[OUTLOOK]Heed lessons of Spain and ChinaSince this administration started, as many as 16 organizations have been set up to investigate questionable incidents in the past.
Despite claims that too many groups overlap on the same tasks, these organizations were possibly founded because of President Roh Moo-hyun’s intentions on this issue.
President Roh said that scandalous incidents of the past need to be cleared to achieve reconciliation of Koreans and that the victims of such incidents should be able to be released from their pain and resentment.
The president also said that this work should be done for the integration of society but should not create more conflicts in society. He also asked senior members of one of the organizations to present norms that following generations can refer to and abide by.
No one would oppose the idea of unveiling the truth of the past in order to fix wrongdoings by the concerned parties under military rule. But no substantial standards for reconciliation or norms for social integrity have been presented yet, although six months have passed since the organizations were established.
This has aroused concerns that the disclosure of the past could proceed on the grounds of “justice in the eyes of the winner,” meaning that people in power will present evidence in favor of themselves and judge others based on that evidence.
I think this suspicion has grounds because the president himself has so often emphasized the importance of bringing to the light victims’ hard feelings, which can be translated into sparking the anger of those victims.
The victims should be properly compensated for having been unjustly treated by the authorities. But the remarks that they should be allowed to let out their hard feelings is far from not only reconciliation but also constitutionalism.
In this respect, the cases of Spain and China send a meaningful message to us.
The civil war in Spain cost the lives of 600,000 soldiers and civilians. After the war ended, the world’s tallest cross was erected as a symbol for reconciliation at the Monumento Nacional de Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos, or the National Monument of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen, near Madrid.
Under the cross is a text that reads, “For God and the fatherland.” For whomever the dead fought, they are regarded as having sacrificed their lives for the god they believed in and the fatherland they loved.
To overcome the tragedy of its civil war, Spain chose reconciliation through shared religious beliefs and the embrace of all people, unlike France, which chose reasonable punishment and separation of its people after World War II. Even after Spain’s head of state General Francisco Franco died, there was controversy over that decision.
With this memorial site as a starting point, Spain has achieved social integration and was able to move forward without hanging on to its past.
China has also been working hard to embrace former enemies in two civil wars. In a small village in Shaanxi Province, is the royal tomb of Huang Di, who is believed to be the originator of China according to mythology. This tomb is famous for many tombstones of different sizes and shapes that Chinese emperors and high officials had erected to honor their common ancestor, Huang Di.
In particular, at the site there are four tombstones erected on the orders of Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Wen, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, respectively.
The arrangement of the four tombstones seemed to represent the historical Kuomintang-Communist collaboration.
I believe that the tombstone erected by Chiang Kai-shek still remains there, not because the Communist Chinese government is careless about its past, but because Chiang Kai-shek represents a part of the Chinese people that Communist China tries to integrate.
This reflects the pragmatism that as long as they are all descendents of Huang Di, history should be evaluated as it was, regardless of peoples’ present ideology or political conviction. This idea has made China what it is today.
We should look into these two cases in order to investigate the past incidents to contribute truly to social integrity, as the president mentioned.
Patriotism should not be monopolized by a designated group. The people who are presently classified as the subjects of historical liquidation also loved the country and worried about the future of our nation in their own ways, just as those who seek to punish them love and worry for their fatherland.
* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University.
by Sim Ji-yeon