The order of thingsThe Blue House and Inje University said they have been negotiating to build a memorial for President Roh Moo-hyun, near his hometown.
It is fine for a university to build such a memorial. Under the law that governs honoring for former presidents, the government is allowed to financially assist such projects when they are undertaken by private entities. In fact, the Yonsei University Kim Dae-jung Library was built in 2003 with 4 billion won ($4.3 million) provided by the university and 4 billion won from the government.
Along with Kim’s library a Roh memorial would establish a tradition, like that in the United States, where former presidents have their own libraries.
However, there is an issue to be resolved. It is about history and order. There have been nine presidents, including Yun Po-sun who took office under the parliamentary cabinet system between 1960 and 1962. So why should memorials for the eighth and ninth presidents come first? In particular, why haven’t memorials to Syngman Rhee, the country’s first leader, and Park Chung Hee, who led the county’s modernization in the 1970s, been built? Rhee founded and protected the country in the midst of threats from Communists and Park rescued the country from poverty and set it on the path to prosperity.
Some people say, “Let the private sector produce memorial projects, according to the laws.” But it is difficult for private entities to raise tens of billions of won if the current administration gives the cold shoulder to these former presidents. For example, former President Kim Dae-jung promised to financially assist the establishment of a memorial for Park Chung Hee in May 1995, but he retreated in the face of opposition from civic groups. A fundraising campaign for the memorial was suspended and a legal suit has been pending in court on the issue of whether the government should provide subsidies for the construction.
In April 2003, right after his inauguration, President Roh said his administration would be the natural heir to the legacy of Kim Gu, an independent activist during the Japanese colonial period, making no mention of Syngman Rhee. Under these circumstances, who could support the Roh project?
Everything in the world has an order. If President Roh understood the importance of history, he would want to set up memorials for the past presidents who founded and modernized the country before establishing one of his own.