[OUTLOOK]Strive for the politics of peacePresident Roh Moo-hyun said on the 60th anniversary of Liberation Day, “Let’s make a bold decision to open up an era of national unity.” He has emphasized that it is urgent for us to overcome factors that cause historic, political, economic and social division in order to sustain continuous development of our country. However, this appeal for unity to the people paradoxically seems to have provoked rather an era of dissent. This time, his speech has provoked controversy over whether waiving the statute of limitations for historical crimes violates the constitution. Where, then, is the root of his paradoxical assertion?
I met President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor for a talk three weeks ago. (Related story in the Aug. 3 edition of the JoongAng Ilbo.)
How surprised I was when I saw him! I had been expecting a revolutionary with bloodshot eyes and a rough face. However, the mythical leader of East Timor’s armed fight for independence for more than twenty years was clear eyed. Despite having been in custody for seven years as a political prisoner, he did not have the face of a greedy politician.
Naturally, we started by talking about the difficulties of the “Commission of Truth and Friendship” (CTF) that was launched in 1999, amidst much world attention, to overcome the tragedies of East Timor. East Timor, with a population of less than 1 million, was liberated from Portugal in 1975 after 400 years of colonial rule. However, the country had to fight an independence war against Indonesia’s attempt to annex it for 24 more years. In the process, one third of its population was killed. When the Suharto administration of Indonesia collapsed in 1999, East Timor was finally given a chance to be truly independent. However, they had to go through unimaginable tragedy first. The last hostile action by Indonesian soldiers and militia corps killed more than 1,000 East Timorese and destroyed more than 70 per cent of the country’s weak economic infrastructure.
President Gusmao is now trying to clear past wrongdoings in a different way. He emphasizes that the only way to get away from the destructive cycle of hatred and violence is through reconciliation and friendship.
However, the CTF, established jointly by East Timor and Indonesia, faces much criticism both at home and abroad. The main criticism is that the politics of reconciliation President Gusmao emphasizes will not bring justice to dead victims, but only give acquittal to the assailants. President Gusmao’s position remains firm, however. He says that peace and happiness in East Timor is impossible through the politics of hatred.
He is one who could easily be tempted to resort to politics of hatred since he endured the painful experience of losing all but 700 of his 50,000 guerrilla soldiers in the massacre by Indonesia. Nevertheless, he is experimenting with the politics of reconciliation for the first time in world history. It is because President Gusmao believes that only the politics of love can clear up the past and prepare for unity in the future.
The focus of our discussion was not the past but the future. East Timor is currently one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of less than $500. Therefore, building for the future is more desperately needed than anything else. Clearing up the past is therefore necessary for national unity. We need to pay attention to the fact that, although he is a hero who fought for independence and can call for clearing up the past more than anyone else, he chooses to handle the problem from a reconciliatory point of view and is staking his political life on the building of his country’s future. He knows the key to national unity is not in cleaning up the nightmare of the past but in sharing a common dream for the future. He also knows that past heroes can become future sinners.
When asked what he would like to tell Korean politicians who are pursuing cleaning up past wrongdoings, he replied interestingly. He said politicians should do politics with their eyes rather than politics with words. He said that, since social conflicts and disputes have a way of naturally healing themselves, political leaders should have the patience to leave people to debate amongst themselves rather than rashly try to mediate, and added that conversation through the eyes is more important than conversation through words.
I am sure that when political leaders watch people with clear eyes rather than bombard them with dazzling speeches, the politics of trust and love will begin to blossom, as President Gusmao said.
Here lies the key to social integration, instead of social division. I concluded my discussion with President Gusmao hoping desperately that we could also have politicians in Korea who can read the eyes of the people with their own clear eyes as soon as possible.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ha Young-sun