision was already made by the Constitutional Court in 1996 that the extension of the statute of limitations on prosecution by a special law is constitutional. The gist of the May 18 Special Law on the Democratic Movement and Others, passed in Dec. 1995, was to suspend the statute of limitations on the prosecution of persons involved in the Dec. 12, 1979 military rebellion and the May 18, 1980 coup d’etat until Feb. 24, 1993, when former President Roh Tae-woo’s term of office expired. The situation being such, the critical public opinion may be considered unfair on the part of President Roh Moo-hyun and he may be uncomfortable, thinking the public unconditionally opposes whatever the president does.
However, it is the sole responsibility of those who wrote and read the speech for creating controversy over a possibility of violating the constitution. They should have asked advice and gone through a verification process in advance so what the president intended to say was not blurred, rather than feeling sorry that the essence of the problem was glossed over after the uproar broke out, like shutting the stable door after the horse is stolen. Should a speech to celebrate the auspicious event of Liberation Day be stained with this controversy?
It is also disappointing that the Blue House and the governing Uri Party should show an unprepared attitude toward the reaction after the president delivered his speech. It is doubtful if the present administration operates as a system, as the president has kept emphasizing, for it to be in such disarray.
For the speech celebrating the 60th anniversary of national liberation, the Blue House staff, the governing Uri Party and the government should have mulled over and discussed the content together for a long time to present a far-reaching vision in such clear and excellent writing it would become part of history. The speech should not have been something that came from a process in which the president conceived ideas for a few days alone in the mountains in Gangwon province and sat up late to write the first draft on the computer himself, even reducing his official schedule.
A similar incident took place just a little while ago. Then it was the president’s remark on the formation of a coalition government. At that time also, the president is said to have confided his deep distress to a group of 11 or 12 close confidants. His remarks on the formation of a coalition government, that were made public after many twists and turns, could not avoid controversy over a possible violation of the constitution, much less questions as to the suggestion’s feasibility. The Blue House and the Uri Party have never offered a coordinated position clarifying the incident. At last, the proposal to form a coalition government is being forgotten after it caused national division. How similar these incidents are! The president’s unilateral style of national administration is worrisome indeed.
To have the 60th anniversary of national liberation be as meaningful as Germany’s, we need to drastically clear the dark history of our past which should be embraced even if we do not want to do so. If not, the history of Korea will always remain as a bitter feeling, unpleasantly like the empty reflection on and apology for Japan’s past wrongdoings that Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offered at the 60th anniversary of their World War II defeat. The German Prime Minister Willy Brandt moved toward the future by visiting Poland in 1970 to kneel down and make a heart-felt apology for the cruel Jewish massacre.
We welcome President Roh’s taking an active interest in clarifying past events in which people’s basic rights were violated through the enactment of the Pro-Japanese Collaboration Investigation Special Law and the Basic Law on the Liquidation of Past Affairs for Truth and Reconciliation. But at the same time, he should ruminate on the first half of his term now at the turning point of his office.
What is the use of working hard at the front if his true intention is suspect, if his remarks spark controversial talk of unconstitutionality and if there is nothing he achieves in the end?
During the second-term of his administration, there should be no more political waste of dividing national opinion over the controversy of the violation of the constitution and failing to carry out historical tasks. The president should operate state affairs as a system and put priority on seeking national consensus on every matter.
* The writer is a professor of political science at the University of Incheon. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Joon-han