[Viewpoint]Where has the president gone?I wonder whether it is still there, still standing in the same place. It was an acrylic board decorated with several “piggy banks of hope” that were presented to the president by the members of Roh Sa Mo (President Roh Moo-hyun’s fan club) as well as letters sincerely wishing Roh Moo-hyun victory in the election and moving photographs taken during his campaign tour of local provinces. The board stood in one corner of the president’s office at the Blue House when I visited to attend a meeting two years ago, about halfway through President Roh’s term in office.
It was a colorful souvenir, recalling his election victory and displaying tokens of heartfelt emotion. For President Roh, it was a permanent, unforgettable memento.
To me, however, it was sad and extremely shocking to find evidence that a leader of a personal circle of admirers was occupying the office of the head of a state. I felt a sense of despair, too.
In retrospect, the last presidential election was a continuous string of miracles, hard to believe even from the point of view of Roh Moo-hyun’s election camp.
A year before the election, Roh was no more than a former cabinet minister who attracted attention at a National Assembly hearing about former President Chun Doo Hwan. Even his supporters were probably not fully convinced he would become the presidential candidate of the governing party.
However, he won in the party primary, succeeding against Chung Mong-joon, who was a formidable rival candidate at the time.
And he won over his last opponent, who was regarded as strong and tall as Goliath, in the presidential election.
What joy and glory that was! However, during the process that led him to the presidency, Roh had to experience pain and tearful crises that he had to overcome with all his body and soul.
He had to go through times when he was treated with disdain, something that he must remember vividly, as well as painful moments of despair that he endured with clenched teeth.
He might have given up sooner if not for the people who believed in him, followed him and passionately supported him, to the extent that they were willing to give up their jobs. Roh will probably never forget them.
This is probably why he kept the glorious memorial in one corner of his office.
However, Roh is not just the president of his followers.
He is the president of all of the people of the Republic of Korea. And he had the determination to become such a president, too.
During his first press conference after the December 2002 election, he said boldly, “I thank the many constituencies who did not work for me during the election, and those who were against me, too. I hereby promise that I will do my best as both the president and an errand boy, not just for those who supported me, but for everyone.”
At that moment, as I watched at him on television, I was overwhelmed by his remarks. He was definitely “our” president.
Although I did not support him, I felt I could believe in him and follow him if he was such a person.
Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, concluded his final press conference at the end of June with these words: “I wish everyone, friend or foe, well.”
However, the promise that President Roh made right after being elected was much more beautiful than the wishes Blair expressed at the last moment of his premiership.
In mid-June, the giants of U.S. foreign policy who were at the helm during recent administrations appeared together for a current affairs program, “Charlie Rose,” on the Public Broadcasting Service, which was broadcast live from Rockefeller Center in New York.
They were Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford; Zbigniew Brezinski, former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter and Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
They had different inclinations and backgrounds, but they had the same advice for the incumbent U.S. president: “Listen and engage.”
For our part, our president had himself already proclaimed what he would do as soon as he got elected.
Where has the president who made such a promise gone? What happened to the resolution of the leader who promised to unify the whole nation?
Where does the attitude of the president, who takes sides on every issue and provokes disorder whenever there is a chance, come from?
I am anxious to know.
At this time, when the term of President Roh is coming to an end, I wonder whether the display of mementos is still gracing the president’s office.
It should have been moved to the storage of memories a long time ago, but instead it remained standing tall in the president’s office, continuously reminding him of the memories of the furious struggles of his days as a presidential candidate.
*The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jo Dong-ho